of Vladimir Horowitz, captured from the documentary The Last Romantic.Vladimir
1903 – 5 November 1989) was an American classical pianist of Ukrainian
birth. In his prime, he was considered one of the most brilliant pianists
of his time. His use of tone color, technique and the excitement of
his playing are thought by many to be unrivalled, and his performances
of works as diverse as those of Domenico Scarlatti and Alexander Scriabin
were equally legendary. Critics claim that his performance style is
overly mannered (termed Horowitzian), and often too much so to be true
to the composer's intentions. He has a huge and passionate following
and is widely considered one of the greatest pianists of the 20th Century.
Life and early career
Horowitz himself said that he was born in Kiev, Ukraine (then part of
Russian Empire), but some sources have given Berdichev (Ukraine) as
a birthplace. His cousin Natasha Saitzoff, in a 1991 interview, stated
that all four children were born in Kiev; Horowitz's wife, Wanda Toscanini,
however, gave credence to the Berdichev possibility. He was born in
1903, but in order to make Vladimir appear too young for military service
so as not to risk damaging his hands, his father took a year off his
son's age by claiming he was born in 1904 (This fictitious birth year
is still found in some reference sources, but authoritative sources
now list - and Horowitz himself confirmed - his correct year of birth
as 1903). Horowitz had piano lessons from an early age, initially from
his mother, who was herself a competent pianist. In 1912 he entered
the Kiev Conservatory, where he was taught by Vladimir Puchalsky, Sergei
Tarnowsky, and Felix Blumenfeld. He left the conservatory in 1919 and
played the Piano Concerto No. 3 of Rachmaninoff at his graduation. His
first solo recital followed in 1920.
His star rose rapidly,
and he soon began to tour Russia where he was often paid with bread,
butter and chocolate (Plaskin 52) rather than money, due to the country's
economic hardships. During the 1922-1923 season, he performed 23 concerts
of eleven different programs in Leningrad alone (Plaskin 56). In 1926
Horowitz made his first appearance outside his home country, in Berlin.
He later played in Paris, London and New York City, and it was in the
United States that he eventually settled in 1940. He became a United
States citizen in 1944.
Career in the US
In 1932 he played for the first time with the conductor Arturo Toscanini
in a performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 (the Emperor concerto).
The two went on to appear together many times, both on stage and on
record. In 1933, in a civil ceremony, Horowitz married Wanda Toscanini,
the conductor's daughter. Their different religious background (Wanda
was Catholic, while Horowitz was a Jew) was not an issue, since neither
was observant. As Wanda knew no Russian and Horowitz knew very little
Italian, their primary language became French. They had one child, Sonia
Toscanini Horowitz (1934-75).
rapturous receptions at his recitals, Horowitz became increasingly unsure
of his abilities as a pianist. Several times he withdrew from public
performances (1936-1938, 1953-1965, 1969-1974, 1983-1985), and it is
said that on several occasions, Horowitz had to be pushed onto the stage
(Plaskin 353). After 1965 he gave solo recitals only rarely (various
Horowitz made numerous recordings, starting in 1928 upon his arrival
in the United States. His first recordings in the US were made for RCA
Victor. Because of the economic impact of the Great Depression RCA Victor
agreed that Horowitz's European produced recordings would be made by
HMV, RCA's London based affiliate. Horowitz's first European recording
was his 1930 recording of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 with Albert
Coates and the London Symphony Orchestra, the first recording of that
piece. Through 1936 Horowitz continued to make recordings for HMV of
solo piano repertoire, including his famous 1932 account of Liszt's
Sonata in B minor. Beginning in 1940, Horowitz's recording activity
was concentrated in the United States. During this period, he made his
first recording of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1, under Toscanini,
in 1941. (In 1959, RCA issued a live 1943 performance of the concerto
with Horowitz and Toscanini; some say it is superior to the commercial
recording.) Beginning in 1953, when Horowitz went into retirement, he
made a series of recordings in his New York townhouse, including discs
of Alexander Scriabin and Muzio Clementi. Horowitz's first stereo recording,
made in 1959, was devoted to Beethoven piano sonatas.
In 1962, Horowitz
embarked on a series of highly acclaimed recordings for Columbia Records.
The most famous among them are his 1965 return concert at Carnegie Hall
and a 1968 recording from his television special, Horowitz on Television,
which was telecast by CBS. Horowitz also continued to make studio recordings,
including a 1969 recording of Schumann's Kreisleriana which was awarded
the Prix Mondial du Disque.
In 1975, Horowitz
returned to RCA Victor, and made a series of live recordings until 1982.
