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Vladimir Horowitz — Streaming broadcast presented by Mordecai Shehori and Gary Lemco

This week The Music Treasury will be featuring recordings by Valdimir Horowitz, presented by the distinguished pianist Mordecai Shehori and hosted by Dr Gary Lemco  The streaming broadcast can be heard 1 October, 19:00 – 21:00 PDT, from Stanford University’s station, kzsulive.stanford.edu

This is a rather exceptional presentation; the full announcement from The Music Treasury follows.

The Music Treasury for Sunday evening, October 1, 2017,  7 – 9 PM

Vladimir Horowitz, pianist

We are delighted to have us as our on-air guest, distinguished pianist Mordecai Shehori, who will share his experiences with Mr. Horowitz. Winner of many competition prizes, Mr. Shehori concertizes in the US, Canada, and Europe and has performed at various music festivals and at the White House. He has given 27 different recital programs in New York City in as many years.

In February 1987, Mr. Shehori assisted Vladimir Horowitz in preparing Mozart’s Piano Concerto K.488, playing the orchestral reduction on second piano, while Horowitz played the concerto’s solo part. This took place in the basement of Steinway & Sons in New York City.

From October 24 to November 3, 1989 Mr. Shehori acted as a page turner for Horowitz in what turned out to be the sessions for his final recording at his home. Horowitz suddenly and unexpectedly died just two days later at the height of his pianistic powers.  Later, Mr. Shehori participated in numerous recording tests for the 1989 Duetsche Gramophone “Horowitz at Home CD.”  Since there were three location changes during the CD’s creation, the audio engineers needed a pianist who could duplicate Horowitz’s touch and sonority in order to match the acoustics of the various locations.  Mr. Shehori has cited his friendship and artistic collaboration with Vladimir Horowitz as a most meaningful source of knowledge and inspiration.

Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989) was a Ukrainian-born, American classical pianist. His use of tone color, technique and the excitement of his playing are thought by many to be unrivaled, and his performances of works as diverse as those of Domenico Scarlatti and Alexander Scriabin were equally legendary. Though sometimes criticized for being overly mannered, he has a huge and passionate following and is widely considered one of the greatest pianists of the 20thcentury.

He was born in 1903, but to make him appear too young for military service so as not to risk damaging his hands, his father took a year off his age, claiming he was born in 1904. This fictitious birth year is still found in some references, but authoritative sources—including Horowitz himself – confirm the correct year as 1903.

Horowitz received piano instruction from an early age, initially from his mother, herself a competent pianist. In 1912 he entered the Kiev Conservatory, where he studied with Vladimir Puchalsky, Sergei Tarnowsky, and Felix Blumenfeld. He left the Conservatory in 1919 and performed the RachmaninovPiano Concerto No. 3 at his graduation. He later became particularly associated with this concerto, and in 1930 made the premiere recording. His first solo recital followed in 1920.

 

His star rose rapidly, 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. During the 1922-1923 season, he performed 23 concerts of 11 different programs in Leningrad alone. On January 2, 1926, he made his first appearance outside Russia, in Berlin. He later played in Paris, London and New York City, eventually settling in the USA in1940 and becoming a citizen in 1944.

He gave his USA debut on January 12, 1928, in Carnegie Hall playing the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and Sir Thomas Beecham, who made his USA debut as well. 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, and a solo recital was quickly scheduled. Olin Downes, writing for the New York Times, was critical about the metric tug of war between conductor and soloist, but credited Horowitz with both a tremendous technique and a beautiful singing tone. In this debut performance, Horowitz demonstrated the marked ability to excite his audience that he preserved for his entire career. Downes commented, “it has been years since a pianist created such a furor with an audience in this city.” In his recital review, Downes characterized Horowitz’s playing as showing “most if not all the traits of a great interpreter.” These performances launched Horowitz’s USA career sensationally, and he has never since relinquished his place among the greatest pianists of all time.

 

In 1932, he played for the first time with Arturo Toscanini in a performance of the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5,Emperor. They went on to perform together many times, on stage and in recordings. In 1941, he made his first recording of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 with Toscanini

Despite rapturous receptions at recitals, Horowitz became increasingly unsure of his abilities. Several times, he withdrew from public performances: from 1936 to 1938, 1953 to 1965, 1969 to 1974, and 1983 to 1985. On several occasions, he had to be pushed onto the stage. After 1965 he rarely gave solo recitals.

Vladimir Horowitz made numerous recordings, starting in 1928, upon his arrival in the USA. His first USA recordings were made for RCA Victor. Because of the Great Depression, RCA Victor agreed that Horowitz’s European-produced recordings would be made by HMV, RCA’s London- based affiliate. Horowitz’s first European recording was his 1930 recording of the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3 with Albert Coates and the London Symphony Orchestra, also the first recording of that piece. Through 1936, Horowitz made recordings for HMV of solo piano repertoire, including his famous 1932 account of the Liszt Sonata in B minor. From 1940, his recording activity was concentrated in the USA. Beginning in 1953, when he went into retirement, he made a series of recordings in his New York townhouse, including discs of Scriabin and Clementi. His 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 CBS television special, Horowitz on Television. He also continued to make studio recordings, including a 1969 recording of Schumann’s Kreisleriana, which was awarded the Prix Mondial du Disque.

