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Horowitz, the Last Romantic Pianist


Vladimir Horowitz, an iconic figure of 20th-century classical piano, achieved unparalleled success and captivated global audiences with his extraordinary technique and deeply personal musical interpretations. Despite universal acclaim, his divergence from established norms, reminiscent of the romantic pianists of the past, led to mixed critical reception. Horowitz viewed the concert as a sublime moment for the performer to recreate the composer’s ideas and connect intimately with the audience, a philosophy that set him apart from his contemporaries.

Born in 1903 in Berdichev, Ukraine, Horowitz exhibited exceptional talent from a young age. His formative years at the Kiev Conservatory, under the guidance of teachers like Félix Blumenfeld, shaped not only his technical prowess but also instilled in him a comprehensive understanding of music beyond pianistic aspects. Horowitz’s early concert career in Russia, marked by diverse programs and a notable partnership with violinist Nathan Milstein, laid the foundation for his recognition as a prominent musician. Despite the logical choice of furthering his education, he embarked on a concert career due to the tumultuous times of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Horowitz’s success extended beyond Russia, with a debut in the United States in 1928, initiating a prolific career filled with concerts, accolades, and an expanding discography. His recordings from the early thirties showcased a repertoire that blended virtuosic showpieces with works of remarkable musical depth. Despite periodic retirements and emotional challenges, Horowitz’s return in the 1960s marked a mature phase in his interpretative art. His later years, characterized by reduced concert activity and recordings with Deutsche Grammophon, demonstrated a continued exploration of diverse repertoire and a commitment to expanding his artistic legacy.

Vladimir Horowitz’s impact on classical piano transcends technical prowess, reflecting a unique fusion of exceptional skill, deep musical understanding, and a commitment to individual expression. His unconventional approach to interpretation, marked by a romantic aesthetic and a dedication to connecting with audiences, positions him among the greats in the history of piano performance. Horowitz’s legacy endures not only in recordings and performances but also in shaping broader discussions on piano technique and interpretation. As we reflect on his contributions, it becomes evident that his artistry remains timeless, continuing to inspire and captivate music lovers globally.

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International Journal of Music

No pianist of the 20th century was more legendary and captivated audiences more than Vladimir Horowitz. Almost as much as Franz Liszt in the 19th century. His astonishing technique, the beauty of his sound, and highly personal musical conceptions were decisive elements for achieving overwhelming success from the early stages of his professional career. However, despite acclaim from audiences worldwide, he did not always have the critics on his side. No one ever disputed his stature as a performer, his absolute mastery of the piano, but rather his interpretation of music, diverging from established norms and always imbued with a very personal bias, reminiscent of the old romantic pianists.

Moreover, his concept of concertizing echoed that of the young Liszt when, in 1840, he wrote to Princess Belgiojoso that “the concert is me.” Indeed, Horowitz believed that the performer was more than just an executant; their task was to recreate, through their prism, the ideas and feelings of the composer. According to him, the concert constituted a sublime moment, in which the performer’s role was essential, as well as their communication with the audience, which should be kept in mind when crafting programs. Therefore, unlike other pianists with a greater sense of history, such as Schnabel or Fischer, concerned with disseminating the best music of Bach, Beethoven, or Schubert, Horowitz considered it essential to connect with the audience. This belief led him not only to master and include major repertoire in his recitals but also to incorporate compositions that might be musically smaller but had the power to impact listeners. Hence, due to his belief that the performer shared the spotlight with the composer in public performance, and his sentimentally poetic approach to all his interpretations, many critics considered him a romantic out of touch with the times.

