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Pianos and Pianists - Editor Ates Orga

This day in piano history


Part 1


Few have suffered a press more disastrous than the Ukrainian Vladimir de Pachmann - with the Frenchmen Diémer and Planté the only recording pianist, distinct from composer, to have been born during Chopin's lifetime. From Shaw ('pianist and pantomimist') through Sorabji (an 'exquisite miniaturist' but 'a lamentable failure in works on a large scale or cast in a heroic mould' without 'intellectual staying power') to Schonberg ('Chopinzee and pianissimist,' making up 'his own rules as he went along'), the inclination always has been to ridicule rather than rate him. This week, in the first of two instalments, we reprint a long-forgotten encounter by the English Decadent Arthur Symons (1865-1945) - a remarkable attempt at conveying sound and time through words and images, the fabled through the fantastic.



Arthur Symons

~ 1 ~


It seems to me that Pachmann is the only pianist who plays the piano as it ought to be played. I admit his limitations, I admit that he can play only certain things, but I contend that he is the greatest living pianist because he can play those things better than any other pianist can play anything [dividing piano-playing into 'art' and 'accomplishment,' Symons heard many of the fin de siècle pianists in London - d'Albert, Backhaus, Godowsky, Busoni, Pugno, Paderewski, Fanny Davies and Teresa Carreño not least: see Music & Vision, March 3rd 2000]. Pachmann is the Verlaine of pianists, and when I hear him I think of Verlaine reading his own verse, in a faint, reluctant voice, which you overheard. Other players have mastered the piano, Pachmann absorbs its soul, and it is only when he touches it that it really speaks its own voice.

The art of the pianist, after all, lies mainly in one thing, touch. It is by the skill, precision, and beauty of his touch that he makes music at all; it is by the quality of his touch that he evokes a more or less miraculous vision of sound for us. Touch gives him his only means of expression; it is to him what relief is to the sculptor or what values are to the painter. To 'understand,' as it is called, a piece of music, is not so much as the beginning of good playing; if you do not understand it with your fingers, what shall your brain profit you? In the interpretation of music all action of the brain which does not translate itself perfectly in touch is useless. You may as well not think at all as not think in terms of your instrument, and the piano responds to only thing only, touch. Now Pachmann, beyond all other pianists, has this magic. When he plays it, the piano ceases to be a compromise. He makes it as living and penetrating as the violin, as responsive and elusive as the clavichord.

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