Vladimir de Pachmann was born at Odessa, Russia, July 27, 1848. His first teacher was his father, who was a musical enthusiast and a fine performer upon the violin. The elder de Pachmann was a Professor of Law at the University of Vienna and at first did not desire to have his son become anything more than a cultured amateur. In his youth de Pachmann was largely self taught and aside from hearing great virtuosos at concerts and modeling his playing to some extent after theirs he had no teachers until 1866 when he went to the Vienna Conservatory to study with the then celebrated teacher, Joseph Dachs. Dachs was a concert pianist of the old school. Academic perfection was his goal and he could not understand such a pupil as de Pachmann who was able to get results by what seemed un-academic means. After one year with Dachs de Pachmann toured Russia with great success and since then has made repeated tours of the entire musical world. He never gave any serious attention to musical composition. As an interpreter of the works of Chopin no one in recent times has ever excelled de Pachmann, but he also gave numerous recitals showing a great breadth of style in the performances of works of the other great masters particularly Brahms and Liszt.
(The following conference was conducted in English, German, French and Italian.)
“Originality in pianoforte playing, what does it really mean? Nothing more than the interpretation of one’s real self instead of the artificial self which traditions, mistaken advi- sors and our own natural sense of mimicry impose upon us. Seek for originality and it is gone like a gossamer shining in the morning grass. Originality is in one’s self. It is the true voice of the heart. I would enjoin students to listen to their own inner voices. I do not desire to deprecate teachers, but I think that many teachers are in error when they fail to encourage their pupils to form their own opinions.
“I have always sought the individual in myself. When I have found him I play at my best. I try to do everything in my own individual way. I work for months to invent, contrive or design new fingerings—not so much for simplicity, but to enable me to manipulate the keys so that I may express the musical thought as it seems to me it ought to be expressed. See my hand, my fingers—the flesh as soft as that of a child, yet covering muscles of steel. They are thus because I have worked from childhood to make them thus.
“The trouble with most pupils in studying a piece is that when they seek individuality and originality, they go about it in the wrong way, and the result is a studied, stiff, hard performance. Let them listen to the voice, I say; to the inner voice, the voice which is speaking every moment of the day, but to which so many shut the ears of their soul.
“Franz Liszt—ah, you see I bow when I mention the name— you never heard Franz Liszt? Ah, it was the great Liszt who listened—listened to his inner voice. They said he was inspired. He was simply listening to himself.
“Nun, passen Sie mal auf! I abominate machine teaching. A certain amount of it may be necessary, but I hate it. It seems so brutal—so inartistic. Instead of leading the pupil to seek results for himself, they lay down laws and see that these laws are obeyed, like gendarmes. It is possible, of course, by means of systematic training, to educate a boy so that he could play a concerto which he could not possibly comprehend intelligently until he became at least twenty years older; but please tell, what is the use of such a training? Is it artistic? Is it musical? Would it not be bet- ter to train him to play a piece which he could comprehend and which he could express in his own way?
“Of course I am not speaking now of the boy Mozarts, the boy Liszts or other freaks of nature, but of the children who by machine-made methods are made to do things which nature never intended that they should do. This forcing method to which some conservatories seem addicted reminds one of those men who in bygone ages made a specialty of disfiguring the forms and faces of children, to make dwarfs, jesters and freaks out of them. Bah!
“Originality in interpretation is of course no more important than originality in creation. See how the composers who have been the most original have been the ones who have laid the surest foundation for permanent fame. Here again true originality has been merely the highest form of self- expression. Non ê vero? When the composer has sought originality and contrived to get it by purposely taking out- of-the-way methods, what has he produced? Nothing but a horrible sham—a structure of cards which is destroyed by the next wind of fashion.
“Other composers write for all time. They are original because they listen to the little inner voice, the true source of originality. It is the same in architecture. Styles in architecture are evolved, not created, and whenever the architect has striven for bizarre effects he builds for one decade only. The architects who build for all time are different and yet how unlike, how individual, how original is the work of one great architect from that of another.
“The most original of all composers, at least as they appear to me, is Johann Sebastian Bach. Perhaps this is because he is the most sincere. Next I should class Beethoven, that great mountain peak to whose heights so few ever soar. Then would come in order Liszt, Brahms, Schumann, Chopin, Weber, and Mendelssohn. Schumann more original than Chopin? Yes, at least so it seems to me. That is, there is something more distinctive, something more in- dicative of a great individuality speaking a new language.
“Compare these men with composers of the order of Abt, Steibelt, Thalberg, and Donizetti, and you will see at once what I mean about originality being the basis of permanent art. For over twenty years my great fondness for mineralogy and for gems led me to neglect in a measure the development of the higher works of these composers, but I have realized my error and have been working enormously for years to attain the technic which their works demand. Some years ago I felt that technical development must cease at a certain age. This is all idiocy. I feel that I have now many times the technic I have ever had before and I have acquired it all in recent years.