Origins and Education of Horowitz

His biography is well known, thanks firstly to Horowitz himself, who left interesting testimonies in various interviews and reports, and also thanks to the works of Glenn Plaskin, Harold C. Schonberg, David Dubal, and Piero Rattalino, among others. He was born in 1903 in the small Ukrainian town of Berdichev,((The birthplace of Horowitz has been a matter of controversy, as the pianist himself claimed to have been born in Kiev. Rattalino convincingly argues that he was indeed born in Berdichev, although it is true that the family moved to Kiev very early on.)) near Kiev, into an affluent family that had fallen on hard times after the Bolshevik Revolution. His mother was his first piano teacher when he was six years old. At the age of nine, he began attending the Conservatory in Kiev, revealing himself as a highly gifted pianist with astonishing ease in tackling any repertoire. His main teachers were Sergei Tarnowsky and, above all, Félix Blumenfeld, a pianist, conductor, and composer with a well-deserved reputation in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Blumenfeld, more than a piano teacher, was a complete musician who tried to instill in Horowitz a conception of music that transcended purely pianistic aspects. He strengthened his taste for opera, which Horowitz had already possessed since his childhood, and introduced him to the knowledge of orchestral music.((An eccentric figure, Blumenfeld was undoubtedly a magnificent musician. In addition to Horowitz, his master classes in Kiev had other notable disciples such as Simon Barere, Mariya Grínberg, and Mariya Yúdina.))

Horowitz as a child.

From those formative years, Horowitz fondly recalled his relationship with Heinrich Neuhaus (later Richter’s and Gilels’ teacher), who was Blumenfeld’s nephew and with whom the young pianist played four hands at the Conservatory. He also had the opportunity to listen to piano celebrities in Kiev such as Hofmann, Rachmaninov, and Scriabin, who would greatly influence him. He graduated in 1919, performing, among other compositions, Rachmaninov’s Third Concerto, a work that would accompany him throughout his career and of which he was one of the best interpreters since then (with three noteworthy studio recordings to consider((Personally, I prefer the first two: the one from 1930, with Albert Coates and the London Symphony Orchestra; and the one from 1951, with Fritz Reiner conducting the RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra.))).

Early Years as a Concert Pianist

It was after the success achieved then, in that academic test before the elite of the Conservatory, that he realized he was especially gifted for the piano. Although the logical step would have been to further his education in one of the major musical centers of Europe, such as Berlin, Vienna, or Paris, he started a concert career. The war pushed him into it, despite his aforementioned desire for composition. Horowitz declared this on many occasions: he had to engage in concertizing as a means to make a living in those turbulent years of the Revolution. Thus, starting from his debut in Kiev in 1920 and in Kharkov in 1921, he gave numerous concerts in Russia with a vast variety of programs. Legendary are the eleven different programs he performed in Leningrad in the 1922-23 season. Or the artistic and personal relationship with the eminent violinist Nathan Milstein, a friendship that began then and lasted a lifetime. In this context, Horowitz became a highly recognized musician in his country within a few years.

Dedicated photograph of Horowitz with the inscription: ‘To the dearest Alexander Samoilovich Petrokovsky, with the fondest memories of our meeting in Tiflis,’ dated March 22, 1924.

In 1925, he departed from the Soviet Union, seemingly with the commitment to study with Arthur Schnabel in Berlin. He settled in the German capital, a cultural hub of the time, and commenced presenting recitals in Germany and later in various other European countries. Some critics did not hesitate to liken him to historical figures of the caliber of Anton Rubinstein and Ferruccio Busoni. In Paris, one of the most prominent representatives of American concerts, Arthur Judson, heard him play and facilitated his first tour in North America. His debut in the United States took place in 1928 with the New York Philharmonic and Sir Thomas Beecham, who also made his New York debut on that evening. He performed Tchaikovsky’s First Concerto, one of his favorite pieces. It is noteworthy that the same orchestral concerto that opened the doors for him in Germany in 1926 (with a memorable performance in Hamburg as the scheduled pianist fell ill at the last minute) similarly opened doors to the American audience. Undoubtedly, this was because it was a work he mastered perfectly and aligned well with his colossal interpretative abilities. In fact, judging by Olin Downes’ critique in The New York Times, there is no doubt that he achieved resounding success, even though certain differences in opinion with the British conductor were noted. His virtuosity was dazzling, supported by a formidable technique, possibly unrelated to academic teachings but possessed of overwhelming vitality and a distinctive sound. It is worth noting that among the audience was Sergei Rachmaninov, with whom Horowitz would develop a close friendship.

