Here’s a wonderful article on Vladimir de Pachmann Greg Benko sent me for translation a number of years ago, from the long defunct Swedish music magazine “Svensk Musiktidning” which came up in another thread here recently. I absolutely love that magazine, and I hope this article sheds some light on why. It came out twice a month between around 1880-1910 and included features and articles on prominent contemporary musicians, reviews of concerts, new compositions etc, and it’s surreal to be thrown back to a time where rumors about Liszt’s new compositions are discussed, and the recital programs and playing styles of Anton Rubinstein, Ferruccio Busoni or indeed Vladimir de Pachmann are covered and compared in much the same way we do with our contemporary artists today here on DASDC.
Despite only being just over 100 years old I remember the language this article was written in as being truly ancient. I didn’t consciously attempt to translate it in to some similar form of old English, but I did try to preserve the form, wording and style of writing as well as my English skillz allowed. Hence, if the writing feels quirky at times, don’t shoot the messenger!
Vladimir de Pachmann
Stockholm, May 15 1885
Fifth year, Issue No.10
Editor & Publisher: Frans J. Huss
[photo of de Pachmann not reproduced]
In our time, when one ever since childhood has learned to use advertisements and publicity campaigns to promote oneself, a travelling artist doesn’t need to be afraid that people won’t recognise his name no matter where in the world he performs. That hasn’t always been the case. In the old days the artists had to arrange their concerts themselves, and personally introduce themselves at the newspapers’ offices to get recommendations from the press. These days impresarios and concert agencies, by whom the artists are engaged, make sure that their arrival is known well in advance by large motley posters on house corners and billboards, and in advertisements and music shop windows where their portraits are presented in all sizes, and through voluminous reviews from all countries imaginable which are put in the hands of the newspaper editors.
Lately several similar posters with the names Maurice Dengremont, August Wilhelmj, Eugen d’Albert and Vladimir de Pachmann have been spotted in the capital. The first two names should be familiar since both artists have visited us in the past, and the name Eugen d’Albert shouldn’t be completely unknown either, but Vladimir de Pachmann? Who is Vladimir de Pachmann? That has been a general wonder and inquiry. No one had heard of any celebrity with that name until Svensk Musiktidning recently reported his arrival in Copenhagen together with Eugen d’Albert, and the daily newspapers thereafter conveyed his triumphs in the Danish capital. After several concerts he ultimately arrived here, and now our newspapers got a better grip of our man through a 227 pages strong “Revue critique des concerts de pianist Vladimir de Pachmann” - a volume which enlightened us in three languages that we in him have an artist of the very first rank, who arouses enthusiasm in his audience wherever he is being heard.
Svensk Musiktidning does however have on its conscience to have missed an artist of such a calibre. In our 12th issue last year we portrayed his personality after Wiener Fremdenblatt, but could still not comment on his artistry. Upon the reproduction of this account below, we’d like to remind our readers that Pachmann’s visit in Vienna occurred shortly after Anton Rubinstein’s concerts there.
Anton Rubinstein is the name of the one who has beaten all pianists like Simson de Filisteer; it would be vanity to compete with the giant in power, expression and fire. With his artistic personality, in the circle he supremely masters, he was unassailable. You have to be something different than he, show some opposite side to be heard and enjoyed in the aftermath of the storm he has aroused. This happened with the pianist Vladimir de Pachmann. After Rubinstein’s claws appeared a velvet paw, upon the lion followed the cat. Mr. de Pachmann is to the appearance a curious personality. His head and small, stout figure radiates energy and wilfulness. He doesn’t sit at the instrument like other pianists, looking in front of themselves, attentive of what is at hand; no he turns his face towards the audience and drills his coal black gaze in the eyes of his listeners. He controls the audience. Should anyone say a word to his neighbour during the performance he silences the person by an energetic “schh!”. Such eccentrices can a pianist however allow himself, if he is a true artist and not just a mere button pusher. And an artist Mr. de Pachmann is, both by birth and education.
