Horowitz, Vladimir (Contemporary Musicians)
Vladimir Horowitz is recognized as the greatest piano virtuoso of the twentieth century. Possessor of staggering technique, he was, in his prime, probably unequaled for speed and dynamic range, and he remains unequaled in his ability to evoke the Romantic tradition of highly expressive, personalized pianism as practiced by such legendary musicians as Franz Liszt and Sergei Rachmaninoff. As Time's Michael Walsh noted in a 1986 report, "At his peak, Horowitz had it all, heightened and amplified by a daredevil recklessness that infused every performance with an exhilarating, unabashed theatricality." Walsh proceeded to refer to Horowitz as "this most extraordinary of artists."
Horowitz was born in Russia in 1904 and began studying piano with his mother around age three. Within a few years he was studying the instrument seriously. In his youth Horowitz was already a dazzling pianist, but he aspired to composition, and by his late teens he had already composed several songs. But when the Russian Revolution resulted in the decline of his family's fortune, Horowitz turned to the concert stage as a more efficient means of deriving an income. In the early 1920s he gave nearly one hundred performances and earned substantial recognition as an explosive pianist capable of breaking piano strings with his thundering style. As a result of his success, he was allowed to leave the Soviet Union to commence further musical study in Germany. Horowitz, however, had no intention of returning home. Stuffing approximately five thousand dollars worth of Russian rubles into a shoe, he crossed the border as a Soviet guard wished him good fortune in the West.
Once in Berlin, Horowitz immersed himself in the music community, hearing such pianists as Edwin Fischer and Rudolf Serkin and collaborating with such conductors as Bruno Walter and Arturo Toscanini. Even among such great musicians Horowitz stood out as an extraordinary musical force, stunning audiences with overwhelmingly passionate interpretations of works by pianistic masters such as Liszt and Frederic Chopin. After enjoying a few years of great success in Europe, Horowitz traveled to the United States in early 1928.
Horowitz made his American debut playing Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto with conductor Thomas Beecham and the New York Philharmonic, in a performance that strengthened his reputation as an unrivaled virtuoso, Horowitz broke from Beecham's stately tempo and charged to the finale several measures before the orchestra. The result was, at once, vulgar and exhilarating, and Beecham fumed at the podium as the audience shouted their appreciation for Horowitz. Critics, too, overlooked his questionable taste and bestowed wild praise on his spellbinding technique.
By the mid-1930s Horowitz was working at what was, for him, an exhaustive pace of nearly one hundred recitals each year. In addition, he still appeared with orchestras, and in 1933 he gave a memorable performance of Ludwig van Beethoven's Emperor with Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic. The strain of Horowitz's schedule eventually overwhelmed him, however, and in 1935 he abruptly ceased performing. "I couldn't take the traveling, five days a week, all those trains, all those towns, no sleep, bad food," he later explained to Newsweek's Hubert Saal.
Horowitz spent his brief retirement recuperating with his familyn 1933 he had married Wanda Toscanini, the conductor's daughternd studying music. When he resumed playing in the late 1930s, it was with a renewed seriousness towards music. He complimented his largely virtuosic performing repertoire with works by modern composers such as Sergei Prokofiev and Samuel Barber and began drawing greater attention for his interpretive talent as well as his technical skills. During World War II, at which time Horowitz became an American citizen, he also gave many concerts for the American war effort. Out of these patriotic endeavors came what has become one of his most popular compositions, a flamboyant arrangement of John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever."
After the war Horowitz continued to enjoy great success on the concert stage, and in 1953 he celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of his American debut by once again performing Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto. Great publicity surrounded the event, and critics generally agreed that Horowitz had matured from mere virtuoso into a provocative artist, one capable of stirring contemplation as well as exhilaration. But after the anniversary performance he once again withdrew from public performance, claiming increasingly problematic healthotably stomach distress and general exhaustion. For the next twelve years Horowitz abstained from public performance, choosing instead to study music and indulge his extracurricular enthusiasms, which ranged from walking to watching baseball games and television programs. His only music output derived from occasional recordings, which ranged from works by masters such as Beethoven and Chopin to those by the more obscure Muzio Dlementi and early modernist Alexander Scriabin.