Since then, his performances in the United States and Europe would multiply rapidly. In 1933, with Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, Horowitz initiated his relationship with Arturo Toscanini, which became familial when he married one of the famous conductor’s daughters, Wanda Toscanini, in the same year. In conclusion, an imposing career, filled with concerts and successes, and an increasingly significant discography, starting with his first recording for RCA Victor in 1928.

First Recordings of Horowitz

Of those initial recordings, produced in the early thirties in London by His Master’s Voice through an agreement with RCA, it is noteworthy to highlight the presence of several sonatas by Scarlatti, Haydn’s Sonata Hob.XVI:52, Beethoven’s Variations in C minor, Scherzo op.54, and numerous smaller pieces (mazurkas, studies, impromptus, and nocturnes) by Chopin, Funerals, Paganini Study No. 2, and Liszt’s Sonata in B minor, Schumann’s Toccata op.7 and Arabesque op.18, Rachmaninov’s Concerto op.30 with the London Symphony and Albert Coates, Prokofiev’s Toccata op.11, and Debussy’s Study No. 11. Not to be forgotten are some sublime examples of his virtuosity, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee arranged by Rachmaninov, his rendition of the Russian Dance from Stravinsky’s Petrushka in Three Movements, and, of course, his Variations on a Theme from Bizet’s ‘Carmen’. In the end, many of these works would be re-recorded in later years, and in some cases, on more than one occasion.

These studio recordings provide us with two aspects of great interest. Firstly, the collection gives us an idea of the repertoire Horowitz was handling during that period. It is evident that, aside from certain concessions to the general public who enjoy admiring the virtuoso capable of the highest technical feats, the majority of the repertoire is of remarkable musical caliber. Secondly, it allows us to grasp his interpretative style—direct, natural, brilliant, and robust, following the tradition of Rachmaninov, Hofmann, and Lhévinne. Some versions are truly memorable and worthy of inclusion in the annals of piano performance history. Not only the frequently cited performances of Rachmaninov’s Third Concerto and Liszt’s Sonata in B minor (from 1930 and 1932, respectively) but also others, such as the Scherzo op.54 and Study op.10 No. 8 by Chopin, Toccata op.7 by Schumann, Paganini-Liszt Study No. 2, Debussy’s Study Pour les arpèges composés, and Prokofiev’s Toccata op.11, all produced between 1930 and 1936.((To explore Horowitz’s discography, Stefano Biosa’s study in P. Rattalino’s Vladimir Horowitz is particularly interesting, given its detailed and up-to-date nature. [Barcelona: Nortesur, 2009.]))

American Citizen

Subsequently, between 1936 and 1938, the first retirement from the stage occurred, a pattern that would repeat several times throughout his career. It is essential to comprehend that Horowitz was an emotionally unstable individual prone to nervous exhaustion, especially given the intense concert activity of those years. In 1939, he settled in the United States, where he obtained citizenship in 1942. During the war years, his concert activity did not reach the same intensity as before. Noteworthy, however, is the recording with Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra of Tchaikovsky’s First Concerto and Brahms’s Second, along with several solo piano works, including Czerny’s Variations on ‘La Ricordanza’ and Liszt’s transcription and Horowitz’s own touch on Saint-Saëns’s Danse macabre. This marked the beginning of a long series of recordings with RCA Victor, which intensified after the war.

