Arbiter Records 129

Pachmann the Mythic Pianist

1907-1927 recordings

Track List

Pachmann (1848-1933) recorded between 1907 - 1927. Our sonic depth technology has restored his playing, making his remarkable tone, touch, pedaling and projection fully present for the first time. In 2014 this CD was remastered for downloading and contains an additional bonus track.

  1. Chopin Nocturne in E minor op. 72, no. 1
  2. Chopin Nocturne in D flat op. 27, no. 2
  3. Chopin Nocturne in F op. 15, no. 1
  4. Chopin Nocturne in G op. 37, no. 2
  5. Chopin Valse in C sharp minor op. 64, no. 2
  6. Chopin Mazurka in A flat op. 50, no. 2
  7. Chopin Mazurka in F sharp minor, op. 59, no. 3
  8. Chopin Mazurka in A minor op. 67, no. 4
  9. Chopin Mazurka in C op. 33, no. 3
  10. Chopin Impromptu in A flat, op. 29
  11. Chopin Etude in E op. 10, no. 3
  12. Chopin Etude in G flat, op. 10, no. 5 (with comments)
  13. Chopin- Godowsky Etude in C minor op. 10, no. 12 (for the left hand)or,
  14. Chopin Etude in E minor, op. 25, no. 5
  15. Chopin Ballade in A flat, op. 47 (second half)
  16. Chopin Prelude in D flat, op. 28, no. 15
  17. Chopin Prelude in D minor, op. 28, no. 24
  18. Mendelssohn Prelude in E minor, op. 35, no. 1
  19. Mendelssohn Venetian Gondola Song op. 30, no. 6
  20. Mendelssohn Spinning Song op. 67, no. 4
  21. Raff La fileuse
  22. Schumann Novelette in F op. 21, no. 1
  23. Brahms Capriccio in C sharp minor, op. 76, no. 5
  24. LIszt Polonaise no. 2 in E (second half)
  25. bonus download track: Chopin Nocturne in D-flat, op. 27, no.2 (1915 recording)

During his day, Vladimir de Pachmann (1848-1933) was regarded as one of the four or five greatest pianists in the world and as the greatest exponent of the music of Chopin. Indeed, in that curious scene in Max Beerbohm’s novel Zuleika Dobson where the shades of Chopin and George Sand listen in on a performance of the former’s Funeral March, Chopin describes the playing as “Plus fin que Pachmann!” then waves his arms wildly, and dances. Even as Chopin was the composer with whose music Pachmann was most closely identified, however – just as Bolet was most closely associated with Liszt, Gould with Bach, Kempff and Schnabel with Beethoven, and Michelangeli with Debussy – he asserted time and again, and also proved, that his musical affinities were far more catholic. “It is curious how the audiences of various times and climes differ in their tastes and preferences,” Pachmann once said:
“Americans have set me down as a man who found his musical affinity in Chopin. I love him, of course, as I do all the great composers, but what would my American friends say if I told them that in Vienna I am hailed as a masterful interpreter of Beethoven; in France, as an authority on the early classics, Bach, Haydn, Scarlatti, and Mozart; and in the Scandinavian countries as a player con amore of Schubert and Schumann. But would not surprise turn to absolute amazement when I add that in my younger days I was everywhere considered an ideal exponent of Liszt, and received the most rapturous praise for my performance of such tours de force as the rhapsodies, and the Rigoletto and Don Juan fantasies?”

