Vladimir de Pachmann
Now - what has cows to do with
this site ? Well - in fact nothing - if it weren't for Vladimir de
Pachmann - who once said that the best way of keeping your fingers in
shape as a pianist was to milk cows. So here he is - getting ready for his
daily exercises - and thus passing this piece of good advice on to other
pianists who has any cows at hand.
Then came his debut and
extensive tours - until suddenly he came to hear Liszt's greatest pupil
ever, Carl Tausig playing in person. For Pachmann this came as a chock and
realizing his own limitations he withdrew from the public for 6 years
trying to perfect his art. Most of the time was spent in Italy including
one year in Florence where he worked with Vera Kologrivoff Rubio
(1816-1880) who had been Chopin's last assistant, and she imparted upon
him the style that had been Chopin's own. Thus he was able to return to
the concert platform in 1882 (Budapest) now hailed as a true virtuoso.
During his last years Pachmann was by some considered nothing but a clown - but
wrong both to Pachmann and to great clowns. In fact I would rather call him the Groucho Marx of the piano and
that is indeed something - but of course it had
nothing to do with his career as a highly respected and successful piano
virtuoso years before. But he sure was funny - and people would come to his concerts
just to see and hear what he would do that night. There was no need to pity the old man -
he was not a pathetic character whose actions were determined by some kind
of dementia. He knew very well that he could no longer compete with the
great and decided to make the most out of it. Any way he had always had
something of a Victor Borge in him and in fact Borge borrowed
some of his best tricks.
At one concert Pachmann deliberately
ran into a struggle
with the stool. He fiddled with the screws - raising it and then lowering it
until he gave up, rushed into the wings and came back with a large book. That
didn't work either, so Pachmann tore out one single page and sat down - Ahh
- now he was comfortable. (This trick was one that Victor Borge borrowed
But Pachmann got his own laughs. At a concert he suddenly pulled out a sock and told the audience that it was one of Chopin's socks - knitted by George Sand. And then he hung it on the piano for the rest of the recital. Harold C. Schoenberg tells this story but he forgot to tell the rest of it: the next day a journalist visited the pianist and they had a hearty laughter together when Pachmann told him, that - of course - the sock was his own. Pachmann also once told the audience that he was wearing Chopin's underwear!.
made a lot of money on his concerts and he spent them on his other great
passion: diamonds and other precious stones - and - like Liberace, many
years later - he would bring them on to the stage and show them to the
audience. But when he had shown them and the audience had acknowledged
their beauty, he would tell them, that they would now forget all about
them, for when he played they would experience colors far more
beautiful than what they had just seen.
Indeed during his prime Pachmann gained the respect not only of Godowsky but also that of Liszt, and many other great pianists. At his best he had a wonderful singing tone, a completely natural ability to turn a phrase and a sound instinct for musical form (and with the years a strange technique - playing with his hands flat - as seen on the picture above). So while Schoenberg and others were laughing at him, the professionals and his colleagues remembered him as a great pianist - a miniaturist - like Joseffy - but a true virtuoso, being almost unsurpassed in the nocturnes of Chopin.
But don't get me wrong. I still find Harold C. Schoenberg's The great Pianists a wonderful book, but it is wise to remember the words of the great Danish cello player of the wonderful Copenhagen String Quartet, Asger Lund Christiansen who once during an interview said: Critics tend to forget, that they are not part of musical life - they are just observers. Where Sir Thomas Beecham took a far more grim view. When he heard that a chair for music critics at some English university he proposed that it should be an electrical one.