We have now personally acquainted ourselves with the in more than one aspect strange artist, but instead of the above depicted stern master who rebukes a talkative audience – which, in parentheses said, often can be necessary – we have found a sympathetic personality, who in trust wants to open his heart to his hearers and among them spread the rich melodical treasures of a genius with his soft hands. And few pianists have such an ability to win over and charm a concert audience. There is something comical about his performances as well, for instance when his face and head movements mirrors the expression of the music, when he makes a grim face at a forte passage or smilingly turns towards the audience during one in pianissimo, which sounds like a mere whisper. The sight of this obviously invites to laughter, but the listener soon gets used to it and is instead enthralled in mute amazement by the captivatingly beautiful sound he, better than anyone else can coax from the strings of the piano. And the technical mastery, which is so highly developed in many of today’s other pianists, never before has one heard it so clean and remarkable as with this artist - and the reason is not only the incredible dexterity, but also the never-failing clarity in his playing which ensures not a single note of the performance is lost on the listener. By this we have also indicated his unsurpassable use of the pedal. Pachmann’s greatness lies not in his power, although he has shown that he has it when called for, but instead in his curiously artistically refined playing, in a touch that gives his sound a wonderful sonority, and in a refined poetical sense which makes it seem like the work he performs is an improvisation by the composer himself. With this clear and soft poetically virile playing, supported by the most brilliant technique imaginable, it’s not difficult to understand Pachmann’s reputation as Chopin interpreter par préférence, and his programs does indeed reveal a special liking for this romantic composer, but he is a master in other styles suitable to his temperament as well. As such one can’t imagine hearing Mozart played with greater reverence and true understanding by anyone else today. And he arouses admiration in equal measure by his superior virtuosity in Liszt’s Waldesrauschen and Au bord d’une Source, in Raff’s Giga con Variazioni and Prélude et Fugue, in Weber’s Rondo brilliant and Chopin’s Etude in thirds among others, and no less admirable is his singing, caressing interpretations of miniatures by Henselt and Schumann. Of Beethoven’s larger works it is predominantly the Op.101 Sonata which appears on his programs. The only other Beethoven Sonata we have spotted in his repertoire is the Moonlight Sonata from Op.27, but at London’s Popular Concerts he has performed other large-scale works like the 4th Piano Concerto and the Op.18 Quartet. Wiener Abendpost from ½ 1882 – the year which the above-mentioned “Revue critique” begins with – has a comparison of the Beethoven interpretations of Pachmann and Bülow, who, as the reader knows, is generally considered the ideal Beethoven pianist. The critic in this magazine finds that Pachmann’s performance of the first mentioned sonata is more warm, full of life and interesting than Bülow’s. “If Pachmann doesn’t have Bülow’s sort of magisterial plasticity”, he says, ”he more than compensates for this by greater warmth in his touch, by his soulful, or as we would say cordial apprehension. Bülow says: this is Beethoven. Pachmann instead says: this is how I know Beethoven.” This characterisation seems rather striking to us, although we’ve heard Pachmann play too few of Beethoven’s works to be able to judge him as a Beethoven pianist. Regarding his repertoire otherwise, we don’t find a single opus by himself. A desire to compose he apparently completely lacks.
Vladimir de Pachmann was born in Odessa in 1848 and made his first studies of music there. His father, an educated amateur and great admirer of Beethoven, whom he had come to know personally, was a professor at the university. At around 17 years of age Vladimir headed for the conservatory in Vienna and studied there under Dachs’ guidance, and after two years received the conservatory’s most distinguished prize. Upon returning to Odessa he gave a few concerts there before he continued to St. Petersburg to make a name for himself in the capital of the empire. One day he got the opportunity to hear Tausig, and shortly thereafter Bülow, and these masters left a deep impression on him. He now realised that he still had a lot to learn and retired from the concert life. He dedicated the next ten years exclusively to refining his art, not giving a single concert until 1879 when he appeared at one of the Gewandhaus concerts in Leipzig, proving himself as a complete master of his instrument, and from that moment on he can count himself as one of the most celebrated pianists of our time. Vladimir de Pachmann’s wife, born Okey, is also a distinguished pianist and has appeared in joint concerts together with her husband in Copenhagen, playing works for two pianos as well as individual solo numbers.
Pachmann’s first two concerts here in Musikaliska Akademien were relatively poorly attended; but at the third, a matinée in Berns’ lounge, a numerous audience had assembled. Upon this followed a matinée at Musikaliska Akademien on Ascension Day. The final concert is given this Sunday. If Mr. de Pachmann hasn’t had the pleasure of playing before a large audience here, he will at least have a hard time finding one which has celebrated him so enthusiastically. And he deserves it, because if he can’t yet be counted to the versatile and great artists, but shows his greatness more in a sparkling technique and a soft melting tone, which some have found tiring, he nevertheless is a complete master within his genre who irresistibly enthrals his audience, and we are delighted to have made his acquaintance.
Freely translated from the Swedish original by da XSDC mofo