In the early 1960s, after ending his association with RCA Records and signing a recording contract with Columbia, Horowitz realized considerable success with a recording of works by Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Liszt, and Robert Schumann. This record, which became the top-selling classical work of 1962, earned Horowitz the first of four successive Grammy Awards. But as his recording success ensued, so did his interest in acoustics. Horowitz's first recordings for Columbia had been executed in a church, but he eventually sought a fuller sound, and in 1965 he decided to record at Carnegie Hall, site of some of his greatest recitals. Once seen at the hall, however, Horowitz was plagued by hearsay of his imminent return to the concert stage. He denied the rumors, but when a young journalist showed an unfamiliarity with Horowitz's musicianship, the pianist decided to resume performing.
Horowitz ended his twelve-year absence from the concert stage in May, 1965, with a Carnegie Hall recital that included Schumann's Fantasy and various works by Scriabin and Chopin. The performance earned great acclaim, and the subsequent recording of that concert proved immensely successful. The following year Horowitz released another concert recording, this time with works by Haydn and Mozart as well as those of Chopin and Liszt. By the end of the decade Horowitz was once again concertizing regularly. This period, though, was followed by still another withdrawal, and Columbia was compelled to sustain his record output by culling material from both recitals and studio sessions. By this time Horowitz's eccentricities and emotional sways were more generally known and there was speculation that his extreme mood swingsrom extreme elation to equally profound despairad undermined his ability to perform regularly.
By the end of the 1970s, however, Horowitz was yet again touring and recording vigorously. A highlight of this period was a celebration of the fifty-year anniversary of his American debut. For this occasion he performed Rachmaninoff's third piano concerto, a work that its composerimself an accomplished pianistad surrendered to Horowitz after hearing him produce a particularly dazzling account of it in the 1930s. This occasion was also special in that it marked Horowitz's first appearance with an orchestra since a recording of Beethoven's Emperor concerto in the early 1950s. The anniversary celebration, in collaboration with conductor Eugene Ormandy and the New York Philharmonic, provided Horowitz with still another great success, as did the subsequent recording of that concertor RCA, to which he had recently returned.
Horowitz has continued to enjoy great acclaim in the 1980s, though he has withdrawn significantly from both performing and recording. Even in recent years, however, he has proven himself unmatched in popularity. His brief return to the Soviet Union resulted in widespread attention from media throughout the world and earned him the cover of Time, which reported his return as "triumphal." The recording of his Moscow recitalroadcast the same day by an American news programrought Horowitz still further recognition as a master musician. Since the Moscow recital, though, he has performed in public only rarely, and it is believed by many that with the passing of Horowitz may go the passing of the entire Romantic tradition. "I am a nineteenth-century romantic," he conceded to Newsweek's Saal in 1978. "I am the last."
Frederic Chopin, Horowitz Plays Chopin, Columbia.
Chopin, New Recordings of Chopin, Columbia.
Chopin, My Favorite Chopin, Columbia.
Chopin, The Chopin Collection (three volumes), RCA.
Muzio Clementi, Horowitz Plays Clementi, RCA, 1955.
Franz Liszt, Sonata in B, RCA.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Horowitz Plays Mozart, Deutsche Grammophon, 1987.
Sergei Rachmaninoff, Horowitz Plays Rachmaninoff, Columbia.
Rachmaninoff, Piano Concerto No. 3 in D, RCA.
Robert Schumann, Kreisleriana, Opus 16, Deutsche Grammophon.
Valdimir Horowitz at Carnegie Hall: An Historic Return, Columbia, 1965.
Valdimir Horowitz at Carnegie Hall, Columbia, 1966. Valdimir Horowitz at the Met, RCA, 1981.
Horowitz in London, RCA, 1982.
The Studio Recordings, Deutsche Grammophon, 1985.
Horowitz in Moscow, Deutsche Grammophon, 1986.
Dubal, David, Reflections From the Keyboard: The World of the Concert Pianist, Summit Books, 1984.
Plaskin, Glenn, Horowitz, Morrow, 1983.
Atlantic, August, 1986.
Commentary, May, 1977.
Horizon, March, 1978.
Newsweek, December 2, 1974; January 23, 1978; April 28, 1986.
New Yorker, January 23, 1978; October 9, 1978.
New York Times Magazine, January 8, 1978.
Stereo Review, December, 1986.
Time, December 2, 1974; January 23, 1978; May 5, 1986.