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Vladimir Samoylovich Horowitz ( ; )  (October 1, 1903 – November 5, 1989) was a Russianmarker-Americanmarker classical pianist and minor composer. His technique and use of tone color and the excitement of his playing were and remain legendary. He is widely considered one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century.

Life and early career

Horowitz was born in Kievmarker in the Russian Empiremarker (now the capital of Ukrainemarker) into the assimilated Jewish family of Samuil Horowitz and Sophia Bodik, the youngest of four children. Samuil Horowitz was a well-to-do electrical engineer and the distributor of electric motors for several German manufacturers. Horowitz's grandfather Joachim was a merchant (and an arts-supporter), belonging to the 1st Guild. This status gave exemption from having to reside in the Pale of Settlement. Horowitz was born in 1903, but in order to make him 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. The 1904 date appeared in many reference works during the pianist's lifetime.

Horowitz received piano instruction from an early age, initially from his mother, who was herself a pianist. In 1912 he entered the Kiev Conservatory, where he was taught by Vladimir Puchalsky, Sergei Tarnowsky, and Felix Blumenfeld. He performed Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor at his graduation in 1919. His first solo recital was performed in Kharkivmarker in 1920.

Horowitz's fame grew, and he soon began to tour Russiamarker where he was often paid with bread, butter and chocolate rather than money, due to the country's economic hardships. During the 1922–1923 season, he performed 23 concerts of eleven different programs in Leningradmarker alone. Despite his early success as a pianist, Horowitz maintained that he wanted to be a composer, and only undertook a career as a pianist to help his family, who had lost their possessions in the Russian Revolution.

In December, 1925, Horowitz crossed the border into the West, ostensibly to study with Artur Schnabel. Privately intending not to return, the pianist had stuffed American dollars and British pound notes into his shoes to finance his initial concerts.

Career in the West

On January 2, 1926, Horowitz made his first appearance outside his home country, in Berlinmarker. He later played in Parismarker, Londonmarker and New York Citymarker. Horowitz was selected by Sovietmarker authorities to represent Ukrainemarker in the inaugural 1927 Chopin Piano Competition: however the pianist had decided to stay in the West and thus did not participate.

Horowitz gave his United Statesmarker debut on January 12, 1928, in Carnegie Hallmarker. He played Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 under the direction of Sir Thomas Beecham, who was also making his U.S. debut. Horowitz later commented that he and Beecham had divergent ideas regarding tempos, and that Beecham was conducting the score "from memory and he didn't know" the piece. Horowitz's success with the audience was phenomenal. Olin Downes, writing for the New York Times, was critical about the metric tug of war between conductor and soloist, but Downes credited the pianist with both a beautiful singing tone in the second movement and a tremendous technique in the finale, referring to Horowitz's playing as a "tornado unleashed from the steppes". In this debut performance, Horowitz demonstrated a marked ability to excite his audience, an ability he maintained for his entire career.
Horowitz at his 1968 Television Concert
Downes commented, "it has been years since a pianist created such a furor with an audience in this city." In his review of Horowitz's solo recital, Downes characterized the pianist's playing as showing "most if not all the traits of a great interpreter." In 1933, he played for the first time with the conductor Arturo Toscanini in a performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 The Emperor. Horowitz and Toscanini went on to perform together many times, on stage and in recordings. Horowitz settled in the U. S. in 1939, and became an American citizen in 1944.

Despite rapturous receptions at recitals, Horowitz became increasingly unsure of his abilities as a pianist. On several occasions, the pianist had to be pushed onto the stage. Several times, he withdrew from public performances - during 1936 to 1938, 1953 to 1965, 1969 to 1974, and 1983 to 1985. After his comeback in 1965 he gave solo recitals only rarely. He made his television debut on September 22, 1968, in a concert televised by CBS from Carnegie Hall.


Horowitz at the time of his first recordings.