Indeed, after 1945, he recorded various sonatas by Scarlatti, Mozart’s K.332, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, numerous works by Chopin (including Sonata op.35, Scherzo op.20, Ballade op.23, Polonaise op.53, and Andante spianato et grande polonaise brillante), Funerals, Petrarch’s Sonnet 104, and Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies 2, 6, and 15. Of particular interest is an excellent version of Rachmaninov’s Third, with Fritz Reiner, with whom he also recorded Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto in the early fifties. Also notable are the recording of Barber’s Sonata op.26 (dedicated by the composer and premiered by Horowitz), Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 7 and Toccata op.11, and Kabalevsky’s Sonata No. 3. Not to forget his rendition of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Or his unforgettable version of The Stars and Stripes Forever, the Marines’ anthem by John Philip Sousa, which Horowitz frequently played after the war.

In conclusion, a significant collection showcasing the eclecticism of a pianist who, despite a clear romantic inclination, adeptly tackled classical composers and 20th-century works as complex as the aforementioned sonatas by Barber and Prokofiev. A pianist who may be labeled as showy or catering to the audience at times, but above all, an artist who loves what he does, meticulously caring for each interpretation down to the smallest timbral and expressive details, without hindering the uniqueness and irreplaceability of each performance. A musician who does not shy away from offering his vision of music, even with liberties taken on the original text or potential exaggerations in agogics and dynamics. Truly, an approach to understanding music more in line with the heritage of the past than with the new historicist trends adhering strictly to sources and a supposed textual objectivity. As Howard Taubman wrote in The New York Times in January 1953, Horowitz had transformed “from the fiery virtuoso he was, into a self-critical and perceptive artist.”

Retirement from the Stage

Perhaps the recital he presented at Carnegie Hall in February 1953 (recorded and released by RCA), marking the beginning of a twelve-year hiatus from the stage, serves as a good summary of the Horowitz who enjoyed resounding success with the audience but continued to seek his path in a new phase of maturity in his interpretative art. Twenty-five years had passed since his debut in the United States, and Horowitz wanted to emphasize that he was much more than a virtuoso capable of captivating audiences hungry for virtuosic feats. Why else include in the program two uncommon works for him, diametrically opposed to that easy virtuosity, such as Schubert’s Sonata D.960 and Scriabin’s Sonata No. 9? Indeed, we find ourselves in the presence of a mature Horowitz, even though some critics continued to question his high artistic stature.

But Horowitz decided to retire. Fortunately, not from recording studios, often from his New York home on East 94th Street. Several record recordings dedicated to some of his favorite composers emerged, not explored sufficiently until then, such as Clementi and Scriabin. The former was a revelation of the compositional stature of the Italian author (a claim no pianist of the highest caliber had made until then), and the latter showcased a formidable interpreter of Scriabin, with a powerful Sonata No. 3 worthy of standing alongside the best interpretations left to us by the legendary Sofronitsky. There were also Chopin recordings, including one with, among other works, the second and third scherzi, and the Barcarolle op.60. As well as several Beethoven sonatas: op.10 No. 3, Pathétique, Moonlight, Waldstein, and Appassionata.

Return to Carnegie Hall

Thus, when his return was announced for May 1965, at Carnegie Hall, naturally, it was front-page news and a celebrated event throughout the musical world. The chosen program included Bach-Busoni’s Toccata in C major for organ BWV 564, Schumann’s Fantasy op.17, Scriabin’s Sonata No. 9, and Poem op.32 No. 1, and three works by Chopin: Mazurka op.30 No. 4, Étude op.10 No. 8, and Ballade op.23. This was followed by three encores amid the excitement of his audience: Debussy’s Serenade for the Doll, Moszkowski’s Étude op.72 No. 11, and Schumann’s Träumerei. Thanks to CBS, we truly know what that event was like, memorable from all perspectives.

And indeed, with Columbia Records, he had already recorded several albums since 1962, the first of which featured an enticing recital comprising Chopin’s Sonata op.35, two Études-tableaux op.39 by Rachmaninov, Schumann’s Arabesque, and Liszt-Horowitz’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 19. Others would follow in the subsequent years, both with studio recordings and recitals at Carnegie Hall. Among these, the one in 1968, “Horowitz on Television,” had a particular impact as it marked his return to the stage. Later, he would retire again until 1974.

