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Chopin wrote for the piano with a more perfect sense of his instrument
than any other composer, and Pachmann plays Chopin with an infallible sense
of what Chopin meant to express in his mind. He seems to touch the notes
with a kind of agony of delight; his face twitches with the actual muscular
contraction of the fingers as they suspend themselves in the very act of
touch. I am told that Pachmann plays Chopin in a morbid way. Well, Chopin
was morbid; there are fevers and cold sweats in his music; it is not healthy
music, and it is not to be interpreted in a robust way. It must be played,
as Pachmann plays it, somnambulistically, with a tremulous delicacy of intensity,
as if it were a living thing on whose nerves one were operating, and as
if every touch might mean life or death.
I have heard pianists who played Chopin in what they called a healthy
way. The notes swung, spun, and clattered, with a heroic repercussion of
sound, a hurrying reiteration of fury, signifying nothing. The piano stormed
through the applause; the pianist sat imperturbably, hammering. Well, I
do not think any music should be played like that, not Liszt even. Liszt
connives at the suicide, but with Chopin it is a murder. When Pachmann plays
Chopin the music sings itself, as if without the intervention of an executant,
of one who stands between the music and our hearing. The music has to intoxicate
him before he can play with it; then he becomes its comrade, in a kind of
very serious game; himself, in short, that is to say inhuman. His fingers
have in them a cold magic, as of soulless elves who have sold their souls
for beauty. And this beauty, which is not of the soul, is not of the flesh;
it is a sea-change, the life of the foam on the edge of the depths. Or it
transports him into some mid-region of the air, between hell and heaven,
where he hangs listening. He listens at all his senses. The dew, as well
as the raindrop, has a sound for him.
In Pachmann's playing there is a frozen tenderness, with, at moments,
the elvish triumph of a gnome who has found a bright crystal or a diamond.
Pachmann is inhuman, and music, too, is inhuman. To him, and rightly, it
is a thing not domesticated, not familiar as a household cat with our hearth.
When he plays it, music speaks no language known to us, has nothing of ourselves
to tell us, but is shy, alien, and speaks a language which we do not know.
It comes to us a divine hallucination, chills us a little with its 'airs
from heaven' or elsewhere, and breaks down for an instant the too solid
walls of the world, showing us the gulf. When d'Albert plays Chopin's Berceuse,
beautifully, it is a lullaby for healthy male children growing too big for
the cradle. Pachmann's is a lullaby for fairy changelings who have never
had a soul, but in whose veins music vibrates; and in this intimate alien
thing he finds a kind of humour.
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