Horowitz was signed
to Deutsche Grammophon in 1985, and made both studio and live recordings
until 1989. Four filmed documents were made during this time, including
the telecast of his April 20, 1986 Moscow recital.
recording, for the Sony Classical label, was completed four days before
Despite his marriage, there is considerable independent evidence that
Horowitz was gay or at the least male-inclined.
He is credited with
the ambiguous aphorism: "There are three kinds of pianists: Jewish
pianists, homosexual pianists, and bad pianists."
It is believed he
underwent psychological treatment in the 1950s in an attempt to alter
his sexual orientation. In the early 1960s and again in the early 1970s,
he underwent electroshock therapy for depression (Plaskin 338–7).
The last years
Vladimir Horowitz at his 1986 Moscow recital. Screenshot from the DVD
release of the concert.After another brief retirement from 1983 until
1985 (he was playing under the influence of prescribed anti-depressant
medication and as a result, memory lapses and loss of physical control
occurred during his tour of America and Japan), Horowitz returned to
recording and occasional concertizing. In many of his later performances,
the octogenarian pianist substituted finesse and coloration for bravura.
In 1986, Horowitz
returned to the Soviet Union to give a series of concerts in Moscow
and Leningrad. In the new atmosphere of communication and understanding
between the USSR and the USA, these concerts were seen as events of
some political, as well as musical, significance. The Moscow concert,
which was internationally televised, was released on a compact disc
entitled Horowitz in Moscow, which reigned at the top of Billboard's
Classical music charts for over a year. His final tour was in Europe
in the spring of 1987; a video recording of one of his last public recitals,
Horowitz in Vienna, was issued in 1991. He continued to record for the
remainder of his life.
died in New York of a heart attack. He was buried in the Toscanini family
tomb in Cimitero Monumentale, Milan, Italy.
Horowitz is best known for his performances of the Romantic piano repertoire.
His first recording of Liszt's Sonata (1932) is still considered by
some piano afficionados as the definitive reading of that piece, after
almost 75 years and almost 100 performances committed to disc by other
pianists. Other pieces with which he was closely associated were Scriabin's
Etude Op. 8, No. 12 (D-sharp minor), Chopin's Ballade No. 1 in G minor,
and many Rachmaninoff miniatures, including Polka de W.R.. He is also
acclaimed for his recordings of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3
and Franz Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies, as well as for his famous hair-raising
transcriptions, especially of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies Nos. 15 and
No. 2. Towards the end of the Friska section of the latter, Horowitz
gives the illusion of playing with three hands as he combines all the
themes of the piece. It was recorded in 1953, during his 25th anniversary
concert at Carnegie Hall, and he stated that it was the most difficult
of his transcriptions. Horowitz's other transcriptions of note include
Variations on a Theme from Bizet's Carmen and Sousa's The Stars and
Stripes Forever. The latter became a favourite with audiences, who "expected"
it as an encore. Later in life, he refrained from playing it altogether,
because "the audience would forget the concert and only remember
Stars and Stripes, you know." Other well-known recordings include
works by Schumann, Scriabin, Chopin, and Schubert. He also championed
contemporary Russian music, giving the American premieres of Sergei
Prokofiev's 6th, 7th and 8th piano sonatas. He also premiered Samuel
Barber's Piano Sonata and Excursions.
were always well received by concert audiences, but not by some critics
(Virgil Thomson was famous for his consistent criticism of Horowitz
as a "master of distortion and exaggeration" in his reviews
in the New York Herald Tribune). The style of Horowitz frequently involved
vast dynamic contrasts, with overwhelming double-fortissimos followed
by sudden delicate pianissimos. He was able to produce an extraordinary
volume of sound from the piano, without ever producing a harsh tone,
leading some to wonder if he had tampered with the hammers. He could
elicit an exceptionally wide range of tonal color from the piano, and
his taut, precise, and exciting attack was noticeable even in his renditions
of technically undemanding pieces (such as the Chopin mazurkas). He
is also famous for his octave technique; he could play precise scales
in octaves extraordinarily fast. When asked by the pianist Tedd Joselson
how he practiced octaves, Joselson reports, "He practiced them
exactly as we were all taught to do." (Schonberg). Horowitz's unusual
hand-position meant that he played with straight fingers, and the little
finger of his right hand was always curled tight until it needed to
play a note; as New York Times music critic Harold C. Schonberg put
it, "it was like a strike of a cobra" (The Great Pianists
436). Rachmaninoff once commented upon it, saying that Horowitz plays
contrary to how they had been taught, yet somehow with Horowitz it worked.