As for the repertoire, the restless Horowitz continued to incorporate newly studied pieces or those rediscovered from the past into his recitals. Works such as Beethoven’s Sonata op.101, Chopin’s Polonaise op.44, Barcarolle op.60, and Polonaise-fantaisie op.61, Schumann’s Concerto without Orchestra, Kreisleriana, and Humoresque, Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz in Busoni-Horowitz’s version, Liszt’s Ballade No. 2 and Valle d’Obermann, several Études-tableaux and Sonata No. 2 by Rachmaninov, Debussy’s L’isle joyeuse, Scriabin’s Vers la flamme op.72 and Sonata No. 5 gained prominence in his recitals during these years. Scarlatti, Clementi, and Haydn sonatas, smaller pieces by Chopin, Liszt, and Rachmaninov, some Schubert impromptus, and Schumann’s Arabesque, so dear to Horowitz, were also part of his repertoire. Not to forget Bizet-Horowitz’s Fantasy on ‘Carmen.’

Furthermore, after the mentioned reappearance, the number of concerts decreased, with performances not exceeding twenty times per season, and only on Sundays at four in the afternoon. Overall, he preferred recitals over orchestra concerts. In fact, when, in 1978, on the fiftieth anniversary of his debut in the United States, he played Rachmaninov’s Third with the New York Philharmonic under Ormandy’s baton, it had been twenty-five years since he last performed with an orchestra. It was, in fact, another testament to his individualism that had always characterized him. As Helen Epstein recounts in “Music Talks: Conversations with Musicians” (1988), Horowitz explained that a recital allowed him to do things his way without having to align them with a conductor and an orchestra: “I like to give recitals because you know why? I put my own nuances. Everything is mine […] When you play a concerto, the orchestra sets the tempo. They make it loud or soft. I like to do it myself because I know I can. And my repertoire is much more interesting.” In reality, he rarely programmed Rachmaninov’s Third, Tchaikovsky’s First, Beethoven’s Emperor, Brahms’s two, or, towards the end of his life, Mozart’s K.488.

Final Years of Horowitz

In the 1980s, Horowitz returned to Europe. London, Paris, Milan, Hamburg, Vienna, and Amsterdam were the fortunate European cities to host recitals by the elderly Horowitz. This included Moscow and Leningrad in 1986. The concert at the Grand Hall of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory was recorded on video, allowing us to perceive the essence of the maestro. The program featured three sonatas by Scarlatti, Mozart’s K.330 (prominent in his recitals in the 1980s), two preludes by Rachmaninov, Schubert-Liszt’s Vienna Soirée No. 6, Liszt’s Petrarch Sonnet No. 104, and two mazurkas and Chopin’s Polonaise op.53. As encores, three pieces frequently performed by him: Schumann’s Träumerei, Rachmaninov’s Polka de W.R., and Moszkowski’s Etincelles. Undoubtedly, a very emotional reunion for Horowitz and the Muscovites, in a recital where the genius and the performer’s ability to convey that emotion were palpable throughout the evening, despite no longer witnessing the full faculties of Horowitz that were enjoyed until the 1960s and even the 1970s.

Alongside these recitals in Europe, and in addition to two trips to Japan and some concerts in New York, the most notable aspects of Horowitz’s later years are his recordings with Deutsche Grammophon since 1985, as well as the documentary recorded at his home titled “Vladimir Horowitz: The Last Romantic,” featuring works by Bach-Busoni, Mozart, Schubert, Chopin, Liszt, Schumann, Rachmaninov, Scriabin, and Moszkowski. Following this documentary, several recordings are worth highlighting. In a New York studio in 1985, he recorded an album that summarized well the type of programs he enjoyed creating in the last years of his life: a large-scale work, such as Schumann’s Kreisleriana, two sonatas by Scarlatti, and various short pieces by Liszt, Scriabin, and Schubert. Also, in the same New York studio (which RCA lent to the German record label for the occasion), he recorded the following year Schubert’s Sonata D.960, which was released, after the pianist’s death, with a live performance of Schumann’s Kinderszenen, recorded by Deutsche Grammophon at the concert Horowitz gave in the Golden Hall of the Musikverein in Vienna in May 1987. Similarly, mention should be made of the recording of Mozart’s Concerto K.488 with Giulini and the La Scala Orchestra.

