Par 1 What a different personality was that other great Russian pianist Vladimir Pachmann! [The pianist mentioned just previously was Mark Hambourg.] He was the superb showman, the grand seigneur, a god in his own right, a musical paranoiac. Engraved on my memory was this carefully intoned declamation, made to me after I had congratulated him on his playing of one of Liszt's works: "I thank you. . . . In the last two thousand years there have been three great men. . . Jesus Christ . . . Liszt . . . and Pachmann — Vladimir Pachmann."
Par 2 With that profound statement he moved away, his head in the air — and his mind, too, I've no doubt. Make no mistake, he was deadly serious. Previously he had set me agog with his extraordinary behaviour on the platform. As he came on to the stage he received an ovation but, to the astonishment of the whole audience, he turned and with hand upraised said in his deep ponderous voice: "Why you applaud me? I have not yet played." He then made his way to the piano, and immediately commenced testing the stool. It was obvious that he was not satisfied.. He sat down, stood up, and again endeavoured to make an adjustment. Still not satisfied, he felt in his pocket and brought out a piece of white cardboard about the size of a visiting-card, folded it once or twice and put it under one of the legs of the stool. Once more he sat down, but was again disappointed with the result. Into his pocket again, and another piece of white paper was carefully, laboriously folded and put under a leg of the stool. This time, to the relief of the audience — and myself — he was p.194 satisfied. This was not all. He looked at the keyboard, scowled, and peered closer, and with a grunt of disgust took a large handkerchief from his pocket and proceeded to dust the keys with elaborate ostentation. This done, he finally began to play. Of course, he played superbly. But his temperamental displays were not ended, for after a perfunctory bow he walked off the platform and demanded in an imperious tone for a man in the audience that was on the platform to be removed at once! "I cannot play. His face it is always there!" he shouted. And went on: "A white face, a terrible white face. It is always in my eyes. I like it not. It is terrible. Please, please move the poor man." Believe it or not, the manager had to go on the platform and make his apologies to the fellow — a harmless-enough, pale-faced individual — who took the contretemps in good part and took another seat in the auditorium.
Par 3 Pachmann went on to the platform again, shrugged his huge shoulders and with the semblance of a smile sat down to play his next work. When this was over he received tumultuous applause. But the big fellow held his hand up, and with a deprecatory gesture explained that, "No, it was not good," and to the amazement of all, added, "I will play it again." And he did — magnificently. Only a genius could get away with these idiosyncrasies, and Pachmann's playing certainly compensated for them.
Par 4 He was a man with a violent temper, and yet he could be as docile as a fawn. He was unpredictable, as this story will show.
Par 5 He was staying at the same hotel as myself, and after his concert he entered the dining-room. To my astonishment I learnt that his food was prepared by his own man. He travelled with his own dinner service of gold. Sure enough he ate off gold plates in my presence. Presently there was a heck of a row, and he was spitting from his mouth — all over the floor — the contents of a glass of champagne that he obviously found distasteful. "Bring the manager!" he cried to the waiter. When the manager arrived, Pachmann asked him whether he had nothing better than that champagne to drink. The manager tasted the wine and, to his credit, was quite firm in his view that the champagne was "Quite good. In fact, Mr. Pachmann, it is very good." "Good!" yelled the big fellow. "I will show you what it is good for." And he proceeded to empty the bottle into flower vases that were around the room. "Now, sir," he said quietly, "what other wine have you?" The manager suggested a fine old port. This was brought. The manager waited while the maestro tried it. To the relief of the manager — and incidentally to [that of] all the other diners — p.195 Pachmann smacked his lips and with a broad smile said: "Ah, this is indeed the wine good! It is beautiful, beautiful." And silence reigned over the room.
Par 6 When the manager, commenting on the fact that Pachmann had his own chef, carried his own dinner service and drank the most expensive wines, remarked, "You live very well, Mr. Pachmann," the big fellow replied: "Why should I, Pachmann, not live well? Do not kings live well? What are kings but figureheads?"
Par 7 And the other side of his remarkable character. The car in which he was travelling between Chesterfield and Mansfield broke down. This meant that Pachmann was held up for over an hour and a half while repairs were made. It caused consternation at Mansfield and the concert manager was not worried only about the possible delay in starting the concert but what sort of temper Pachmann would be in on his arrival.
Par 8 When the car did pull up outside the hotel the concert manager ran forward, and with anxiety stamped all over his face asked, "What happened, sir, are you all right?" The big fellow smiled benignly and said: "I have enjoyed myself. We had to wait, but it was a beautiful repose and a very beautiful day." The contented sigh of the manager could be heard all over Mansfield!
Par 9 Yes, Pachmann was unpredictable. The best indication of the man's remarkable mind and his hypersensitivity is this story:
Par 10 As a young man Pachmann suffered a certain amount of adverse criticism. Taking this to heart, he became a recluse, but not through pique at his treatment by the critics. On the contrary, he displayed a resolute tenacity of purpose. He studied for twenty years — principally Chopin. The result of this astonishingly lengthy period of study gave the world a genius of the piano. The world's critics raved about his brilliance. So much so, it is not surprising that Pachmann changed completely from the sensitive neophyte to the dogmatic prodigy.