“No one could possibly believe more in self-help than I. The student who goes to a teacher and imagines that the teacher will cast some magic spell about him which will make him a musician without working, has an unpleasant surprise in store for him. When I was eighteen I went to Dachs at the Vienna Conservatory. He bade me play something. I played the Rigoletto paraphrase of Liszt. Dachs commented favorably upon my touch but assured me that I was very much upon the wrong track and that I should study the Woltemperiertes Klavier of Bach. He assured me that no musical education could be considered complete without an intimate acquaintance with the Bach fugues, which of course was most excellent advice.
“Consequently I secured a copy of the fugues and commenced work upon them. Dachs had told me to prepare the first prelude and fugue for the following lesson. But Dachs was not acquainted with my methods of study. He did not know that I had mastered the art of concentration so that I could obliterate every suggestion of any other thought from my mind except that upon which I was working. He had no estimate of my youthful zeal and intensity. He did not know that I could not be satisfied unless I spent the entire day working with all my artistic might and main.
“Soon I saw the wonderful design of the great master of Eisenach. The architecture of the fugues became plainer and plainer. Each subject became a friend and each answer likewise. It was a great joy to observe with what marvelous craftsmanship he had built up the wonderful structures. I could not stop when I had memorized the first fugue, so I went to the next and the next and the next.
“At the following lesson I went with my book under my arm. I requested him to name a fugue. He did, and I placed the closed book on the rack before me. After I had finished playing he was dumfounded. He said, ’You come to me to take lessons. You already know the great fugues and I have taught you nothing.’ Thinking that I would find Chopin more difficult to memorize, he suggested that I learn two of the etudes. I came at the following lesson with the entire twenty-four memorized. Who could withstand the alluring charm of the Chopin etudes? Who could resist the temptation to learn them all when they are once commenced?
“An actor learns page after page in a few days, and why should the musician go stumbling along for months in his endeavor to learn something which he could master in a few hours with the proper interest and the burning concentration without which all music study is a farce?
“It was thus during my entire course with Dachs. He would suggest the work and I would go off by myself and learn it. I had practically no method. Each page demanded a different method. Each page presented entirely new and different technical ideas.”
“As a rule piano students do not think deeply enough. They skim over the really difficult things and no amount of persuasion will make them believe some very simple things difficult. Take the scale of C Major, for instance. This scale is by far the most difficult of all. To play it with true legato, at any desired degree of force or speed, in any desired rhythm and with any desired touch, is one of the most difficult achievements in all music. Yet the young pupil will literally turn up his nose at the scale of C Major and at the same time claim that he is perfectly competent to play a Beethoven Sonata.
“The scale of C should be learned step by step until the practice habits are so formed that they will reign supreme while playing all the other scales. This is the way to secure results—go deep into things. Pearls lie at the bottom of the sea. Most pupils seem to expect them floating upon the surface of the water. They never float, and the one who would have his scales shine with the beauty of splendid gems must first dive deep for the gems.
“But what is the use of saying all this? To tell it to young pupils seems to be a waste of words. They will go on making their mistakes and ignoring the advice of their teachers and mentors until the great teacher of all—experience—forces them to dive for the hidden riches.
“Every pianist advances at a rate commensurate with his personal ability. Some pianists are slow in development. Others with wonderful natural gifts go ahead very quickly. The student will see some pianist make wonderful progress and will sometimes imitate him without giving the time or effort to study that the other pianist has given. The artist will spend months upon a Chopin valse. The student feels injured if he cannot play it in a day.
“Look, I will play the wonderful Nocturne of Chopin in G, Opus No. 2. The legato thirds seem simple? Ah, if I could only tell you of the years that are behind those thirds. The human mind is peculiar in its methods of mastering the movements of the fingers, and to get a great masterpiece so that you can have supreme control over it at all times and under all conditions demands a far greater effort than the ordinary non-professional music lover can imagine.
“Each note in a composition should be polished until it is as perfect as a jewel—as perfect as an Indian diamond— those wonderful scintillating, ever-changing orbs of light. In a really great masterpiece each note has its place just as the stars, the jewels of heaven, have their places in their constellations. When a star moves it moves in an orbit that was created by nature.
“Great musical masterpieces owe their existence to mental forces quite as miraculous as those which put the heavens into being. The notes in compositions of this kind are not there by any rule of man. They come through the ever mystifying source which we call inspiration. Each note must bear a distinct relation to the whole.
“An artist in jewels in making a wonderful work of art does not toss his jewels together in any haphazard way. He often has to wait for months to get the right ruby, or the right pearl, or the right diamond to fit in the right place. Those who do not know might think one gem just like another, but the artist knows. He has been looking at gems, examining them under the microscope. There is a meaning in every facet, in every shade of color. He sees blemishes which the ordinary eye would never detect.
