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This is a recent(2013)bio by Edward Blickstein and Gregor Benko. I've just started this book and think it is really terrific. After reading the reviews of de Pachmann's early concerts and the opinions of other famous musicians, including Liszt, it's clear that he was a very great pianist whose eccentricities increased as he grew older and unfortunately became his legacy. His antics apparently began as a way to deal with extreme nervousness.

IMO de Pachmann is somewhat like John McEnroe, whose legacy is tarnished by his on court behavior.

Anyone else read this bio or listened to any of de Pachmann's handful of recordings?


Haven't seen the bio, but I've read much about him, heard many of his recordings, and I'm a very big fan. I have this impression, no idea of how valid it is but it feels pretty strong, that of all the pianists of whom we have recordings, his playing gives the greatest impression of what Chopin's own playing might have been like. But only in terms of what I'd call the "micro" nature of it -- the basic sound, balance of chords and shaping of phrases; not in terms of overall structure or conception. Granting that the recordings are from his older age and therefore that they might not show much of his full range, it does seem like the term "miniaturist," which is often used for him, is accurate. I think this kind of thing was also said about him in his earlier years. So, I don't think it's just his eccentricities that have limited his legacy; I think it was also a lack of range in his abilities, even speaking as a big fan. And BTW I love the eccentricities -- reading about them, musing about them. I'm not sure I would have loved them so much if I knew the guy. grin
Of course, there are very many funny stories in the book. I'll just mention three I've read in the first 150 pages:

1. At restaurants, de Pachmann would sometimes eat his meals backwards...dessert first, then the main course, and then finish with an appetizer.

2. During a concerto performance, he purposely had the stage manager set up his score upside down. During the orchestral intro, he started gesticulating to the audience who understood the score was incorrectly placed. The audience found the routine so funny that they started applauding and the conductor had to temporarily stop the performance. dP said to the conductor "You see, even before I start playing they love me!"

3. A conductor and the orchestra who were tired of dP's antics decided to get even with him one time. During a concerto performance, they used a Chinese-speaking member of the orchestra as dP's page turner. Every time dP started talking to the audience the page turner would answer him in Chinese.
He was big. There is a Victrola ad where he's a little figure sitting next to Paderewski on the piano.

https://www.etsy.com/listing/483253959/1916-victrola-ad-from-womens-home?ref=market
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
3. A conductor and the orchestra who were tired of dP's antics decided to get even with him one time. During a concerto performance, they used a Chinese-speaking member of the orchestra as dP's page turner. Every time dP started talking to the audience the page turner would answer him in Chinese.

I'm surprised he ever used the score!
I don't mean anything special about him; I'd say it about any of the top pianists ever. I know that some do use the score, but they're a small minority. No idea if it was more common in those days, but I didn't think it was.

Professional pianists I've seen using the score in public performances, not counting chamber music

Keith Jarrett

That's it (I think).
Originally Posted by Mark_C
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
3. A conductor and the orchestra who were tired of dP's antics decided to get even with him one time. During a concerto performance, they used a Chinese-speaking member of the orchestra as dP's page turner. Every time dP started talking to the audience the page turner would answer him in Chinese.

I'm surprised he ever used the score!
I don't mean anything special about him; I'd say it about any of the top pianists ever. I know that some do use the score, but they're a small minority. No idea if it was more common in those days, but I didn't think it was.
dP started performing around 1870 when using the score was still considered fine. He actually started his career by playing without the score but had a big memory lapse at a concert. The critic lambasted him for playing without the score so dP decided to use the score from then on.
Originally Posted by Mark_C

I'm surprised he ever used the score!
I don't mean anything special about him; I'd say it about any of the top pianists ever. I know that some do use the score, but they're a small minority. No idea if it was more common in those days, but I didn't think it was.

Professional pianists I've seen using the score in public performances, not counting chamber music

Keith Jarrett

That's it (I think).


I think Richter did it later in his life. So did (does) Lee Luvisi. But you're right, just about everybody performs solo/concerti from memory these days.
Originally Posted by Orange Soda King


I think Richter did it later in his life.

You can see the score in several yt videos.
Quote
So did (does) Lee Luvisi. But you're right, just about everybody performs solo/concerti from memory these days.