This is an exaggeration, yet it is not false. Pachmann also played solo works by C. P. E. and J. S. Bach, J. F. Barnett, Beethoven (among other works, half of the Sonatas), Bülow, Brahms, Chopin, Clementi, Cowen, Cramer, Dvorak, Field, Godard, Godowsky, Grieg, Haydn, Henselt, Tom Hood, Hummel, Walter Imboden, Lamberg, Leideritz, Liszt, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Moscheles, Moszkowski, Mozart, Marguerite de Pachmann, Poldini, Raff, Rubinstein, Scarlatti, Schubert, Schumann, Sgambati, Taubert, Tchaikovsky, Weber, and Van Westerhout, as well as his own transcriptions and transcriptions by Godowsky, Henselt, Liszt, Saint-Saëns, and Tausig. Notwithstanding his reputation as a miniaturist, he also played numerous large-scale works: of J. S. Bach, the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue and Italian Concerto; of Grieg, the Ballade en forme de variations; of Mozart, the C minor Fantasia and Sonata K. 331 (Pachmann’s Italian pupil Aldo Mantia told Allan Evans in 1980 that he heard Pachmann play many Mozart Sonatas); Tchaikovsky’s Grand Sonata in G major; Weber’s Sonatas nos. 2, 3, and 4.

Throughout his life Pachmann played chamber music – during the 1880s, for instance, Beethoven’s “Archduke” Trio with Joachim and Piatti – and, of course, concertos: Beethoven’s third, 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-Bartholdy’s, Mozart’s A major (K. 488), in C major (K. 467 or K. 503) and D minor, and Rubinstein’s in D minor.

In all that he played Pachmann seduced his ‘intellectual’ colleagues – Harold Bauer and Alfredo Casella, as well as Busoni and Godowsky and Rachmaninoff – no less than those who, one might say, thought with their hearts and felt with their minds, as did Pachmann himself. He believed the piano must be played as a piano and not as an orchestra. Arthur Symons, who wrote much about Pachmann and his playing in pursuit of a definitive statement, hymned: “The pianoforte was once a ship with sails, beautiful in the wind; it is now a steamer, with loud propellers and blinding smoke. And it is not only the Busonis and the Mark Hambourgs who sacrifice beauty to noise, but every great executant, with the single exception of Pachmann. . .”

Pachmann’s was one of the earliest recording careers – his first discs were made in 1907, his last in 1927 – and, as the recordings on this CD prove, one of the most successful.

For better or for worse, it is as an interpreter of Chopin’s music that Pachmann is most celebrated. He recorded more works by this composer than any other, and during his long career played (among the solo works) the Allegro de Concert, four Ballades, Barcarolle, Berceuse, Bolero, twenty-two Études (all but no. 2 from opus 10, and all but no. 11 from opus 25), Fantasie, four Impromptus, many Mazurkas (24/4 was, he thought, the most beautiful), fourteen Nocturnes, the seven major Polonaises, all but five Preludes, Rondo opus 16, four Scherzi, Sonatas nos. 2 and 3, Tarentelle, Trois Ecossaises, and eleven Waltzes.

Pachmann objurgated the image of Chopin as the archetype of the sentimental, morbid Romantic poet and dreamer: he understood the compelling role of power, occasionally even of sadism, in Chopin’s music. “It was when Busoni played Chopin, and not when Pachmann played, that one realized the truth of Legouvé’s remark that Chopin was the natural son of Weber and a Duchess,” Sacheverell Sitwell wrote, while Edward Steuermann confessed that “hearing the old Chopin interpreter de Pachmann made a strong impression on me”:

“The manner in which he never departed from the basic mood, passing subtly over phrases which today have become lachrymose and hypersensitive, and permitting them to remain no more than premonitions, all this appeared to me to be compositionally more appropropriate to this work. The lesson: with all clarity of detail the basic concept must not be destroyed. Despite the intoxication of color which our modern nerves long for, one must remember that it is for the most part one voice, in this art, which speaks to us, no, sings to us; the voice must not stray so far that from a lyric poem comes forth a drama.”

Technically, how did Pachmann play Chopin? In an interview published in The Musician (1907), the pianist revealed some of his ‘state secrets.’ He believed that in Chopin “all lies in the fingering,” and, accordingly, worked assiduously to achieve a unique tone quality and legato in this music. “I do not use the first finger in playing passages where a delicate effect is needed,” he explained. “The first finger is too heavy – too harsh. I use the middle finger instead. Then I get the quality of tone that I want.

