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Pianos and Pianists - Editor Ates Orga

This day in piano history



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In the attempt to humanize music, that attempt which almost every executant makes, knowing that he will be judged by his success or failure in it, what is most fatally lost is that sense of mystery which, to music, is atmosphere. In this atmopshere alone music breathes tranquilly. So remote is it from us that it can only be reached through some not quite healthy nervous tension, and Pachmann's physical disquietude when he plays is but a sign of what it has cost him to venture outside humanity, into music. Yet in music this mystery is a simple thing, its native air; and the art of the musician has less difficulty in its evocation than the art of the poet or the painter. With what an effort do we persuade words or colours back from their vulgar articulateness into at least some recollection of that mystery which is deeper than sight or speech. Music an never wholly be detached from mystery, can never wholly become articulate, and it is in our ignorance of its true nature that we would tame it to humanity and teach it to express human emotions, not its own.

Pachmann gives you pure music, not states of soul or of temperament, not interpretations, but echoes. He gives you the notes in their own atmosphere, where they live for him an individual life, which has nothing to do with emotions or ideas. Thus he does not need to translate out of two languages: first, from sound to emotion, temperament, what you will; then from that back again to sound. The notes exist; it is enough that they exist. They mean for him just the sound and nothing else. You see his fingers feeling after it, his face calling to it, his whole body imploring it. Sometimes it comes upon him in such a burst of light that he has to cry aloud, in order that he may endure the ecstasy. You see him speaking to the music; he lifts his finger, that you may listen for it not less attentively. But it is always the thing itself that he evokes for you, as it rises flower-like out of silence, and comes to exist in the world. Every note lives, with the whole vitality of its existence. To Swinburne every word lives, just in the same way; when he says 'light,' he sees the sunrise; when he says 'fire,' he is warmed through all his blood. And so Pachmann calls up, with this ghostly magic of his, the innermost life of music. I do not think he has ever put an intention into Chopin. Chopin has no intentions. He was a man, and he suffered; and he was a musician, and he wrote music; and very likely George Sand, and Majorca, and his disease, and Scotland, and the woman who sang to him when he died [Delfina Potocka], are all in the music; but that is not the question. The notes sob and shiver, stab you like a knife, caress you like the fur of a cat; and are beautiful sound, the most beautiful sound that has been called out of the piano. Pachmann calls it out for you, disinterestedly, easily, with ecstasy, inevitably; you do not realize that he has had difficulties to conquer, that music is a thing for acrobats and athletes. He smiles to you, that you may realize how beautiful the notes are, when they trickle out of his fingers like singing water; he adores them and his own playing, as you do, and as if he had nothing to do with them but to pour them out of his hands. Pachmann is less showy with his fingers than any other pianist; his hands are stealthy acrobats, going quietly about their difficult business. They talk with the piano and the piano answers them. All that violence cannot do with the notes of the instrument, he does. His art begins where violence leaves off; that is why he can give you fortissimo without hurting the nerves of a single string; that is why he can play a run as if every note had its meaning. To the others a run is a flourish, a tassel hung on for display, a thing extra; when Pachmann plays a run you realize that it may have its own legitimate sparkle of gay life. With him every note lives, has its own body and its own soul, and that is why it is worth hearing him play even trivial music like Mendelssohn's Spring Song* or meaningless music like Taubert's Waltz: he creates a beauty out of sound itself and a beauty which is at the root of music. There are moments when a single chord seems to say in itself everything that music has to say. That is the moment in which everything but sound is annihilated, the moment of ecstasy; and it is of such moments that Pachmann is the poet.

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* Acoustic recording, Victor company, Camden New Jersey, November 7th 1911: US double 6082, UK double D 265





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