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.
Name originally Vladimir Gorowitz; born October 1, 1904, in Kiev, Russia (Now U.S.S.R.); came to United States, 1928; naturalized U.S. citizen, 1944; son of Samuel (an electrical engineer) and Sophie (Bodik) Gorowitz; married Wanda Toscanini, December 21, 1933; children Sonia (deceased). Education: Attended Kiev Conservatory of Music. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Jewish.
Made concert debut at age 17 in Kiev, U.S.S.R.; emigrated to Berlin, Germany, 1925; European concert debut, 1925; made U.S. concert debut with New York Philharmonic, January 1928; has gone on numerous U.S. and world tours, including tours of Great Britain, 1982, Japan, 1983, and the Soviet Union, 1986.
Awards: Winner of numerous awards, including 23 Grammy Awards; Gran Prix des Discophiles, 1966; Gold Medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society, 1972; Wolf Foundation Prize for Music, 1982; Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1986; Legion of Honor from French government; and Order of Merit from Italian government.
Addresses: Home —New York City.Office –c/o Columbia Artists Management, 165 West 57th St., New York, NY 10019.
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 family—in 1933 he had married Wanda Toscanini, the conductor’s daughter—and 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 health—notably 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 swings—from extreme elation to equally profound despair—had 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 composer—himself an accomplished pianist—had 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 concert—for 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 recital—broadcast the same day by an American news program—brought 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.
American pianist Vladimir Horowitz (1904-1989) was among the last performers in the 19th-century grand-virtuoso tradition. While his phenomenal technique sometimes overwhelmed the music, the power and energy of his playing were unsurpassed.
During his lifetime, Vladimir Horowitz was recognized as the greatest piano virtuoso of the 20th century. Michael Walsh noted in an 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. … [He was] this most extraordinary of artists." Vladimir Horowitz's birth occurred in 1904 in Russia. He began to study piano with his mother at around age three. Within a few years he was seriously studying the instrument and by his late teens had already composed several songs. Other members of the family were also musical, especially Horowitz's sister, Regina, who also became a concert pianist, and an uncle who had studied composition with Scriabin and who arranged for Horowitz's concerts before the pianist left Russia.
Although Horowitz revealed talent at an early age, he was not considered a prodigy. He enrolled in the Kiev Conservatory in 1912, first studying with his mother's teacher, Vladimir Puchalsky, then Sergei Tarnowsky in 1915, and, finally, Felix Blumenfeld, a student of Anton Rubinstein, in 1919. Horowitz credited the last mentioned for his flat-fingered technique which resulted in a semi-staccato attack and produced a brilliant tone. Blumenfeld was to be Horowitz's last teacher, although he would have occasional lessons with Cartot in France. Throughout his conservatory years Horowitz usually practiced less than four hours a day, and this rather inefficiently, at least from a technical standpoint, preferring to play through operatic literature rather than work at the progressive lessons and exercises familiar to most pianists. From the beginning his intention had been to pursue a dual career as composer-pianist in the tradition of Liszt and Rachmaninoff. The Bolshevik takeover of Kiev in 1920, however, put an end to this plan, forcing him to concentrate on concerts as an efficient means to deriving an income. In the 1920's Horowitz gave 100 performances and earned a reputation as an explosive pianist capable of breaking piano strings with his thundering style.
During this period Horowitz met the famous German pianist Arthur Schnabel, who advised him to leave Russia, and shortly thereafter, in 1923, he found the means to do so through Alexander Merovich, his first manager. Horowitz's first European tour, as arranged by Merovich, included performances in Berlin and Paris; neither city accepted him without reservation. The rising anti-Semitism in Germany discouraged a Jewish musician who, moreover, did not play German music and who played in a romantic, high-flown style unacceptable to the German ideals of precision and strict adherence to the score. The French were as unreceptive to Horowitz's programming as the Germans, again preferring to hear music of their own composers.
Horowitz's New York debut took place on January 12, 1928, at Carnegie Hall, with Sir Thomas Beecham conducting the New York Philharmonic in the Tchaikovsky piano concerto. Although the passion and agility of Horowitz's playing amazed critics, the performance as a whole suffered from irreconcilable differences in interpretation and tempo between conductor and soloist.
A meeting with Rachmaninoff a few days before his New York debut marked the beginning of a friendship that would continue until Rachmaninoff's death in 1943. Equally important was his introduction to Toscanini in April 1932. In addition to the many fruitful collaborations that would take place between the two, Horowitz became further acquainted with Toscanini's daughter, whom he married in 1933.
