Vladimir de Pachmann was a stylistic purist, poet of the piano, and represented a Chopin style that many in his life considered to have been unsurpassed. With advances in restoration technology, Pachmann’s legendary tone comes forth as never before. With his classic performances are previously unissued test records offering new repertoire.
- Verdi-LIszt Rigoletto Paraphrase (1911)
- Chopin Nocturne op. 9, no. 2 in E flat
- Chopin Nocturne op. 32, no. 1 in B
- Chopin Prelude op. 28, no. 22 in G minor
- Chopin Prelude op. 28, no. 23 in F
- Chopin Mazurka op. 50, no. 2 in A flat
- Chopin Prelude op. 28, no 6 in B minor
- Chopin Prelude op. 28, no. 3 in G
- Chopin Mazurka op. 63, no. 3 in C sharp minor
- Chopin Mazurka op. 67, no. 4 in A minor
- Chopin Barcarolle (abridged)
- Chopin Sonata op. 35 in B flat minor: Marche funèbre
- Chopin Valse op. 70, no. 1 in G flat
- Chopin Etude op. 10, no. 1 in C
- Chopin Etude op. 25, no.2 in F minor
- Chopin Prelude op. 28, no. 20 in C minor
- Chopin Nocturne op. 55, no.2 in F minor
- Chopin Ballade no. 3 op. 47 in A flat: first part
- Chopin Sonata no. 3 op. 58 in B minor: Scherzo
- Chopin Impromptu op. 36 in F sharp
- Chopin Mazurka op. 33 no. 4 in B minor
- Mendelssohn Rondo capriccioso
- Mendelssohn Song without words op. 67, no. 4
- Schumann Waldszenen: Prophet bird
- Schumann Fantasiestücke op. 12: Grillen
- Liszt Liebestraume no. 3
- Liszt Mazurka brilliante (fragment)
- Chopin Mazurka op. 67, no. 1 in G
- bonus download track: Chopin Valse in G-flat, Op. 70, No.1
- bonus download track: Chopin Ecossaise I
The art of Vladimir de Pachmann represents a refined 19th-century sensibility which grew from the bel canto singing of the mid-century and attained such a heightened response to music through tone, phrasing, and articulation that many listeners were convinced they were hearing the musical voice of Chopin. For some time, however, Pachmann’s reputation was cast in doubt due to poor restorations of his recordings, which obscured his tone and forced listeners to mentally supply what was missing (if they bothered). The recordings made with the acoustic process, in which the pianist sat before a horn that engraved the sound waves into a wax master, suffered particularly from these poor restorations. Our new restoration has revealed a range of dynamics and articulation previously not known in this medium – even in his 1907 discs.
Pachmann’s most widely available performances were from his final years and reveal mistakes made due to indifference, the fatigue of recording (often during or after long tours), and the eccentricities which enveloped the pianist as he grew older. Some critics, ignoring the many essential performances he left to us, held up these unrepresentative examples as evidence that he was an inferior artist. To judge Pachmann on the basis of his final efforts, however, when we have the extraordinary music-making on this disc, is to make a grave historical error. (Some of Pachmann’s late recordings are remarkable.) Aside from being one of the pioneer recording artists – he was the first pianist for whom recordings formed an important adjunct to his concertizing – Pachmann understood that his recordings would outlive him; therefore he seriously considered which works to play and made sure that his interpretations would provide an accurate representation of his ideas.
Pachmann’s links to 19th-century composers began with his meeting Henselt and Liszt, and were deepened thanks to his tutelage under Mme. Rubio, who had been Chopin’s last teaching assistant. One mark of Pachmann’s greatness as an interpreter, rarely credited to him, is the way his style changes when playing composers other than Chopin. He applied specific formed stylistic elements (rubato, pedal, phrasing) to Chopin which would not be appropriate to other composers. Pachmann balanced a personal view of the works he played with a respect for the tradition that originated with their composers. Such was the importance he held that even a recognized master such as Ignaz Friedman was proclaimed as “Pachmann’s successor.” One need do little more than listen to these performances to hear Pachmann’s art come alive as a contemporary experience that places him among the finest musicians documented.
