LADIMIR HOROWITZ was certainly among the greatest virtuosi of all time. From a purely musical standpoint, he never reached the level of Josef Hofmann, but when Horowitz was in his prime—1928 to 1953—his technique and repeated notes were comparable (perhaps) to Hofmann’s. Moreover, some recordings by Horowitz have never been surpassed: e.g. his Sousa March, his improvements to the Liszt Hungarian Second, his Chopin op. 55 no. 2, his Mendelssohn-Liszt Wedding Variations, and so on. With regard to Rachmaninov’s 3rd Concerto, Horowitz was responsible for its extreme popularity today. Vladimir reached the pinnacle of his career on 4 May 1941 in Carnegie Hall. With Sir John Barbirolli conducting, he played the D Minor Piano Concerto (“Rach3”) with the New York Philharmonic, and a secret recording was made. For years, this was a rare collector’s item, since it was “pirated.” In the late 1990s, I received a cassette copy from Dr. Ates Tanin in Canada—which I guarded with my life—but today the entire performance can be heard on YouTube. By 1941, Horowitz had been playing Rach3 for 23 years, since he claims to have begun learning it when he was 15 or 16. 1 The 1941 performance has never been surpassed: not by Argerich, not by Rachmaninov, not by Gieseking, not by Horowitz himself. At the very end, a man in the audience yells “Bravo,” and this was truly a glorious moment. 2
AS A MUSIC DIRECTOR, have you ever had a bad day? During Mass, have you been disappointed by your playing, or conducting, or your choir’s singing? At times like that, remember that even someone as stupendous as Horowitz occasionally has bad days. Indeed, one of his 1983 concerts was particularly bad—with tons of memory lapses, incoherencies, and wrong notes. For this concert alone, Horowitz received more than $1 million dollars: an insanely high fee in the 1980s. Listen to an excerpt from that concert:
For purposes of comparison, here’s the same piece, recorded “live” when I was in high school:
Needless to say, the skill of Horowitz is not in question; when he was in grade school, Horowitz could play better than I ever will. The point is, everyone has bad days.
Next time something goes really wrong, remember that 1983 concert by Horowitz.
Say to yourself: “Nobody is perfect!” And make it better next time.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 He was born around 1903 somewhere in the Ukraine. I say “around” because there are serious discrepancies regarding his birthplace (Berdychiv vs. Kiev) and—for a long time—the year of his birth. For example, when he made his debut in Germany (1926), he pretended to be 20 years old, because it made his skills seem more impressive, even though he was actually about 23. Most of the official books placed his birth year at 1904, but eventually Horowitz admitted that he lied about the true year (1903) to avoid military service in the Soviet Union. Indeed, Horowitz often lied during interviews later in life, and finding the truth can be difficult. Horowitz even lied about the recording of his famous “Historic Return” to Carnegie Hall in 1965: the “live” recording of the Schumann Fantasy Coda was secretly doctored, with wrong notes repaired.
2 When you have time, read the story of Sir John Barbirolli, Albert Victor Alexander, and Winston Churchill during WWII—it’s fascinating.