The sensational qualities of Horowitz's playing soon established him at the forefront of the American concert scene. He found it increasingly difficult, however, to mediate between the public's and his manager's demands for brilliant showpieces and the more solid musicality of those around him, especially his father-in-law and mentor, Toscanini. This, along with the daily grind of a hectic concert schedule, a nervous constitution, and other personal problems, necessitated three extended absences from the stage and, partially, from recording. These occurred during the years 1936-1939, 1953-1965, and 1969-1973. Horowitz also became less interested in performing outside the United States, where he acquired citizenship in 1945. Between the years 1939 and 1986 he made only one tour of Europe, playing three London concerts in October 1951 and two recitals in Paris the following month. In 1986 he began a tour with a return to the Soviet Union—his first visit since leaving there 60 years before—for performances in Moscow and Leningrad in April. He then continued on to Hamburg, Berlin, and London.
Horowitz was undoubtedly one of the great pianists of the era and was compared to Franz Liszt in his total command of the instrument. He was most comfortable with Romantic works, especially Liszt and Rachmaninoff, and admitted a dislike for modern music that exploits the percussive, rather than lyrical, capabilities of the piano. Of the composers who can be admitted stylistically to the 20th century, Horowitz played only Debussy, Ravel, Scriabin, Prokofiev, and Barber. Acknowledging his affinity for their music, Prokofiev requested that Horowitz give the American premiers of his sonatas 6-8 (the War Sonatas), and Barber wrote the fourth movement fugue to his Sonata, Op. 26 at the pianist's request for "something very flashy, but with content." In later years Horowitz tended away from these early moderns.
Among his many recordings, several deserve mention. Liszt's Sonata in B Minor, recorded in 1932 for RCA, shows Horowitz at the peak of his powers, especially in the clarity, evenness, and speed of his scale passages and octaves. A collaboration with Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra in a 1940 recording of Brahms' second piano concerto for RCA demonstrated the benefit of Horowitz's yielding control to the more solid formal instincts of the conductor. This recording also received praise for the comparatively life-like quality of the sound. Many consider Horowitz to be the foremost interpreter of Rachmaninoff, and especially of his third piano concerto. The first of Horowitz's three renditions of the work, a 1930 recording with Albert Coates and the London Symphony, is perhaps the preferred. Outside his usual repertory, Horowitz championed the works of two pre-Romantic composers, Muzio Clementi and Domenico Scarlatti, on two albums for RCA and Columbia, respectively.
Horowitz limited his teaching to only a few of the most talented prospects and later acknowledged only Byron Janis, Ronald Turini, and Gary Graffman as having studied with him. While Janis was typical in describing the difficulty of working with the strong personality of Horowitz, he ascribed his regard for pedaling according to varying acoustical situations to Horowitz's teaching. In 1995 and 1996, The Private Collection I & II were released based upon the private tapes owned by Horowitz.
Horowitz died of a heart attack on November 5, 1989 in New York City. "At his best, " wrote Joah von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune, "Horowitz had a thunderous sonority and demonic daring that literally nobody in the world could match."
The most complete account of Horowitz's life is Glen Plaskin's Horowitz (1983). Thoroughly researched, meticulously documented, eminently readable, and impartial, it is a model of biographical writing. An abridged version of Chapter 10, describing Horowitz's introduction to the Toscanini family, appears in Musical America (March 1983). Shorter biographies are included in Harold Schonberg's The Great Pianists (1963) and in Wilson Lyle's A Dictionary of Pianists (1985). The May 5, 1986, issue of Time contains biographical material plus a description of his April 1986 return to Russia. The June 8, 1997 Jerusalem Post also had a fine feature on him, "The Fairy Tale Life of Vladimir Horowitz." □
HOROWITZ, VLADIMIR (1904–1989), pianist. He studied the piano in Kiev, his birthplace, and first attracted public attention in Russia in 1921. His subsequent success was sensational and was repeated when he started touring European capitals in 1925. He went to the United States on contract in 1928 and decided to remain there. He gave numerous recitals, which stopped temporarily in 1936. It was thought that, highly self-critical, he had become dissatisfied with the frequency of his appearances. He resumed his concerts in 1939 but on a greatly reduced schedule. In 1953 he retired from the platform again and reappeared only in 1965. He however continued to make occasional recordings. Horowitz's relationship with the conductor Toscanini, whose daughter Wanda he married in 1933, probably changed his musical outlook. After 1939 his musical understanding appeared to have grown, adding depth to his technical brilliance, and he was considered not only a great virtuoso performer but also a profound musician.
[Uri (Erich) Toeplitz]
In 1978 Horovitz celebrated the 50th anniversary of his American debut on Jan. 12, 1928. On Jan. 8 he played the Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto under the baton of Eugene Ormandy at Carnegie Hall in New York City and a message was read from President Carter congratulating him on "50 years of remarkable service to the performing arts in the United States." On Feb. 26 he played for President Carter and an invited audience at the White House.
Baker's Biog Dict; Riemann-Gurlitt; Grove's Dict.