— Allan Evans © 2003
Vladimir de Pachmann’s was not only one of the earliest recording careers – his first discs were made in 1907, his last in 1927 – but, as the recordings on this CD demonstrate, one of the most successful. The earliest recordings on this volume – a follow up to Arbiter 129 (“Vladimir de Pachmann: The Mythic Pianist”) – are the Barcarolle, two Preludes, and a Mazurka of Chopin from 1907; the latest, two Preludes and two Mazurkas of Chopin from the final session. Three of Pachmann’s unpublished test pressings – recorded with a hand-held microphone in Rome in the late 1950s at the home of Francesco Pallottelli, his impresario and companion – are issued here for the first time in any form: Chopin’s Prelude no. 20; the first half of his Ballade no. 3 (the second half is published on Arbiter 129; this Ballade is, in consequence, the longest work Pachmann recorded); and Liszt’s Mazurka Brillante. (Although the Liszt performance on the test pressing was complete, the one here is not, as the recorder ran out of tape.) The Etudes 10/1 and 25/2, on the other hand, were circulated among collectors on an MJA LP (a semi-private release issued by the proprietors of the now defunct Music Masters shop on West 43rd Street in New York City), while the Nocturne 55/1 was issued on an IPA “Landmarks of Recorded Pianism” LP. These recordings are making their first appearance on CD. (The original discs are lost. After Pallottelli’s death in 1965, these unique test records were given to a Roman collector who died shortly afterwards. His family put them up for sale at Rome’s Porta Portese flea market.)
During his years before the public (1882-1929), Vladimir de Pachmann was often regarded as one of the four or five greatest pianists in the world, and – thanks in part to his studies with Vera Kologrivoff Rubio, Chopin’s last teaching assistant – as the greatest exponent of the music of Chopin. (In the scene in Max Beerbohm’s novel Zuleika Dobson where the shades of Chopin and George Sand listen in on a performance of Chopin’s Funeral March, Chopin himself describes the playing as “Plus fin que Pachmann!”) The obituary of the pianist from the Times of London (9 January 1933) reads in part:
“While Pachmann’s reputation was one of extravagance, the artist had a passion for economy. There must be nothing wasted in piano-playing. Latterly the eccentrician might often obliterate the artist, perhaps through three-quarters or more of a recital programme. The careful listener and watcher would, however, be rewarded by a few moments, perhaps a single Étude or Prelude of Chopin, which could only be described by the word perfect. Ten minutes of such playing of Chopin, in which everything needful to be said was said through a touch on the keys of pearl-like smoothness, a control which was without a hint of strain, a naturalness in expression which made all the intellectualists seem mere fumblers – this was the reward of the patient listener and the revelation of the supreme artist in Pachmann.”
Even as Chopin was the composer with whose music Pachmann was most closely identified, however, he proved time and again that his musical affinities were far more catholic. Research has brought to light programs showing that he played Bach’s Chromatic Fantasie and Fugue; half of Beethoven’s Sonatas (Opp. 53, 54, 57, 78, 101, 110, and 111 among them); Brahms’ Scherzo in E-flat minor; Liszt’s Après une lecture de Dante, Ballade no. 2, Bénédiction de Dieu dans la Solitude, Harmonies du soir, both Polonaises, a handful of the Hungarian Rhapsodies, and the Sonata in B minor; Mendelssohn’s Fantasie in F-sharp minor (“Scottish”) and Variations sérieuses; of Schumann, essentially every major work between op. 1 and op. 28 except the Sonata no. 3 and Humoreske; Tchaikovsky’s Grand Sonata in G major; of Weber, whom he regarded as “the healthiest of musicians,” the Sonatas nos. 2, 3, and 4.
Additionally, Pachmann played major works of the chamber music repertoire – among them Beethoven’s “Archduke” Trio (with Joseph Joachim and Alfredo Piatti) and Violin and Piano Sonatas (with Madame Norman-Neruda); Mozart’s E minor Piano and Violin Sonata, G minor Piano Quartet (with Joachim, Ludwig Straus, and Piatti) and “Kegelstatt” Trio; Schubert’s Fantasie in C major, D. 934 and “Trout” Quintet; and Schumann’s Andante and Variations in B-flat for two pianos (with Marguerite de Pachmann) and Piano and Violin Sonata in D minor. He also played several concertos – more, in fact, than either Vladimir Horowitz or Moriz Rosenthal ever brought before the public: Beethoven’s Third (using Liszt’s cadenzas), Fourth, and Fifth; both of Chopin’s as well as the Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise with orchestral accompaniment; Henselt’s; Hummel’s in B minor; Liszt’s First; both of Mendelssohn’s; Mozart’s in A major (K. 488), C major (either K. 467 or 503), and D minor (using Beethoven’s cadenzas); and Rubinstein’s in D minor.