Shortly before his death, he returned to CBS, the label that would release in 1990 a record containing his final recordings, made at his New York home days before, on November 5, 1989, a heart attack ended his life. This recording includes Haydn’s Sonata Hob.XVI: No. 49, several pieces by Chopin (including the Fantaisie-Impromptu), the prelude Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen by Bach-Liszt, and Wagner-Liszt’s Death of Isolde. These last recordings show an octogenarian who remained lucid and faithful to his interpretative style, still exploring and determined to expand his fantastic legacy until his last breath.

The Key to Horowitz’s Success

Much has been written about Horowitz. That he had exceptional piano-playing abilities is beyond doubt. Besides possessing overwhelming technique and excellent sight-reading skills from a young age, he compiled a vast repertoire (recall his eleven different programs in Leningrad in 1923), although not all of it was intended for inclusion in his recitals. Perhaps because of his obsession with persisting on certain compositions, and in the case of orchestral repertoire, limiting it to only half a dozen works with which he fully identified. Compared to Rubinstein or Arrau, who were also long-lived, one could argue that the repertoire for his public appearances should have been more extensive.

What was the key to his success? When he burst onto the international scene in the mid-1920s, the piano had its main stalwarts in the figures of Rachmaninov, Hofmann, and Paderewski. There were also Cortot, Schnabel, and Rubinstein. Horowitz quickly joined their ranks. Undoubtedly, the spectacular nature of his pianism and his extraordinary ability to connect with the audience were determining factors. However, concluding that only those dazzling virtuosic skills could establish a long-lasting career oversimplifies the matter. When delving into the pianist’s biography, it becomes apparent that, alongside those spectacular works intended to amaze the audience (like his Variations on a Theme from ‘Carmen’ by Bizet or the pyrotechnic version of Sousa’s ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever’), there is a substantial contingent of the finest music, from Scarlatti sonatas to Debussy studies or Scriabin’s late sonatas. He delivered legendary interpretations of some of the best works in the repertoire, such as Schumann’s Kreisleriana (his aforementioned 1968 version for CBS is excellent), Liszt’s Sonata in B minor, Barber’s Sonata op.26, or Rachmaninov’s Sonata No. 2 and Concerto op.30. Indeed, Horowitz was a natural musician who thoroughly knew and studied the repertoire. How else could he have championed Clementi, a composer mostly relegated to conservatory programs? Or his persistence with Scarlatti, who was until then scarcely present in pianists’ repertoires?

Another aspect is what Horowitz understood as the role of the interpreter. In this regard, it is essential to consider his romantic aesthetic. This romantic tendency explains why his Bach was Busoni’s, featuring chorale preludes and the splendid Toccata in C major for organ. Or why he was a pianist who appreciated miniatures, interpreting them with a wonderful color palette and subtlety. He was an artist who took the liberty of creating his versions in virtuosic works, such as Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz and some Hungarian Rhapsodies, for example. He adopted freedoms in rhythm and dynamics (with an extremely broad spectrum), even adding extra notes (doubled basses, chords, etc.), more often in romantic repertoire than in classical works, where his adherence to the score was generally greater, although certainly not to the degree imposed in the second half of the 20th century and with a dose of rubato greater than what musicologists consider appropriate for classical aesthetics. Nevertheless, at all times, we perceive the artist who recreates the music, playing with a mix of head and heart, sublimating the moment of each performance, making each interpretation unique and unrepeatable. This was something that many critics did not accept and criticized, sometimes harshly. The composer and critic Virgil Thomson’s judgment of him as “a master of the art of musical distortion” is well-known.