“Let me show you how I trill. Bend the first finger until it is the length of the thumb, that they may be even. Then trill almost on the nail. There you have a Chopin trill.

“In playing octaves I find a much better effect gained by the use of the thumb and little finger than by alternating the third and fourth fingers on the top notes in the Liszt style of playing.
“There you have some of my Chopin secrets – touch and tone quality, octaves, and the trill.
“There is yet another thing. In playing passages marked for both hands, with the top note to be struck by the left hand crossing the right, a much better effect is made by taking with the left hand the lowest note marked for the right. This makes it possible for the top note to be struck by the right, a crossing of the hands being avoided.”

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. Although Anton Rubinstein had played an enormous Chopin recital as part of his farewell to America, Pachmann’s Chopin cyclus was the first of its kind to be performed there, and it amounted to a sensation. Moreover, Pachmann took up works of Chopin that had been, and have essentially remained, neglected; the Allegro de Concert particularly – an immensely difficult piece, harkening back to the stile brillante of the composer’s concertos and the Rondo opus 16. Later, the Chopin recitals of Horowitz and Sofronitsky, among others, would be modeled on Pachmann’s; they, too, preferred making a selection from Chopin’s works to giving surveys of individual genres.

The critical reception of Pachmann’s Chopin playing makes for fascinating reading. At first, critics simply described his playing. In 1899, however, after he performed Chopin’s Funeral March to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the composer’s death, the reviewer for the The New York Times (18 October 1899) wrote, “His readings are eccentric and sometimes offensive, but their technical language revels in Swinburnian tone-tints, and the bewitched ear lulls the brain to forgetfulness.” (Swinburne was among the most significant of Decadent English poets.) W. J. Henderson, in the pages of the same newspaper (22 October 1899), called emphatically for the general recognition that Pachmann’s Chopin subsumed Chopin’s true musical identity. Henderson’s article nonetheless contains two felicities: he described Pachmann as a “curious compound of sensibility and conceit”; and, recognizing that Pachmann’s Chopin playing was “not always quite moral,” admitted that “if Tolstoi had ever heard Pachmann play the nocturnes of the Pole, he would never have written the ‘Kreutzer Sonata.'”

These reviews give proof that Pachmann’s playing was being increasingly perceived as representative of its historical moment: the fin-de-siècle. In earlier years, negative reviews had not troubled to connect it to cultural currents. Now, however, Pachmann’s playing was being portrayed as objectionable for what it was – sensuous, immoral – instead of what it was not. To name him an aesthetic confederate of Swinburne, and to declare that he played a Chopin Nocturne so erotically (immorally) that it would displace Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata, was to pay his genius an astonishing compliment – even though a compliment was not intended. He represented an idea of sensuality that was socially acceptable even in a restrictive age.

Pachmann’s Chopin playing merits its fame. Yet if it is better known than his playing of music by other composers, this is partially because he recorded more of it than any one else’s. Although there are fewer Pachmann recordings of Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, of Raff and Schumann and Brahms, of Liszt, it is necessary to know these as well if one is to recognize the breadth of his achievement. A musical chameleon, Pachmann adapted to each composer’s style and language with acuity and sensitivity.

Pachmann was an ideal interpreter of Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s piano works, of which he played all of the greater and many of the lesser ones: Fantasie in F-sharp minor (“Scottish”), the Prelude from the Prelude and Fugue 35/1, Prelude and Fugue 35/5, Rondo capriccioso, eight Songs without Words, and Variations sèrieuses; moreover, his playing of the Prelude 35/1 is one of the most outstanding performances of a work by this composer on disc; closely rivalled by his playing of two Songs without Words (‘Venezianisches Gondellied’ and ‘Spinnerlied’) – which Mantia remembered were always among the encores of his last Italian concerts. Arrau believed that Schubert was “the final problem of interpretation” for a pianist, yet to my mind Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s piano music is far more problematic interpretively: in concerts and on recordings alike, he almost always comes over as a petit-maitre – which he was not. Pachmann belongs in the company of Ignaz Friedman and Etelke Freund as a player of Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s music.

