Vladimir Horowitz - biography
Vladimir Samoylovich Horowitz (Russian: Владимир Самойлович Горовиц, Vladimir Samojlovich Gorovitz; Ukrainian: Володимир Самійлович Горовiць, Volodymyr Samiylovych Horovitz) (October 1, 1903 – November 5, 1989) was a Russian-American classical virtuoso 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
Vladimir Horowitz was born in Kiev in the Russian Empire (now the capital of Ukraine) 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 Kharkiv in 1920.
Horowitz's fame grew, and he soon began to tour Russia where he was often paid with bread, butter and chocolate rather than money, due to the country's economic hardships caused by the Civil War. During the 1922–1923 season, he performed 23 concerts of eleven different programs in Petrograd 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 December 18, 1925, Horowitz made his first appearance outside his home country, in Berlin. He later played in Paris, London and New York City. Horowitz was selected by Soviet authorities to represent Ukraine in the inaugural 1927 International Chopin Piano Competition: however the pianist had decided to stay in the West and thus did not participate.
Horowitz gave his United States debut on January 12, 1928, in Carnegie Hall. 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. As 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 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.
In 1926, Horowitz performed on several piano rolls at the Welte-Mignon studios in Freiburg, Germany. His first gramophone 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 His Master's Voice, RCA's London 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 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 York 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 Hall 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 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. He signed with Deutsche Grammophon in 1985, and made both studio and live recordings until 1989, including his only recording of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23. Four filmed documents were made during this time, including the telecast of his April 20, 1986 Moscow 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.
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 Japan 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 appearance 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 announced that he would return to the Soviet Union for the first time since 1925 to give recitals 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 political, as well as musical, significance. Most of the tickets for the Moscow concert were reserved for the Soviet elite and few sold to the general public. This resulted in a number of Moscow Conservatory students crashing the concert, which was audible to viewers of the internationally televised recital. The Moscow concert, 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. It was also released on VHS and, eventually, DVD.
Following the Russian concerts, Horowitz toured several European cities including Berlin, Amsterdam, and London. In June, Horowitz redeemed himself to the Japanese with a trio of well received performances in Tokyo. Later that year, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the United States, by President Ronald Reagan.
Horowitz's 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 York of a heart attack, aged 86. He was buried in the Toscanini family tomb in the Cimitero Monumentale, Milan, Italy.