Saturday, October 10, 2009


(Horowitz's version of the Gypsy Song from Bizet's Carmen)

He was, quite simply, the most legendary pianist of the twentieth century. No listener ever experienced another pianist who could thunder in the Horowitz manner. In the words of critic Harold Schonberg, Vladimir Horowitz's piano playing sounded as though there was a 'demon trying to get loose.' Oscar Levant once wrote that Horowitz's octaves were "brilliant, accurate and etched out like bullets."

(How many pianists play Scriabin's Vers La Flamme in their homes on request?)

Critics often hated Horowitz with a savage passion. They charged him with being a grotesque exaggeration of a virtuoso pianist - all technique, no music. Yet there was hardly a pianist in the world who could play with as much delicacy and sensitivity. Horowitz was not only THE virtuoso pianist of the twentieth century, but also a solid and undervalued musician who gave genuine thought to the way in which he interpreted the pieces he played.

(Schumann's Traumerei. Played on his first, and what proved to be only, visit to his native Moscow in seventy years)

And yet he was a tormented man. Tormented by his loss of his beloved Mother Russia after the 1917 Revolution, tormented by his secret homosexuality, tormented by doubts about his talent, tormented by his daughter's drug overdose in 1975. A depressive who subjected himself to electro-shock therapy on multiple occasions, he retired from the concert stage no less than four times.

(The Horowitzes talk about his key relationship with Rachmaninov. Then he plays the Prelude in G-Sharp)

And yet he was also a survivor. At every announced retirement, Horowitz sounded as though he was taking his final bow. And yet after every retirement he would return to a public that loved him and sold out nearly every concert he played. There has not been a piano virtuoso who inspired the devotion that Horowitz did since Franz Liszt did in the mid-19th century, and there may never be again.

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