In 1975, he returned to RCA Victor and made live recordings until 1982. He signed with Deutsche Grammophon in 1985, and made both studio and live recordings until 1989. 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.

In 1986, Horowitz returned to the Soviet Union to give concerts 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 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. His final tour was to Europe in the spring of 1987, with a video recording of one of his last public recitals, Horowitz in Vienna, released in 1991. He continued to record for the remainder of his life.

Vladimir Horowitz is best known for his performances of the Romantic piano repertoire. His 1932 recording of the Liszt’s sonata is still considered by aficionados as the definitive reading of that piece, after almost 75 years and over 100 recorded performances by other pianists. Other pieces with which he was closely associated were the Scriabin Etude No. 12 in D-sharp minor, Op. 8, the Chopin Ballade No.1 Op. 23, and many Rachmaninov miniatures, including Polka de W.R. He is also acclaimed for his recordings of the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3 and the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies, as well as for his famous hair-raising transcriptions, particularly of the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies Nos. 15 and 2. Towards the end of the “Friska” section of the latter, Horowitz gives the illusion of playing with three hands as he combines all the themes of the piece. It was recorded in 1953, during his 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 Variations on a Theme from Carmen by Bizet and The Stars and Stripes Forever by Sousa. The latter became a favorite with audiences, who would anticipate its performance during encores. Later in life, he refrained from playing it altogether, feeling, “the audience would forget the concert and only remember Stars and Stripes, you know.” Other well-known recordings include works by Schumann, Scriabin, Chopin, Schubert and Domenico Scarlatti.

During World War II, Horowitz championed contemporary Russian music, giving the American premieres of the Prokofiev Piano Sonatas Nos. 6, 7 and 8 and Kabalevsky’s Piano Sonata No 2. Horowitz also premiered the Piano Sonata and Excursions of Samuel Barber.

Horowitz’s extravagances were always well received by concert audiences, but not by critics. Virgil Thomson was famous for his consistent criticism of Horowitz as a “master of distortion and exaggeration” in his New York Herald Tribunereviews. Horowitz’s style frequently involved vast dynamic contrasts, with overwhelming double-fortissimos followed by sudden delicate pianissimos. He was able to produce an extraordinary volume of piano sound, without producing a harsh tone. He could elicit an exceptionally wide range of tonal color, and his taut, precise, and exciting attack was noticeable even in his renditions of technically undemanding pieces such as the Chopin’s Mazurkas. He is also famous for his octave technique; he could play precise scales in octaves extraordinarily fast. Asked by the pianist Tedd Joselson how he practiced octaves, Joselson reports he replied, “He practiced them exactly as we were all taught to do.” 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 always curled tight until it needed to play a note; as New York Times music critic Harold Schonberg put it, “it was like a strike of a cobra.” Rachmaninov commented that Horowitz played contrary to how they had been taught, yet somehow with Horowitz it worked. Another account has it that when asked by an interviewer why he played his octaves so loud and so fast, his response was, “Because I can!”

 

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 had the crucial ability to suffuse each piece with his own personality and thereby make each piece sound “right” in his hands, even though it could sound equally “right” when played in a different way. As performance style became increasingly conformist during the 20th century, Horowitz continued to inject emotion and individuality into everything he did. (Some critics took exception: in the 1980 Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Michael Steinberg wrote that Horowitz “illustrates that an astounding instrumental gift carries no guarantee about musical understanding.”)

Vladimir Horowitz died of a heart attack in New York on November 5, 1989. He was buried in the Toscanini family tomb in Cimitero Monumentale, Milan, Italy. [Adapted from Wikipedia]

Many of tonight’s recordings are from Unissued Live Concerts made available through both CBS and RCA Victor. Tonight’sTchaikovsky performance represents the last time Horowitz performed the work in public: Jan. 23, 1957.

Program:
Scarlatti: Sonatas
Rachmaninov: Barcarolle, Humoresque
Schubert-Liszt: Soiree de Vienne
Mozart: Adagio in B Minor, K. 540                
Clementi: Sonata quasi Concerto in C Major    
Bizet-Horowitz: Variations on a Theme from “Carmen”
Schumann: Blumenstueck in D-flat Major, Op. 19
Scriabin: Etude in D-sharp Minor, Op. 8, No. 12
Balakirev: Islamey – Fantasie orientale  
Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor (w George Szell)
Sousa-Horowitz: The Stars and Stripes Forever

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