Pachmann was – musically and in all other ways – a citizen of the world. Indeed, the only notable gaps in his repertoire were the Russians (apart from Rubinstein and Tchaikovsky) and the major representatives of the “repertoire hexagonal” (Debussy, Fauré, Ravel, etc.)
In 1884, Hugo Wolf wrote:
“If we think of Liszt as the lion of the piano, and of Rubinstein as the tiger, then the young virtuoso Arthur Friedheim is the panther. As such he is inwardly closer to Rubinstein than to Liszt, although more drawn to the latter Like Rubinstein, he never for an instant allows the piano out of his gaze, but eyes it greedily. That is how tigers and panthers are with their prey. Liszt and his imitator de Pachmann, on the other hand, seem rather to go strolling during a performance, letting their gaze wander where it will, anywhere but up and down the keyboard. That is how lions toy with their victims.”
It should be mentioned here in connection with Liszt (and cats!) that Pachmann was part of cartoon history. Neil Strauss writes in “Tunes for Toons: A Cartoon Music Primer” that when Tom plays Liszt’s Second Hungarian Rhapsody in MGM’s Academy Award-winning Tom and Jerry cartoon “Cat Concerto” (1947), his “finger and wrist movements are modeled after those of the late pianist Vladimir de Pachmann.” (Pachmann himself did not play this work.) In the most unlikely place, then, we find a complement to the only known footage of Pachmann himself, filmed making a piano roll. (This footage is included on Philips’ “The Golden Age of the Piano.”) Both these sources allow us to glimpse something of the “nya metod” of piano playing that the pianist worked out for himself about 1918, when he started suffering from muscular fatigue and stress. Though a large part of his admiring public was willing to overlook his decline, he was too serious an artist to be satisfied giving less than his best. He therefore decided that he would restudy, rephrase, and re-finger (playing passages written for one hand with both hands, for instance) his entire repertoire according to a system that would lessen the stress on his muscles. This “new method” became an obsession for him.
The function of all reputable methods is, finally, a modest one: to allow the pianist to do the most playing with the least and most relaxed movement. Yet Pachmann, with an admixture of panache and bombast, trumpeted his new method as nothing less than “a revelation” that “came from heaven.” In a 1925 article on how he kept young, published in The Music Lover’s Portfolio, he explained: “My new method brings health to the body, abolishes fatigue, makes for straight wrists, adds to the beauty of the hands, and induces tranquility. Five valuable advantages.” Indeed, the linchpin of the method was a straight wrist position. “It does not consist of high, stiff wrists,” he told Harriette Brower; “that would be very bad – abominable! You see I move my wrists up and down freely when I play. But my hand and arm I hold quite level, with the outside of the hand on a line with the arm, not turned in or out at the wrist.”
The origin of the new method was Clementi, who was, according to Pachmann, “against the use of the thumb on a black key. I wondered why, and thought it over until I discovered that Clementi’s reason was that there was an undue strain on the wrist, with consequent fatigue.”
In the end only some of the works in Pachmann’s repertoire lent themselves to his new method. He remarked philosophically, “You can’t play everything.”
When Pachmann came to the United States for the first time, in 1890, he presented himself to New York and Boston with three Chopin recitals which helped create his reputation as a Chopin specialist. The only major works not included on these programs – although Pachmann would play them on other occasions – were the Ballade no. 4 and the Polonaise-Fantasie. Pachmann’s Chopin playing gave evidence of a close acquaintance with the music of Chopin’s idols: Bach, Scarlatti, and Mozart. Further, he was familiar with the differences among the first editions of Chopin’s music as well as with the variants the composer had written into the scores of his students, a few of whom – Karol Mikuli and Thomas Tellefsen among them – published their own editions. That is to say, he knew of the many alternatives sanctioned by Chopin himself.