Years ago I saw Peter Serkin play the Reger concerto and he used the score.
BTW, one might think that when we get later into life, we're more likely to need to use the score.

But, for many of us, the eyes go before the memory goes!
In the early 90s, Andre Watts did "Jeunehomme" for Mostly Mozart using the score (Schwarz must've sprung something like a programming change on him).

Dame Myra used the score during the war. Keep calm and play from the score!

[video:youtube]1b0gnbB8sPU[/video]



I saw Zoltan Szekely play the Bartok Violin Concerto, which he had commissioned, from the score. I believe that was in homage to the composer.
The dP book is very long and has a lot more than just amusing stories, but here are a few more:

1. dP found the English custom of 5pm tea bizarre. During the performance of a Chopin Etude in England, he stopped in the middle and served himself tea on stage. After he finished, he continued playing the Etude exactly where he had left off.

2. dP was playing the Chopin Barcarolle and had his hands in place to play the next to last octave at the end of the piece. Suddenly he stopped and smiled at the audience. Then, after another pause, he finally finished.
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
The dP book is very long and has a lot more than just amusing stories, but here are a few more:

1. dP found the English custom of 5pm tea bizarre. During the performance of a Chopin Etude in England, he stopped in the middle and served himself tea on stage. After he finished, he continued playing the Etude exactly where he had left off.

2. dP was playing the Chopin Barcarolle and had his hands in place to play the next to last octave at the end of the piece. Suddenly he stopped and smiled at the audience. Then, after another pause, he finally finished.

....and people think Lang Lang plays to the audience! ha

I didn't know he went that far. If somebody did that nowadays, he'd be accused of.....no, it would be stronger .....he'd be absolutely said to be not a serious musician. I don't have much doubt that de Pachmann was, but obviously he had a very silly side.

The furthest I'd ever known him to go on such things was the thing about playing games with the piano stool (which I think in those days was one of those round things that "twirled," not the modern leather things with 2 knobs on the sides), including sometimes putting a phone book under his butt, still not being happy, then ripping out one page from it, and putting that page under his butt, then smiling happily. (BTW I always thought it would have been even better to use the phone book minus that one page.)

And, in a vinyl recording of some Chopin piece followed by Mendelssohn, before starting the Mendelssohn he announced to the microphone, "The pianist will now try a little relief."

I didn't know about stuff in the middle of pieces. That takes it to a 'higher' level. grin
Sometime during the second decade of the 20th century dP was performing the Chopin f minor Concerto(which he played far more than any other concerto)with Sir Malcolm Sargeant During the second movement, he completely stopped, turned to MS and said, "Isn't my playing lovely?" MS said, "Yes, it is very beautiful, and would you please continue?"

deP was awarded a gold medal, and later, in the green room, bit into it to see if it was real.
----------------------------------------------------------

deP played mostly solo recitals and seems to have had the most limited concerto rep of any famous pianist ever. Except for probably just one performance of a Paderewski Concerto, his rep seems to have been only the two Chopin Concerti, the Mendelssohn g minor, and the Liszt E flat.
I like the short, silent film of dP making a piano roll, and his look of delight when the magically completed roll is brought to him for approval.


[video:youtube]AwTw7hBZbkY[/video]
In the mid 1920's deP was at a party. Although Rachmaninov, Hofmann, and Gabrilowitch were also there, deP immediately went to the Steinway piano and played something. Then he said to the person standing next to him something to the effect that Steinway was a lousy piano(deP endorsed Baldwin), and why would anyone pay so much for such a poor piano. The person he was speaking to was Frederick Steinway.
deP certainly had more than a high opinion of his own playing:

1. He said the only pianist in history that he was not greater than was Liszt.

2. dep(paraphrased):"If God played the piano he would play it only a little better than me."

3. deP(paraphrased): "There are two kinds of pianists...first class and second class. I am the first class."
He recorded the Brahms B-flat, and the performance is absolutely dreadful. His technique was even weaker than Paderewski's, and I wonder if without the antics anyone would have paid attention to him.
Originally Posted by Eldridge
He recorded the Brahms B-flat, and the performance is absolutely dreadful. His technique was even weaker than Paderewski's, and I wonder if without the antics anyone would have paid attention to him.