The Prelude was one of the works Pachman played at his last recital in Paris, at the Salle Gaveau, in June 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.) That autumn, in London, Pachmann gave one of the very last concerts of his career, a recital at the London Coliseum on 18 November, at which he also played the Prelude. (Mistakenly, Pachmann’s Royal Albert Hall recital of 21 October has been thought to be his last.)

From his salad days until his old age, Pachmann was enchanted by the music of Raff. Esteemed – at least during his lifetime – as a composer and orchestrator of the first rank, Raff also taught composition at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt. (Edward MacDowell was one of his pupils.)
All of Raff’s early works (up to opus 46) were written for the piano. Although ‘La Fileuse’ (157/2) was the one of his works that Pachmann preferred to all others, he also played the ‘Giga con variazioni’ (Suite Op. 91), the Prelude and Fugue (Suite Op. 72), and a ‘Rigaudon’ on many occasions. Raff’s piano works – of which there are more than 100 opere – are ‘salon music,’ yet their fluency and charm are not to be disdained.

Pachmann was ever a significant advocate for Schumann’s music. The Schumann works he played throughout his career included Carnaval, Davidsbündlertänze, Études symphoniques, Fantasie, Fantasiestücke, Faschingsschwank aus Wien, Nachtstücke 23/3 and 4, Noveletten 1, 6 and 7, Romanzen 28/2 and 32/3, Sonatas in F-sharp minor and G minor, Toccata, and Waldszenen. (Additionally, he played a fair portion of Schumann’s chamber music – the Piano and Violin Sonatas, and, with his wife at the second piano, the Variations in B-flat, opus 46.) The Études symphoniques were, in fact, the major work on the program with which Pachmann introduced himself to Paris (Salle Erard) in 1882.

He was an engaging, if unique, Brahms player. When, during his last American tour (1923-1925), he was interviewed by Harriette Brower and illustrated how he played the Waltzes:
“How light and beautiful is Number One; listen to it! Ah, and I will play it in tempo, too – no hesitation, no lagging. …Then hear Number Six; note the lightness of the skips! They should ripple and dance like tiny fairies. Do you remember the run in thirty seconds in Number 14? You will see I can play it in time. See, I beat the time with my hands and then play. Ah, you don’t hear it played like that, with such swiftness, lightness and precision.”

Yet he also mastered Brahms’s darker aspect. “Few would associate Pachmann with Brahms,” Samuel Langford wrote, “yet it was in the composer’s rugged ‘Rhapsody’ in B minor [79/1] that we found him wrestling, and that quite triumphantly, with heroic ideas. He played the purist here, too, and we should not have guessed, from the satisfying result, that Brahms was, as Liszt said, the worst of all pianoforte composers.” (Of Brahms, Pachmann is also known to have played the Ballade 10/2, the Capricci 76/2 and 5, and E-flat minor Scherzo. Although he once expressed his intention to learn the Sonata opus 5, there is no record of him having peformed it publicly.)
In the spring of 1900 Pachmann met Dohnányi (who heard Pachmann in Budapest and admired his playing), then giving his New York debut. Ilona von Dohnányi:

“Pachmann hated Brahms’s music so much that during [the’Handel’ Variations] he left the hall and paced up and down in the foyer. Witnesses related that he even covered his ears with his palms to block out the sounds that filtered out from the hall. In the artist’s room he remarked to Dohnányi, ‘You play Brahms beautifully. He doesn’t deserve it to be played this way.'”