From one Pachmann performance to another, then, the actual notes may be different and at the same time completely faithful to the spirit of the composition. For instance, he elaborated the D-flat Nocturne (27/2) in concert as well as in the recording studio: his recording has the wild logic of an original creation against which Rosenthal’s of the same work seems supremely refined. Nor did Pachmann always play Chopin’s notes exactly as Chopin had written them, especially in the Waltzes, which were often used as a vehicle for embellishment. (His first recording of the “Minute” Waltz is an example.) Arguably the playing of the pianists born in the nineteenth century – also, for the most part, in the early twentieth century – is more “authentic” than that which struggles after obedience to an Ur-text. Music, like choreography, depends upon interpretation, and Pachmann made the world hear Chopin’s music in a way that no other pianist had managed: paradoxically, by making it sound as if he were not “interpreting” it at all.
It was the rare concert in which Pachmann did not play at least one of the Chopin Nocturnes in his repertoire. (He is known to have played at least fourteen of them.) The last time Pachmann ever played the piano, at his home in Rome on New Year’s Day 1933, five days before he lapsed into unconsciousness and died, he played a Nocturne – a performance that amounted to a musical homecoming as much as a leave taking. Paul Landormy (Le Figaro, January 1933):
“He begged of his secretary and the nurse watching over him to allow him to get up. They did not oppose this last desire. He drags himself into the adjoining room, opens the piano, and his trembling fingers touch the keys. He begins Chopin’s F minor Nocturne [55/1], one of his triumphs of olden times. He feels he has not the strength to play it through. He improvises a cut – leaving out the middle part – and arrives at the celebrated ‘envolée’ at the end, which soars into the air like a bird, and he executes it with all the grace, all the finesse, all the prodigious delicacy of the days gone by. A supreme effort and a supreme rendering, a supreme joy for himself – which leaves him so profoundly moved that he regains his bed with difficulty and closes his eyes. He has bade farewell to his piano, to Chopin, to music.”
In a piece entitled “How to Play Chopin” published in the October 1908 issues of Strand Magazine and the Etude, Pachmann offered some remarks on the Chopin Preludes that are as noteworthy for their poetic content as for their interpretive insight. Of the Preludes included on this CD, he wrote:
“The third, though it has not a very high meaning, is a delightful little Prelude. The melody is so smooth that it reminds me of oil floating upon water, while a sort of zither accompaniment is running. . . . No. 6 could very well be played by a cello and violin, but it is possible on the piano to get more effect than could be got with the cello itself. A little curiosity is to be found in this Prelude at the end of the fifth bar from the finish, when there comes a sort of trumpet call announcing the conclusion. . . . The 20th Prelude is a very beautiful one. . . . In the 22nd Prelude Chopin created energetic modern octave play. It was the first Prelude of its kind in the world. In the 23rd Prelude pretty well all editions indicate short legato passages. Chopin never played such passages. He sometimes introduced a long legato passage, but never short ones of a few notes only.”
For many listeners, Pachmann’s performances of the Preludes had a mystical aspect. In a volume of autobiography, the novelist Forest Reid wrote of being visited by Pachmann in a dream:
“It happened years ago, after I had been listening to a Chopin recital given by Pachmann. He had played amongst many other things a prelude that I did not know, and the tune of which I tried vainly to remember on my way home. I daresay it would have come back to me eventually, but actually I had not to wait. Most kindly that very night he played it to me over again while I was asleep, and in the morning it was fixed clearly in my mind.”
From 1920 on, Pachmann spent a few weeks a year in Rome. There he received many visitors, one of the most celebrated of whom was Rosenthal. When Pachmann asked Rosenthal to play for him on one of these occasions, Rosenthal commenced a Chopin Mazurka. Pachmann was delighted, and also amused, for according to Arnold Somlyo (an impresario, press agent, representative, and one-time manager of the Baldwin Piano Company), Rosenthal had years earlier sought a lesson from Pachmann in interpretation of the Mazurkas. “It so happened that both pianists were in Vienna at the same time,” Somlyo writes (other sources locate the story in Berlin or Rome), “when Rosenthal resolved to learn from Pachmann the ‘secret’ of playing Chopin’s Mazurkas. When he called upon him and solicited a demonstration, Pachmann said, ‘I will play the F major Mazurka [68/3] for you.’
“De Pachmann puttered about among the book-cases and shelves and hunted for fully five minutes before he finally brought forth a worn and battered old volume labelled: ‘Mazurkas, by Chopin.’ Another prolonged search resulted in De Pachmann’s finding a huge pair of horn spectacles, which he adjusted carefully on his nose before he placed the Chopin book on the piano rack and turned painstakingly to the F major Mazurka. Rosenthal was mystified. De Pachmann, the pianist of the limitless repertory and the amazing memory, to play a two page piece from the notes, and that piece the F major Mazurka, familiar to all amateurs!