Another account has it that when asked by an interviewer why he played
his octaves so loud and so fast, his response was: "Because I can!".
For all the aural
excitement of his playing, Horowitz seldom engaged in bodily or facial
histrionics on the stage. He rarely raised his hands higher than the
piano's fallboard, his body was immobile, and his face seldom reflected
anything other than intense concentration.
Birth name : Vladimir Samoylovich Gorowitz
Vladimir Samoylovich Horowitz was born on October 1, 1903, in Berdichev
(near Kiev), Ukraine (then Russian Empire). His father, named Simeon
Horowitz, was an electrical engineer. His mother, named Sophie Horowitz,
was a professional pianist and teacher at the Kiev Conservatory. Young
Vladimir Horowitz took his first piano lessons from his mother. At the
age of 9 he entered the Kiev Conservatory where he studied with Vladimir
Puchalsky, Sergei Tarnowsky, and Felix Blumenfeld. At the age of 11
he met and played with Alexander Scriabin. He graduated from the Conservatory
in 1920 with the performance of the Piano Concerto No. 3 by Sergei Rachmaninov.
By that time his family was devastated by the purges of the Russian
Revolution. All of their property, including the piano, was seized by
extensively in Kharkov, Kiev, Moscow, and Leningrad, acquiring a reputation
as a virtuoso. In Leningrad alone he gave 23 concerts in 1922, being
paid with food instead of money. He left Russia in 1925 and gave 69
concerts in Europe during the season of 1926-1927. He studied briefly
with Alfred Cortot in Paris. Horowitz made his American debut in 1928
with the New York Philharmonic, playing the Piano Concerto No.1 by Pyotr
Ilyich Tchaikovsky. His debut was a sensation. Horowitz performed sold-out
concerts and commanded the highest fees throughout his legendary career.
In 1932 Horowitz performed the Emperor Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven
with the conductor Arturo Toscanini and won the admiration of the maestro.
The same year in Milan, Italy, Vladimir Horowitz married Wanda Toscanini.
They had one daughter. Horowitz and Toscanini gave a remarkable fund-raiser
for the war effort with their 1943 performance of the Piano Concerto
No. 1 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. With that concert alone they raised
$10,000,000 for the allies in the Second World War.
Horowitz was a close
friend of Sergei Rachmaninov. They played piano together at the Rachmaninov's
home in Beverly Hills. Rachmaninov famously admitted that Horowitz surpassed
him in the interpretation of his Piano Concerto No. 3. Horowitz played
with unusually stretched fingers and low wrists, but even Rachmaninov
said, "Horowitz plays contrary to what they taught, yet somehow
with Horowitz it works." He performed an immensely wide repertoire,
ranging from Arcangelo Corelli to Alexander Scriabin. He also made fine
transcriptions of "Pictures at an Exhibition" by Modest Mussorgsky
and of "Hungarian Rhapsody No.2" by Franz Liszt; which are
considered to be the most difficult, even for a virtuoso like Horowitz.
At some points in his career he suffered from anxiety and depression;
taking long brakes, especially from 1953-1965 and from 1969-1974. On
several occasions he was said to have experienced stage fright and had
to be pushed onto the stage. Once he was sitting at the piano, however,
he was perfect. His playing was famous for refined nuances, clear articulation,
definitive phrasing, and impressive tone.
In 1986 Horowitz
made a sensational tour of Russia, where he took his own Steinway piano
in a bullet-proof case. His performances in Moscow and Leningrad (St.
Petersburg) were sold out many months prior to his arrival. These performances
had both musical and political importance at the time when Mikhail Gorbachev
was making changes in the rigid Soviet system. The acclaimed concert
performance was released on video as 'Horowitz in Moscow' (1986).
died of a heart attack on November 5, 1989, in New York. He was laid
to rest in the Toscanini family tomb in Cimitiero Monumentale, Milan,
Wanda Toscanini Horowitz (21 December 1933 - 5 November 1989) (his death)
He is considered by many to be the greatest pianist of the twentieth
He left Russia in
1925 and did not return until his trip to Moscow in 1986. He became
an American citizen on December 14, 1945.
He is the most famous
interpreter of Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto (popularly known
now as the "Rach Third"). He and Rachmaninoff were best friends,
and Rachmaninoff stopped playing the concerto himself when he heard
Horowitz play it. Horowitz recorded it three times.
He was awarded the
American National Medal of the Arts in 1989 by the National Endowment
of the Arts in Washington D.C.
concert performance that he gave in 1943 of Tchaikovsky's 1st Piano
Concerto, with Toscanini conducting, was eventually released on records
and CD, and has long been one of Horowitz's most treasured performances.