Lionel de Pachmann grew up hearing that Liszt was present at his father’s debut in Budapest – not merely present, in fact, but an actor in the drama. Upon the conclusion of Pachmann’s performance of a Chopin Sonata, Liszt is said to have addressed the audience: “Those who have never heard Chopin before are hearing him this evening” – a tribute Pachmann answered with a performance of either Liszt’s D-flat Étude (‘Sospiro’) or Liszt’s transcription of Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s Auf Flugeln des Gesanges. Liszt then played his transcription of one of Chopin’s Chants polonaises for his young colleague. According to the same source, when Liszt visited England in 1886, he spent time with Pachmann and showed him how Chopin had played certain things.

Very possibly this story is an exaggeration or even a fiction. In fact, Alan Walker tells me that his own notes are silent about any meetings between the two men except for the ones described in volume three of his biography of Liszt. (The occasion of Pachmann’s Budapest debut is not among these meetings; nor is there evidence that Pachmann followed Liszt to Weimar.) Regardless of where he first heard Liszt play, however, he was unprepared for the experience. For him, Liszt was, as he later wrote, “alone on a mountain top.”

Pachmann, like Liszt, created a myth of inheritance for himself: Liszt’s myth was to have received a “kiss of consecration” from Beethoven; Pachmann’s to have been anointed by the greatest pianist of the nineteenth-century. He revered Liszt’s music almost as much as Liszt the man, and played a significant amount of it.

On 21 April 1892 in New York, Pachmann gave an all-Liszt program: Sonata in B minor, ‘Harmonies du soir,’ ‘St. François de Paule marchant sur les flots,’ Polonaise no. 1 (Polonaise mélancolique), Mazurka brillante, ‘Leggierezza,’ ‘Eclogue,’ ‘Cantique d’amour’ and the ‘Tarantella’ (Venezia e Napoli). On 9 April 1911, in honor of the centenary of the composer’s birth, he played a mostly-Liszt recital at Queen’s Hall (London): a Chopin group was flanked on one side by six Schubert Lieder transcriptions – ‘Ave Maria,’ ‘Gretchen am Spinnrade,’ ‘Trockne Blumen,’ ‘Du bist die Ruh,’ ‘Sei mir gegrüsst,’ ‘Der Lindenbaum’ (‘Hark! Hark! The Lark’ was also in his repertoire) – and on the other by ‘Leggierezza’ (which Amy Fay, one of the composer’s American pupils, remembered Pachmann playing wonderfully), the Mazurka brillante and Hungarian Rhapsody no. 9 (“Pesther Carneval”). Among the other Liszt works he played were ‘Apres une lecture de Dante,’ ‘Au bord d’une source,’ Ballade no. 2, ‘Bénédiction de Dieu dans la Solitude,’ ‘Gnomenreigen,’ Liebestraume no. 3, a Petrarch sonnet, Rigoletto paraphrase, Hungarian Rhapsodies nos. 6, 8, 10 and 13, Valse-Caprice no.6 (after Schubert), Valse-Impromptu., and ‘Waldesrauschen.’
Pachmann’s recording of the second half of the Polonaise no. 2 gives the lie to the old saw about his lack of vis vitae: his fortissimi push the limits of the early recording equipment almost as much as his playing of the Chopin Nocturnes eluded them.

Although he taught a handful of students – among them Margaret Okey (whom he married in 1884), Moissaye Boguslawski, Allan Bier and Mantia – Pachmann is unique in having no definite musical progenitor and no successor. That he came from no school and created no school, however, only makes his recordings all the more valuable and poignant. He hoped that they would keep his memory alive. Although earlier in his life he had dismissed them as “not even one percent de Pachmann,” in later years he regarded them as his legacy. “I shall not be forgotten,” he said not long before he died.

“. . .And when your children and grandchildren ask you, ‘Who was this de Pachmann,’ you will be able to show them how he played . . . And though they cannot see me, they will hear my voice through my music and then they will know why all the world worshipped de Pachmann.”
– Mark Mitchell ©2001

Mark Mitchell’s biography of Vladimir de Pachmann was published by Indiana University Press.