Highlights of the life and career of Vladimir Horowitz.
The eminent piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz, was born in Berdichev, Russia, on Oct. 1 , 1903. He was an internationally renowned performer for nearly seven decades. He recieved his early training from his mother, an accomplished pianist herself, and early inspiration from none other than Alexander Scriabin, a friend and teacher of his uncle. Trained at the conservatory at Kiev, he became an accomplished pianist but preferred composing his own music to performing. He studied with Sergei Tarnowski, then Felix Blumenfeld, making his debut at the age of 17 in Khar'kov, in the Ukraine, in 1922. His success as a pianist in the new Soviet Union was assured by a series of 23 recitals in Leningrad in 1924. In these he performed a total of more than 200 works. After his family lost most of its possessions in the Russian Revolution, including the piano, he began giving piano recitals in exchange for food and clothing.
In 1925 Horowitz went on a concert tour of Europe. Very successful in Europe, he made his American debut in 1928 in Carnegie Hall, playing Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto with the New York Philharmonic. Horowitz considered his true American debut when he met Sergei Rachmaninoff and played Rachmaninoff's own two piano arrangement of his Third Concerto. They immediately became close friends and remained close until the composer's death. He quickly gained a reputation as an outstanding virtuoso. In 1933, he married Wanda Toscanini, daughter of the conductor, Arturo Toscanini. They had a daughter Sonia. After the outbreak of World War II in Europe, the Horowitz's settled permanently in New York, and in 1944 Horowitz became a United States citizen.
Exhausted from strenuous concertizing and occasionaly less-than-favorable reviews, he retired in 1953. During this retirement from concertizing, Horowitz continued making records. Though he frequently denied this, Horowitz was always interested in how the people, and especially young people felt about him and whether or not they were familiar with his work.
In 1965 Horowitz returned to the stage at Carnegie Hall. This return prompted the rebirth of Horowitz's fame, and he played a few concert each season until 1969 when he again stopped performing. After a rest, in 1974, he began concertizing again, though more than he had in the 60's. It was during this time that Horowitz was playing not to please critics, not to please the public, but because he enjoyed it, perhaps for the first time in his life he truly enjoyed giving concerts. This increase in activity culminated in January 1978. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of his American debut Horowitz gave a performance of Rachmaninoff's Concerto No. 3 in Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic under Eugene Ormandy. Horowitz continued a rather busy concert life for the next four years. Then, tired after the busy years following the golden jubilee Horowitz seemed headed toward a depressing end. This decline in his playing was witnessed by many people in the 1983 broadcast of Horowitz in Tokyo. This recital was referred to as "a funeral" by Wanda, implying that Horowitz would never play again. It seems now that his decline occured as a result of prescription medication used to treat depression.
After two years of unofficial home rehabilitation and moral support from Horowitz's personal assistant Giuliana Lopes and Wanda, no doubt. Horowitz was again ready to play. In 1985, Horowitz again stunned the world with a return to the concert stage followed by a farewell tour that would take him around the world. He was featured in a film documentary entitled 'Vladimir Horowitz: the Last Romantic'. In 1986, Horowitz was awarded the Medal of Freedom (the highest award that can be bestowed upon a US civilian.) and in that same year he made the grand gesture of his career by returning to the USSR, for the first time in 61 years, for a series of sold-out performances. He developed a love for Mozart later in life, and he made and audio/video recording of a Mozart concerto in 1988. His last public performances were in Germany in the spring of 1987 though Horowitz continued to make recording until the days just before his death. Vladimir Horowitz died at his home in New York City on Nov. 5, 1989.
Vladimir Horowitz will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the greatest musicians of all time, but it is up to each person who reads this to let others know who he really was. For centuries to come people will still be attempting to perfect his Stars and Stripes or Carmen, but none will come close to the magical way that Horowitz made a piece of music come alive. Vladimir Horowitz is the unique product of an era that will never again occur. Some called him the last Romantic. As long as his recordings survive so will his music and the mystery surrounding just how he made it happen. I think that to sum up what made Horowitz what he was one could say that he brings to the music what life has brought to him. He was always in complete control and yet he gave the impression that he was spontaneously creating what he was playing. He recorded Chopin's A flat major Polonaise, op. 53 more than six times and each time there is something fresh and diferent about it. He was a composer and a pianist. He leaves us his transcriptions as samples of his his composition style and some early compositions such as his Danse excentrique, Etude-Fantasie, and Waltz in F minor. Now I encourage you to go out and tell one person who Vladimir Horowitz was and what he did, how he took the musical world by storm in the 20's, stunned Rachmaninoff in 1941 with his performance of the Third Concerto, surprised and scared us in 1953 with his sudden early retirement, overjoyed us in 1965 when he triumphantly returned to Carnegie Hall, made us proud in 1986 with his sentimental return to his mother Russia, and made us cry on November 4, 1989 when he left us.