Even though Liszt and Leschetizky dominated the teaching during the latter half of the nineteenth century, this did not mean other teachers and other pianists were less important. Vladimir de Pachmann belonged to no school and had no followers. His fame came from his shenanigans.
Pachmann would talk, mutter, grimace and lecture his way to through a recital. He denied that he did this for effect, but instead it is part of the artistic soul surging inside him. He would make speeches up to the audiences and play games to the listeners.
George Bernard Shaw, Irish Playwright was terribly amused and wrote:
‘M. Vladimir de Pachmann, gave his well-known pantomimic performance with accompaniment by Chopin’
He struggled with the piano stool adjustment and had made that legendary part of his show. One of his tricks was to fiddle with the up and downs of the piano stool until the audience were desperate. Then he would rush to the wings and come out with a large book to place it on the seat, smiling beautifully at the audience. At the middle of the performance, he asked the audience what they thought of his performance.
As he grew older, he wore his hair like Liszt and always made a good headliner in the newspapers. One of his philosophies was rather charming:
ever taken seriously by his peers.
‘…I was greatly astonished to find that I was well known among Berlin pianists and teachers. Although many of the critics and the music public knew nothing of my existence, those that heard me before the concert predicted a great success; however, I was not too sure. Some artists have a success with the public, but the critics kill them; others are successful with the press but make no impression on the public. I have no idea that my concert was eagerly awaited by all musicians and music students. The Beethoven hall was crowded with a representative musical audience. All Berlin pianists were at the concert. When I came out, I was so heartily greeted that I had to bow several times before I started. With some unusual good luck, I was hardly nervous, and the first movement of Brahms’s Concert in B flat, I played to my absolute satisfaction. This gave me courage for the following movements. The applause after the first movement startled me. It took a long time before I could begin the second part. After the last movement, I was recalled I don’t know how many times. After a pause of several minutes, I came out to play. The audience did not know what to expect.’
There was also another pianist, Busoni, who was a big rival to Godowsky. Each would give several Berlin recitals during trying to outdo each other. Godowsky taught in Berlin and was a professor at Akademie der Tonkunst between 1930 and 1914. In 1930, during a recording session he suffered a stroke and was never able to play again. He died in 1938.
Godowsky’s technique was not the heroic kind as he never favoured enormous sonorities. Instead, his independence of hands, equality of finger, ability to juggle polyphonic and general pianistic finish, he may have been unique in keyboard history. He composed his own music with great elaboration to details, crossed with so many inner voices, but none of them he could play. The most impossibly difficult things ever written for the piano by Godowsky was his fifty-three paraphrases of Chopin’s Études.
These are a fantastic piano exercise that pushes the piano technique to new heights. He wrote several Left alone étude including ‘Revolutionary’ and put together the ‘Butterfly’ and ‘Black Key’ under the title of ‘Badinage’. He had also put the bass of one étude into the right-hand melody and the right-hand melody into the left.
The fifty-three studies based on the twenty-six études of Chopin have multi purposes. Their aim is to develop mechanical, technical, and musical possibilities of piano playing and expand the nature of the instrument from polyphonic, polyrhythmic, poly dynamic and widen the tonality. It is undeniable that the transcription contains a transcendental quality that personifies the piano. Nothing like that had been done since Liszt. Despite the difficulty, the paraphrases were not supposed to be played like a stunt. They represent the philosophy where the piano itself was be-all and end-all.
Alfred Gründel was one composer-pianist who had slipped away into oblivion. He was a pianist of Pachmann’s style. He was a miniaturist and a stronger technician than Pachmann. He was understood to be the perfection of art to his Viennese listeners. Hoffmann commented that he ‘had a velvety touch, but he only played salon music very well.’ He was a super cocktail pianist, showing off his little bag of tricks with repeated notes.
Other Pole Pianists who attracted considerable attention were; Xaver Scharwenka who turned the ladies’ heads; Raoul von Kocazlski, a pianist who made his debut at four and toured at seven and become the court pianist to the Shah of Persia; Alexander Michailowski who attracted international attention and had studied with Moscheles, Reinecke, Tausig and Mikuli. His playing was full of passion, fire, and temperament.
Vassily Sapellnikoff from Russia, played the Tchaikovsky B Flat Minor Concerto under Tchaikovsky’s direction. George Bernard Shaw also heard him played Chopin’s A Flat Polonaise commented ‘cultivated a purely musical and tactile quality of his playing to an extraordinary pitch, his left hand being a marvel even among right hands for delicacy of touch and independence and swiftness of action.’
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