In 1926, Horowitz performed on several piano rolls at the Welte-Mignon studios in Freiburg, Germany. His first recordings were made in the United States in 1928 for RCA Victor. Because of the economic impact of the Great Depression, RCA Victor agreed to allow its recording artists' European-produced recordings to be made by HMV, RCA's Londonmarker based affiliate. Horowitz's first European recording, in 1930, was of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 with Albert Coates and the London Symphony Orchestra, the world premiere recording of that piece. Through 1936, Horowitz continued to make recordings for HMV of solo piano repertoire, including his famous 1932 account of Franz Liszt's Sonata in B minor. Beginning in 1940, Horowitz's recording activity was again concentrated in the US. That year, he recorded Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2, and in 1941, the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1, both with the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Toscanini. In 1959, RCA issued the live 1943 performance of the Tchaikovsky concerto with Horowitz and Toscanini; it is generally considered superior to the commercial recording, and it was selected for the Grammy Hall of Fame. During Horowitz's second retirement, which began in 1953, he made a series of recordings in his New Yorkmarker townhouse, including LPs of Scriabin and 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 Hallmarker and a 1968 recording from his television special, Vladimir Horowitz: a Concert at Carnegie Hall, televised by CBS. Horowitz also continued to make studio recordings, including a 1969 recording of Kreisleriana by Robert Schumann, which was awarded the Prix Mondial du Disque.

In 1975, Horowitz returned to RCA Victor, and made a series of live recordings until 1982. He signed with Deutsche Grammophon in 1985, and made both studio and live recordings until 1989, including his only recording of the Piano Concerto No. 23 . Four filmed documents were made during this time, including the telecast of his April 20, 1986 Moscowmarker recital. His final recording, for Sony Classical, was completed four days before his death and consisted of repertoire he had never previously recorded.

All of Horowitz's recordings have been issued on Compact Disc, some several times. In the years following Horowitz’s death, several CDs were issued containing previously unreleased material. These included selections from several Carnegie Hall recitals recorded privately for Horowitz from 1945–1951.


Beginning in 1944, Horowitz began working with a select group of young pianists. First among these was Byron Janis, who studied with Horowitz until 1948. Janis described his relationship to Horowitz during that period as that of a surrogate son, and he often traveled with Horowitz and his wife during concert tours. During his second retirement he worked with more pianists, including Gary Graffman (1953–1955), Coleman Blumfield (1956–1958), Ronald Turini (1957–1963), Alexander Fiorillo (1950–1962) and Ivan Davis (1961–1962). Horowitz returned to coaching in the 1980s, working with Murray Perahia, who already had an established career, and Eduardus Halim. By this time, Horowitz was concerned that a pianist studying with him might be regarded as a Horowitz clone, so the sessions were not publicized and Horowitz insisted "I am not teaching you. I give you tips." Late in his career, Horowitz only endorsed Janis, Graffman, and Turini as pupils, although he admitted a number of pianists had played for him.

Personal life

In 1933, in a civil ceremony, Horowitz married Toscanini's daughter Wanda. Horowitz was Jewish and Wanda Catholic, but this was not an issue, as 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 (1934–1975). It has never been determined whether her death, from a drug overdose, was accidental or a suicide.

Despite his marriage, there were persistent rumors of his homosexuality. Arthur Rubinstein said of Horowitz that "Everyone knew and accepted him as a homosexual..." David Dubal wrote that in his years with Horowitz, there was no evidence that the octogenarian was sexually active, but that "there was no doubt he was powerfully attracted to the male body and was most likely often sexually frustrated throughout his life." Dubal observed that Horowitz sublimated a strong instinctual sexuality into a powerful erotic undercurrent which was communicated in his piano playing. Horowitz, who denied being homosexual, once joked "There are three kinds of pianists: Jewish pianists, homosexual pianists, and bad pianists."

In the 1940s, Horowitz began seeing a psychiatrist in an attempt to alter his sexual orientation. In the 1960s and again in the 1970s, the pianist underwent electroshock treatment for depression.

In 1982, Horowitz began using prescribed anti-depressant medications; there are reports that he was drinking alcohol as well. Consequently, his playing underwent a perceptible decline during this period. The pianist’s 1983 performances in the United States and Japanmarker were marred by memory lapses and a loss of physical control. (At the latter, one Japanese critic likened Horowitz to a "precious antique vase that is cracked.") He stopped playing in public for the next two years.

The last years

By 1985, Horowitz, no longer taking medication or drinking alcohol, returned to concertizing and recording and was back on form. His first post-retirement appearence was not on stage, but in the documentary film Vladimir Horowitz: The Last Romantic. In many of his later performances, the octogenarian pianist substituted finesse and coloration for bravura, although he was still capable of remarkable technical feats. Many critics, including Harold C. Schonberg and Richard Dyer, felt that his post-1985 performances and recordings were the best of his later years.

In 1986, Horowitz returned to the Soviet Unionmarker to give recitals in Moscowmarker and Leningradmarker. 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. The concert was also released on VHS, and eventually on DVD. He then redeemed himself to the Japanese with a second tour there, which was a triumph. That year, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the United States, by President Ronald Reagan. His final tour took place in Europe in the spring of 1987. A video recording of one of his last public recitals, Horowitz in Vienna, was released in 1991. His final recital, in Hamburg, Germany, took place on June 21, 1987. He continued to record for the remainder of his life.

