[Because musical eccentricity is forever fascinating, Biographer Victor Seroff [1902-1979] (lives of Ravel, Shostakovitch, Debussy, Rachmaninoff and, most recently, Renata Tebaldi) has contributed the following letter to BRAVO readers. Ed.]

Par 1 IN YOUR Conversation Piece, Mischa Elman, speaking of Vladimir de Pachmann as an eccentric, said: "I don't know whether he was born that way or he acquired it". Perhaps I can shed some light on de Pachmann.
Par 2 I never heard him play except on a few records, which cannot do him justice. He was considered a remarkable pianist. This I heard from a friend of his, Moriz Rosenthal, and Rosenthal was not particularly generous in praising his confreres even when they happened to be his friends. But as de Pachmann grew older, he began to play less well and to lose his audience. His manager suggested that he do something to attract the public and, among other things, proposed that he talk to the audience during performances. "This way, at least, we shall be sure of selling the front seats", said the manager.
Par 3 That this eccentricity was well planned and rehearsed in advance I gather from a story Arnold Meckel told me. Meckel, then manager of the famous Spanish dancer, [La] Argentina, agreed to arrange a few concerts for de Pachmann in England. On this particular night, de Pachmann came out on stage (in London) and, after taking his bow, remained stock still, staring at a middle-aged woman in the fourth row. She was not particularly attractive, but her elaborate dress and sparkling jewels were more suited to a reception at Buckingham Palace than a concert hall. Finally, clutching his head with both hands, he ran backstage. There, he told his manager that he was going home, because the sight of the woman disturbed him so much that he could not play. The distressed manager begged him to wait while he would "see what can be done about it". Thereupon, Meckel went out on the stage and addressed the woman, saying that her lovely gown seemed to distract the pianist, that it was a pity it could not also be seen by the whole audience, and suggesting that she take a place in his box. Flattered, the woman rose and like a proud peacock strutted through the aisles and up to the box, while lorgnettes and binoculars followed her every step and gesture. A few minutes later, de Pachmann reappeared on stage. After carefully examining the front rows and seeing that the woman had gone, he rubbed his hands and said to the audience: "Did you see that monkey? How could you expect me to play?"
Par 4 That his ungallant remark caused neither indignation nor hysterics on the part of the woman leads me to believe it was as prearranged as such gags are clowns in a circus.
Par 5 On another occasion, after trying some time to adjust his chair to the proper height, he touched the keyboard with his fingers and with utter disgust remarked that his position was made uneven by dust on the keys. He then called an attendant and explained the cause of his discomfort. The attendant offered his handkerchief, but de Pachmann shook his head and told him to bring him a bucket of water, soap and a towel. Then he proceeded carefully to wash the keyboard. But even this did not satisfy him — the height of the chair still was not right. Thereupon, he pulled out a letter in a long envelope. After reading it, he put the envelope on the chair, sat on it and after stretching his hands toward the keyboard, beamed, declaring: "Now at last, it's perfect!"
Par 6 I won't deny, however, that once de Pachmann got into the swing of his commentaries he did ad lib once in a while, and these remarks were usually especially appreciated by pianists. He was famous for his particularly beautiful playing of Chopin's Etude in thirds. Since the first two bars are played by the right hand alone, de Pachmann would move his left hand over the right hand, hiding his fingers from the sight of the audience. Continuing to trill with his right hand, he would remark: "I don't want Moriz Rosenthal and Leopold Godowski [Godowsky] to see which fingers I am using". That neither of them was in the audience was not important.
Par 7 Or, if he had to play a rather difficult passage, he would stop before attacking it and say to the audience: "I know you all think it is very difficult. Not at all. It is all your imagination. You should practice it a long time very slowly. Like this." And he would play it very slowly, which was very simple indeed. Then, without out ever playing the passage at proper tempo, he would finish the piece.
Par 8 De Pachmann insisted that pianists throw their hands too much around the keyboard. Indeed, he was known for hardly moving his hands while playing. "But what do you do when you have to jump from one chord to the other and move your hands from one extremity to the other?" Rosenthal asked him. "What do I do?" De Pachmann thought for a while. "I just don't play such pieces", he said.