That's interesting. I've never heard of it, nor does it seem to be on youtube. Do you have any more information?

According to Raymond Lewenthal, de Pachmann played the Henselt concerto, and one can only imagine what an adventure that must have been.
Originally Posted by Eldridge
He recorded the Brahms B-flat, and the performance is absolutely dreadful. His technique was even weaker than Paderewski's, and I wonder if without the antics anyone would have paid attention to him.
If he recorded it late in life the evaluation of his technique is probably true. But for much of his life he had major virtuoso technique according to almost every review and the opinion of other pianists. In fact, early in his career, he modelled his playing after Tausig.

For the first 2/3 of his career, most reviews by critics and very important pianists of the day were highly complementary. The book I mentioned in my OP has hundreds of highly positive reviews. They often said something to the effect that "one can overlook his antics because his playing is so terrific".

The author's goal in writing the bio was to show that deP was a much greater pianist than many people think because, unfortunately for deP, his antics became more famous than his playing. I think the author succeeds in doing this.
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
If he recorded it late in life the evaluation of his technique is probably true. But for much of his life he had major virtuoso technique according to almost every review and the opinion of other pianists. In fact, early in his career, he modelled his playing after Tausig.

For the first 2/3 of his career, most reviews by critics and very important pianists of the day were highly complementary. The book I mentioned in my OP has hundreds of highly positive reviews. They often said something to the effect that "one can overlook his antics because his playing is so terrific"....

A teacher in the music department at my college (years ago) -- not a professional pianist but an excellent one, who played very much in this old old style (well-known guy -- OK, let's give him a name: Donald Grout) -- had heard Pachmann in his somewhat earlier years, and said much the same. I asked him particularly about Pachmann's technique because of what I had heard in the recordings and what I'd seen written about them.
I think it's important to keep in mind that DP's eccentric style was really not so eccentric, within the framework of his time. If you hear other early pianists, they all exhibit that extra degree of expressive playing and don't follow the rigorous, politically correct approach which began to be applied after WWII

Liszt himself said

"There is in art a pernicious offense, of which most of us are guilty through carelessness and fickleness; I would like to call it the Pilate offense, the Classical Way of doing and playing things, which have become the fashion in recent years, and which ON THE WHOLE may be regarded as an improvement of our musical state of things, hide many a one this fault, without eradicating it, more could be said on this point but it would be going too far"

He also hated Conservatories with a vengeance and would become visibly furious when he heard 'conservatory playing', probably because of the above reason.

So what to many people appears to be technical lacking or crazyness was probably just a combination of the much looser standards in terms of being 'politically correct', as I mentioned, and also the de facto effect that recording music has on the interpretation.. many fine details of the moods and meaning of the music are lost on all but the best music reproducers (recording equipment and stereos)
Originally Posted by Mark_C

A teacher in the music department at my college [...] well-known guy -- OK, let's give him a name: Donald Grout -- had heard Pachmann in his somewhat earlier years, and said much the same. I asked him particularly about Pachmann's technique because of what I had heard in the recordings and what I'd seen written about them.

WOW Mark, you knew Donald Grout! His 'History of Western Music' was -of course- a standard text book in the US, though even in my studies in the UK, we often consulted it for reference.
Originally Posted by argerichfan
Originally Posted by Mark_C

A teacher in the music department at my college [...] well-known guy -- OK, let's give him a name: Donald Grout -- had heard Pachmann in his somewhat earlier years, and said much the same. I asked him particularly about Pachmann's technique because of what I had heard in the recordings and what I'd seen written about them.

WOW Mark, you knew Donald Grout! His 'History of Western Music' was -of course- a standard text book in the US, though even in my studies in the UK, we often consulted it for reference.
I read the entire book as an undergrad music history major and still refer to my highlighted copy from time to time. Certainly must have been interesting to have known Dr. Grout (but perhaps not quite as interesting as knowing Vladimir de Pachmann !!). grin
I remember hearing the Brahms on the radio in Boston, a couple times, years ago. I just went looking for the recording online and couldn't find it, though I did find a reference to his performing it in 1900.
Thanks a lot for this thread! I just ordered a copy from Amazon.

I thoroughly enjoyed what I heard on YT of his playing of Chopin, e.g., Op. 27 No.2 , Op. 36.
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