Vladimir Horowitz died on November 5, 1989 in New Yorkmarker of a heart attack, aged 86. He was buried in the Toscanini family tomb in the Cimitero Monumentalemarker, Milanmarker, Italymarker.

Repertoire, technique, and performance style

Horowitz is best known for his performances of the Romantic piano repertoire. His first recording of the Liszt Sonata in 1932 is still considered by some aficionados to be the definitive reading of that piece, after over 75 years and over 100 performances committed to disc by other pianists. Other pieces with which he was closely associated were Scriabin's Etude in D-sharp minor, Op. 8, No. 12 , Chopin's Ballade No. 1 in G minor, and many Rachmaninoff miniatures, including Polka de W.R.. Horowitz was acclaimed for his recordings of the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3, and his performance before Rachmaninoff awed the composer, who proclaimed "he swallowed it whole. He had the courage, the intensity, the daring." Horowitz was also well known for his performances of quieter, more intimate works including Schumann's Kinderszenen, Scarlatti sonatas, and several Mozart and Haydn sonatas.

During World War II, Horowitz championed contemporary Russian music, giving the American premieres of Prokofiev's Piano Sonatas Nos. 6, 7 and 8 (the so-called "War Sonatas") and Kabalevsky's Piano Sonatas Nos. 2 and 3. Horowitz also premiered the Piano Sonata and Excursions of Samuel Barber.

He was well known for his famous hair-raising transcriptions of several of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies. The Second Rhapsody was recorded in 1953, during Horowitz's 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 his composition Variations on a Theme from Carmen by Georges Bizet and Stars and Stripes Forever by John Philip Sousa. The latter became a favourite with audiences, who would anticipate its performance as an encore. Transcriptions aside, Horowitz was not opposed to altering the text of compositions to improve what he considered “unpianistic” writing or structural clumsiness. In 1940, with the composer’s consent, Horowitz created his own performance edition of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Sonata from the 1913 original and 1931 revised versions, which pianists including Ruth Laredo and Helene Grimaud subsequently used. He substantially rewrote Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition to make the work more effective on the grounds that Mussorgsky was not a pianist and did not understand the possibilities of the instrument. Horowitz also altered short passages in certain works, such as substituting interlocking octaves for chromatic scales in Chopin’s Scherzo in B Minor. This was in marked contrast to many pianists of the post–19th-century era, who considered the composer’s text sacrosanct. Living composers whose works Horowitz played (among them Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, and Poulenc) invariably praised Horowitz's performances of their work - even when he did take liberties with their scores.

Horowitz's interpretations were 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 appearing in the New York Herald Tribune. Horowitz claimed to take Thomson's remarks as complimentary, since Michelangelo and El Greco were also "masters of distortion." In the 1980 edition of Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Michael Steinberg wrote that Horowitz "illustrates that an astounding instrumental gift carries no guarantee about musical understanding." New York Times music critic Harold C. Schonberg countered that reviewers such as Thomson and Steinberg were unfamiliar with 19th-century performance practices that informed Horowitz's musical approach. In addition, many famous pianists, amongst them Shura Cherkassky, Earl Wild, Lazar Berman, John Browning, Van Cliburn, Maurizio Pollini, Murray Perahia and Yefim Bronfman held Horowitz in high regard and expressed their admiration for him.

Horowitz's performing style 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 producing a harsh tone. 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 passages in octaves extraordinarily fast. When asked by the pianist Tedd Joselson how he practiced octaves, Horowitz gave a demonstration and Joselson reported, "He practiced them exactly as we were all taught to do." Sergei Rachmaninoff himself commented that Horowitz played contrary to how they had been taught, yet somehow with Horowitz it worked. Music critic and biographer Harvey Sachs submitted that Horowitz may have been "the beneficiary - and perhaps also the victim - of an extraordinary central nervous system and an equally great sensitivity to tone colour". Oscar Levant, in his book, "The Memoirs of an Amnesiac", wrote that Horowitz's octaves were "brilliant, accurate and etched out like bullets." He asked Horowitz, "whether he shipped them ahead or carried them with him on tour".