“Finally he secures his jewels and arranges them in some artistic form, which results in a masterpiece. The public does not know the reason why, but it will instantly realize that the work of the artist is in some mysterious way superior to the work of the bungler. Thus it is that the mind of the composer works spontaneously in selecting the musical jewels for the diadem which is to crown him with fame. During the process of inspiration he does not realize that he is selecting his jewels with lightning rapidity, but with a highly cultivated artistic judgment. When the musical jewels are collected and assembled he regards the work as a whole as the work of another. He does not realize that he has been going through the process of collecting them. Schubert failed to recollect some of his own compositions only a few days after he had written them.
“Now the difficulty with students is that they do not take time to polish the jewels which the composers have selected with such keen æsthetic discernment. They think it enough if they merely succeed in playing the note. How horrible! A machine can play the notes, but there is only one machine with a soul and that is the artist. To think that an artist should play only the notes and forget the glories of the inspiration which came in the composer’s mind during the moment of creation.
“Let me play the D flat Chopin Nocturne for you. Please notice how the notes all bear a relation to each other, how everything is in right proportion. Do you think that came in a day? Ah, my friend, the polishing of those jewels took far longer than the polishing of the Kohinoor. Yet I have heard young girls attempt to play this piece for me— expecting approbation, of course, and I am certain that they could not have practiced upon it more than a year or so. They evidently think that musical masterpieces can be brought into being like the cobwebs which rise during the night to be torn down by the weight of the dew of the following morning. Imbecillità!
“They play just as their teachers have told them to play, which is of course good as far as it goes. But they stop at that, and no worthy teacher expects his pupil to stop with his instruction. The best teacher is the one who incites his pupil to penetrate deeper and learn new beauties by himself. A teacher in the highest sense of the word is not a mint, coining pupils as it were and putting the same stamp of worth upon each pupil.
“The great teacher is an artist who works in men and women. Every pupil is different, and he must be very quick to recognize these differences. He should first of all teach the pupil that there are hundreds of things which no teacher can ever hope to teach. He must make his pupil keenly alert to this. There are hundreds of things about my own playing which are virtually impossible to teach. I would not know how to convey them to others so that they might be intelligently learned. Such things I have found out for myself by long and laborious experimentation. The control of my fifth finger in certain fingerings presented endless problems which could only be worked out at the keyboard. Such things give an individuality to the pianist’s art, something which cannot be copied.
“Have you ever been in a foreign art gallery and watched the copyists trying to reproduce the works of the masters? Have you ever noticed that though they get the form, the design, and even the colors and also that with all these resemblances there is something which distinguishes the work of the master from the work of the copyist, something so wonderful that even a child can see it? You wonder at this? Pourquoi? No one can learn by copying the secret the master has learned in creating.
“Here we have a figure which brings out very clearly the real meaning of originality in piano playing and at the same time indicates how every pupil with or without a teacher should work for himself. Why was the great Liszt greater than any pianist of his time? Simply because he found out certain pianistic secrets which Czerny or any of Liszt’s teachers and contemporaries had failed to discover.
“Why has Godowsky—Ach! Godowsky, der ist wirklich ein grosser Talent—how has he attained his wonderful rank? Because he has worked out certain contrapuntal and tech- nical problems which place him in a class all by himself. I consider him the greatest master of the mysteries of coun- terpoint since the heyday of classical polyphony. Why does Busoni produce inimitable results at the keyboard? Sim- ply because he was not satisfied to remain content with the knowledge he had obtained from others.
“This then is my life secret—work, unending work. I have no other secrets. I have developed myself along the lines revealed to me by my inner voice. I have studied myself as well as my art. I have learned to study mankind through the sciences and through the great literary treasures, you see; I speak many languages fluently, I have stepped apace with the crowd, I have drunk the bitter and the sweet from the chalices of life, but remember, I have never stopped, and to-day I am just as keenly interested in my progress as I was many years ago as a youth. The new repertoire of the works of Liszt and Brahms and other composers demanded a different technic, a bigger technic. What exquisite joy it was to work for it. Yes, mio amico, work is the greatest intoxication, the greatest blessing, the greatest solace we can know. Therefore work, work, work. But of all things, my good musical friends in America, remember the old German proverb:
“’Das mag die beste Musik sein Wenn Herz und Mund stimmt überein.”’
("Music is best when the heart and lips (mouth) speak together.”)
1. What does originality in pianoforte playing really mean?
2. State something of the evils of the forcing methods of training applied to young children.
3. Have the compositions of the most original composers been the most enduring?
4. Name seven of the most original composers for the pianoforte.
5. Must the pupil continually help himself?
6. What is considered the most difficult scale to learn?
7. Is a great virtuoso obliged to practice years in order to secure results?
8. How may piano study be compared with the polishing of beautiful jewels?
9. Tell what characteristics a great teacher must have.
10. What lies at the foundation of pianistic greatness?
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