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Work, the Secret of Pianistic Success.

From an interview secured expressly for THE ETUDE with the great virtuoso pianist
VLADIMIR DE PACHMANN

[Editor’s Note: The first section of this remarkable educational interview appeared in the “Self-Help, Uplift and Progress” issue of The Etude published last month. In connection with this a short biography of the famous Russian virtuoso was published. The article was so full of brilliant suggestions and sage advice that we earnestly advise any reader of this issue who did not secure a copy of the October number to procure one if for but this feature alone. Articles of this kind are exceptionally rare. The conventional newspaper interview in which the artist discusses his critics, his hair and the climate of New York harbor appear frequently, but it is only rarely that a famous artist is induced to give his philosophical, artistic and educational observations to the public.]

de-pachmann.jpgDEEP THOUGHT NECESSARY.

“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.

TAKE TIME TO DO THINGS WELL.

“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. (sic) 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.

MASTERING ARTISTIC DETAILS.

“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 detct (sic).

“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.

SOMETHING NO ONE CAN TEACH.

“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!

THE BEST TEACHER.

“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.

THE BASIS OF GREATNESS.

“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 GodowskyAch! Godowsky, der ist wirklich ein grosser Talent—how has he attained his wonderful rank? Because he has worked out certain contrapuntal and technical problems which place him in a class all by himself. I consider him the greatest master of the mysteries of counterpoint since the heyday of classical polyphony. Why does Busoni produce inimitable results at the keyboard? Simply 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 map die teste Musik sein,
Wenn Herz und Mund stimmit üeberein.’

(“Music is best when the heart and lips (mouth) speak together.”)

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