“Very carefully, De Pachmann began to play, reading note for note from the page and glancing carefully at his fingers to see that he put them on the right keys. Laboriously he plodded through the Mazurka, in the stiff, angular style of a schoolboy, with not a vestige of that grace, daintiness, and poetry so characteristic of Pachmann’s real performances. When he struck the last note in the composition, he closed the book, took off his spectacles, sighed, and turning to Rosenthal, said sadly: ‘A very difficult work, my dear friend, yes, a very difficult work.’ For a moment or two, Rosenthal, who had been listening in utmost amazement, was nonplused, then he recognized that De Pachmann was a diplomat of the old school. Reaching for his hat, Rosenthal murmured his thanks, and was bowed out with Chesterfieldian grace by his imperturbable host.”
Although it would be fatuous to describe either pianist as the superior interpreter of the Chopin Mazurkas (as Vladimir Horowitz said, in art, only intrinsic values matter), there is some feeling among Polish pianists that Russians cannot quite capture their spirit. Yet when one compares their recordings of the Mazurka op. 67/1 (G major) a similar rhythm can be discerned. One wonders if both had gleaned this approach from the Chopin pupils who taught them, or if one pianist copied from the other. The similarity is striking nevertheless.
Of Pachmann’s performance of the Barcarolle, there is no more unexpected commentary than one by Raymond Chandler, the author of such classics as The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely. He wrote in a letter to Hardwick Moseley that he thought the Chopin Barcarolle was “never played really well since de Pachmann.” Pachmann abridged the work in order not to exceed the disc’s four and a half minute capacity.
On 6 May 1910, King Edward VII, long a friend to Pachmann (he had been present at the pianist’s London debut), died after a series of heart attacks at the age of sixty-eight. Pachmann was in Paris, where he and Pallottelli had taken, or would soon take, an apartment on Rue Juliette Lamber, in the seventeenth arrondissement. When he returned to London to give his last recital of the season, he was asked (as most pianists were) to play Chopin’s Funeral March in the king’s memory. Although at first he refused, saying that performing the work under the circumstances would cause him too much suffering, he put his grief aside and played it after all. He never again publicly performed the work; not even when asked to do so to commemorate the death of Queen Alexandra in 1925.
Pachmann was an ideal interpreter of Mendelssohn’s piano works, of which he played all of the greater and many of the lesser ones: Caprice 16/2, Fantasie in F-sharp minor, Prelude 35/1, Prelude and Fugue 35/5, Rondo capriccioso (Pachmann’s recording omits the introductory Andante), Scherzo, Scherzo à capriccio, at least eight Songs without Words (the “Frühlingslied” is included here), and Variations sérieuses. Hearing these recordings makes one lament the fact that Pachmann did not commit any works by Weber to disc.
Claudio Arrau believed that Schubert was “the final problem of interpretation” for a pianist, yet Mendelssohn’s piano music is frequently problematic interpretively: in concerts and on recordings alike, he almost always comes across as a petit-maître. Aubrey Beardsley’s romantic 1896 drawing of a youthful, almost effete Mendelssohn is an antidote to the tediously pious image of the composer prevalent, especially in England, during Pachmann’s day. Pachmann approached Mendelssohn’s music with a spirit more akin to Beardsley’s than to that of Queen Victoria, for whom the composer had performed and who, not surprisingly, doted on him.
Pachmann’s consistent and significant advocacy of Schumann’s music was a legacy of Joseph Dachs, his professor at the conservatory in Vienna, where Pachmann studied from 1867 until 1869. Dachs maintained a fine pianistic career of his own and was regarded as a pioneer for his performances of Schumann’s music.
The Études Symphoniques were the major work on the program with which Pachmann introduced himself to Paris (Salle Erard) in 1882; the Novelette op. 21/6 was on the program of his final concert in Paris (Salle Gaveau) in 1928. Uniquely, some of the programs for this concert were printed on fans, the obverse giving a photograph of Pachmann and the reverse giving the titles themselves. The “Prophet Bird” was a preferred Pachmann encore, his performance of which often ended with him saying, “Now the bird has flied away.”
— Mark Mitchell © 2003
Mark Mitchell is the author of Vladimir de Pachmann: A Piano Virtuoso’s Life and Art, published by Indiana University Press in 2003.