Horowitz's hand position was unusual in that the palm was often below the level of the key surface. He frequently played chords with straight fingers, and the little finger of his right hand was often curled up until it needed to play a note; to Harold C. Schonberg, “it was like a strike of a cobra.” For all the aural excitement of his playing, Horowitz rarely raised his hands higher than the piano's fallboard. His body was immobile, and his face seldom reflected anything other than intense concentration. Horowitz preferred performing on Sunday afternoons, as he felt the audience would be more well rested and attentive than during a weekday evening.

Awards and recognitions

Grammy Award for Best Classical Performance – Instrumental Soloist or Soloists

Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance
  • 1979 Golden Jubilee Concert, Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3 (RCA CLR1 2633)
  • 1989 Horowitz Plays Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 23 (Deutsche Grammophon 423287)

Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance
  • 1963 Columbia Records Presents Vladimir Horowitz
  • 1964 The Sound of Horowitz
  • 1965 Vladimir Horowitz plays Beethoven, Debussy, Chopin
  • 1966 Horowitz at Carnegie Hall - An Historic Return
  • 1972 Horowitz Plays Rachmaninoff (Etudes-Tableaux Piano Music; Sonatas) (Columbia M-30464)
  • 1973 Horowitz Plays Chopin (Columbia M-30643)
  • 1974 Horowitz Plays Scriabin (Columbia M-31620)
  • 1977 The Horowitz Concerts 1975/76 (RCA ARL1-1766)
  • 1979 The Horowitz Concerts 1977/78 (RCA ARL1-2548)
  • 1980 The Horowitz Concerts 1978/79 (RCA ARL1-3433)
  • 1982 The Horowitz Concerts 1979/80 (RCA ARL1-3775)
  • 1988 Horowitz in Moscow (Deutsche Grammophon 419499)
  • 1991 The Last Recording (Sony SK 45818)
  • 1993 Horowitz Discovered Treasures: Chopin, Liszt, Scarlatti, Scriabin, Clementi (Sony 48093)

Grammy Award for Best Classical Album:

Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, 1990

Prix Mondial du Disque

Miscellaneous awards


  1. Schonberg, 1992
  2. Dubal, 1989
  3. Time. Michael Walsh, The Greatest Pianist of All?, July 21, 2008. Retrieved on June 3, 2009.
  4. Plaskin, 1983, pp. 52, 56, 353, 338–7.
  5. Horowitz, Titan of the Piano, Dies - The New York Times
  6. Horowitz interview with Charles Kuralt, CBS News Sunday Morning
  7. Videotapes interview, 1982, intemission feature from London recital
  8. Olin Downes, New York Times, January 13, 1928
  9. Olin Downes, New York Times, February 21, 1928
  10. Plaskin, 1983, p. 162
  11. Dubal, 1991, p. 16. "During the years I knew him, there were no signs of any sex life and very little talk on the subject. I personally doubt that he was capable of loving a man emotionally, but there was no doubt he was powerfully attracted to the male body and was most likely often sexually frustrated throughout his life."
  12. Dubal, 1991, pp. 16–17.
  13. Dubal, 1991, p. 251.
  14. Plaskin, Glenn (1983). Biography of Vladimir Horowitz Quill ISBN 0-688-02656-7 Page 215 "In December 1940, Horowitz had begun psychoanalysis with an eminent psychiatrist, Dr. Lawrence Kubie, a strict Freudian who was attempting to exorcise the homosexual element from Horowitz."
  15. Plaskin, Glenn (1983). Biography of Vladimir Horowitz Quill ISBN 0-688-02656-7 Pages 338, 387, 389
  16. See, e.g., Joachim Kaiser and Klaus Bennert, Grosse Pianisten in Unserer Zeit (1997)
  17. Chopin, Rachmaninoff: Piano Sonatas at Barnes and Noble
  18. Plaskin, Glenn (1983). Biography of Vladimir Horowitz. UK: Macdonald. ISBN 0356091791
  19. Dubal, 1993
  20. Harvey Sachs, "Virtuoso", Thames and Hudson, 1982
  21. Anthony Tommasini, Horowitz at 85: Still Playing Free, The New York Times, Sunday, September 25, 1988
  • Epstein, Helen. Music Talks (1988) McGraw-Hill (a long profile that appeared in the New York Times Magazine of Horowitz, 1978)
  • Dubal, David. Remembering Horowitz: 125 Pianists Recall a Legend, Schirmer Books, 1993. ISBN 0028706765
  • Plaskin, Glenn (1983). Biography of Vladimir Horowitz. UK: Macdonald. ISBN 0356091791
  • Schonberg, Harold C. (1992). Horowitz: His Life and Music. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-671-72568-8.

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