Horowitz was truly a unique figure. Firstly, in terms of interpretation, as mentioned earlier, he excelled more in shorter pieces than in large formal works. His piano technique also seemed to defy established norms. The position of his hands, resting on the keyboard with low wrists, was highly original. He used minimal movements, with his fingers elongated instead of curved, always close to the keyboard, allowing for admirable clarity of execution. Indeed, his finger technique was prodigious, with incredible touch purity: whether in Scarlatti sonatas, Beethoven’s Waldstein and Appassionata, Schumann’s Traumeswirren, or salon pieces like Moszkovski’s Etincelles and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee, arranged by Rachmaninov. As noted by Rattalino (Vladimir Horowitz, 2005), what is truly surprising is not just the agility of his fingers, which is outstanding, but the relationship between speed and sonority. The mentioned page of Schumann (from the Fantasiestücke op.12) can serve as a good example.

Another quality is the plasticity he imparts to chords, whether in the slow movement of a Mozart sonata, Chopin’s Funeral March, or wonderfully, in Schumann’s Toccata. Associated with this is a sense of polyphony, the balance of different voices, although sometimes exaggerating the nuance of a secondary voice at the risk of breaking the thread. However, this quality was essential for the sonority that characterized him and enchanted audiences. His effectiveness and brilliance in the execution of octaves were proverbial, achieving stellar moments in pieces such as Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6, the central section of Chopin’s Polonaise op.53, or the famous passages in Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No. 1.

Another characteristic of Horowitz’s style is his emphasis on vocal qualities. As highlighted many times, the human voice had a significant influence on him, from his student years when he developed a fondness for opera and listened to Italian singers. This vocal quality is present in any piece he interprets, but especially in Chopin. A particularly good example is the central section of Scherzo No. 4 (1936 recording), truly sublime.

If his sound is particularly beautiful, as often emphasized, his dynamic gradations are legendary. Certainly, the dynamic range is extensive in Horowitz, and therefore, the differentiation between low, medium, and high registers, with a sound volume reaching titanic extremes, as he achieves in his version of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 15, in “The Great Gate of Kiev” (last movement of Pictures at an Exhibition) by Mussorgsky, or in the final Precipitato (third movement of Sonata op.83) by Prokofiev. But also in works like Chopin’s Polonaises 3, 5, and 6, perhaps exaggeratedly, but with magnificent majesty and elegance.

In conclusion, we are dealing with a vibrant, colossal, and charismatic artist. It’s no wonder that he has been an inspiration for many pianists, not only for his direct disciples like Byron Janis or Gary Graffman but also for many others, including Jorge Bolet, Lazar Berman, Martha Argerich, Rafael Orozco, Jorge Luis Prats, Arcadi Volodos, or Lang Lang.


In conclusion, Vladimir Horowitz stands out as a towering figure in the realm of classical piano, leaving an indelible mark on the history of piano performance. His exceptional technical prowess, combined with a romantic and individualistic interpretative style, set him apart as a virtuoso of unparalleled charisma. Horowitz’s influence extends beyond his virtuosic feats, impacting the world of classical music and inspiring generations of pianists.

The pianist’s unconventional approach, marked by a deep understanding of the repertoire and a commitment to expressiveness, resonates with audiences worldwide. His legacy is not only evident in the recordings and performances but also in the broader discussions on piano technique, interpretation, and the evolution of the instrument itself.

As we reflect on Horowitz’s contributions, it becomes clear that his artistry goes beyond the mere execution of notes. His ability to infuse each performance with emotion, coupled with an unwavering dedication to his craft, solidifies his place among the greatest pianists in history. Vladimir Horowitz’s impact on classical piano remains timeless, continuing to captivate and inspire music lovers around the globe.


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