9. Horowitz’s Art of Piano Performance
I would like to introduce you to the characteristics of Horowitz’s piano performance and discography reviews in the chronological order, and my personal recommendations of his best editions, especially for those who have not yet listened to his recordings so much.
Horowitz had worked on the recording activities over 60 years during his entire career, even though his concert pianist career came to a halt for several times due to the health conditions which he had been suffering from the early years. Even if there are no pirated recordings, the official recordings had amounted a significant volume, sufficient enough to demonstrate a wide spectrum of his repertoire and splendid virtuosic piano playing. Furthermore, in comparison to other pianists in the same period, such as Claudio Arrau and Rudolf Serkin, Horowitz had left a substantial amount of the official video recordings. It proved his status as a star pianist representing the 20th century.
He recorded for more than 60 years, so it is not wonder that his performance style and repertoire has been changed during the 60 years. To clarify the artistic characteristics and differences, I divided his recording carrier into the 6 eras for further discussion.
Please note that recordings from Piano Roll are basically excluded from this chapter, as they were sometimes artificial and the tempo of them did not seem to be original. Besides, most of the repertories were re-recorded on 78s.
The CD jackets I selected herein were from my collection and/or the editions that are still available and could be purchased relatively easily as of today.
9.1 The Period 1928 – 1936; Clean-edged Virtuosity and Brilliance
Horowitz made the first recording in March 1928, soon after the sensational American debut in January 1928. Since then he had produced the official recordings totaling 200 minutes during the period of 1928 to 1936 when he delivered the last recording just before the first disappearance from the public performance. He recorded large-scale piano compositions including one piano concerto, two of piano sonatas and several long pieces that required two sides of 78, other than those, his programs were mostly short piano pieces within 5 minute duration for one side.
“Clean-edged Virtuosity and Brilliance”, that is my impression from the first eight years. In other words, his performing style was something in line with the modern interpretations, without any exaggeration or distortion. He played fast works so fluently and easily. For the piano compositions in classical age, such as Haydn sonata, he played in the authentic and modern style without any exaggeration that we often heard in his later years. Other pianists at the same period sometimes included improvised articulations but Horowitz did not.
Here is a list of my recomendations; first of all, Chopin Scherzo No.4 (Picture No.1). The duration was only 8’40’’, which was much faster than recent other recordings that would normally take more than 10 minutes. There might be a consideration to match the performance duration to the capacity of 2-side of 78, but anyway, his fingers were moving over the keyboard with evenly perfect clean notes and light touches in the arpeggios. It was such an ideal rendition for this Scherzo which was composed with a sense of pleasant happy feeling that is rare in Chopin’s later years.
Liszt “Grandes études de Paganini No.2” shall be remarked as unforgettable rendition to prove his sharp technique. Along with the frenetic temperament in fast parts, concessive attacks on the flawless octaves were simply astonishing. Especially, such light touch was frequently showed off in this period but would be less in the later years (of course, his speed control had remained undimmed in the later years but added more weight and heavy sound tone.)
Dohnanyi’s Capriccio Op.28-6, this was also outstanding performance with the level of profound piano playing techniques exceeding any other pianist even today.
Bach Chorale Prelude BWV734, we hear the beautiful playing how he delivered the delicate tonal control, clear contrasts within three layers of high, middle and low as if he played by 3 hands.
Of course, we could hear other pianists who are capable of playing with such flawless speed control, but Horowitz is special because he played as if without any efforts. Unfortunately, these repertoires were no longer preserved in the later period, so it is regrettable that we could not analyze and compare the performing style in each period with the same piece.
Speaking of brightness and technical brilliance in the period, Horowitz impressed us with the extraordinary tempo. I used to think they were caused by his misunderstanding or misinterpretation.
For example, in the last three bars of Rachmaninov Prelude op23-5, he played almost two times faster than the tempo before the three bars. Of course, there was quite a technical demand in playing with such tempo in the bars, but he could deliver it so easily and effortless. That’s why his tempo might not be noticed as an “error” by himself and the recording producer. For the second recording in 1981, he played with the standard tempo, instead.
Another example was Rachmaninov Prelude Op.32-8 (though it is a the piano roll recording). When I listened to this piece for the first time, I was very surprised by the tempo, unbelievably fast, which made me wonder if it was replayed by a fast-forwarding mode, or the speed setting was wrong by a mistake. In case of the piano roll, even with the incorrect tempo, the sound pitch would not be impaired, which makes it difficult to replay with the “correct tempo”. (Usually the correct tempo was instructed and noted in the piano roll, but not always reliable.) Eventually, I found that a CD (Picture No.2) had contained two pieces on the same one roll ; the first piece (Prelude Op.32-10) with the standard tempo but the second one (Prelude Op.32-8) with the unusual fast tempo. I was finally convinced that the fast tempo must have been intended by Horowitz.
In this era, any large-scale piano works required several 78s were carefully selected because the 78s set would have a high price, but Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.3, and Liszt Piano Sonata (Picture No.3) were recorded by Horowitz
Regarding the former, Horowitz made its very first recording of this work even before Rachmaninov, the composer himself. This would be because his performance of this work was praised and accredited very high. He subsequently produced the official recordings for more two times and another video recording. At this first edition, he demonstrated a clean performing style and profound techniques, without any traces of efforts.
Liszt Piano Sonata, we could hear another studio recording in 1976 and a live recording in 1949, which allowed us to compare his performing style in each period. In the oldest recording in 1932, he emphasized pianistic beauty, not much of emotional articulation or exaggeration.
Some of his “signature repertoires” were already archived in the period, such as Scarlatti Sonata L33, Chopin Mazurka Op.7-3 and Schumann Arabesque Op.18. You could hear how he delivered the graduation of lyrical passages and clear articulation between phrases. The performing style in these small and calm pieces had remained in his entire career.
By the way, in the early 20th century, Heifetz was apparently one of the most distinguished virtuoso with stupendous performing technique in the violin world. His recordings convinced us how he stood out among other famous violinists, though the technique was not the only factor. On the other hand, I was not strongly impressed with Horowitz during the same period compared to other pianists in the same period. As far as I heard in the recording resource, Rachmaninov and Hofmann, whom were also admired by Horowitz, had appeared to be sometimes more fascinating and appealing to my ears. This made me wonder how Horowitz did establish his reputation and reached to the highest attainment in the age of 20s.
Here is my guess and assumption how he exerted a fascination on the audience; first of all, his magical piano tone itself. Secondly his stage producing ability; well-structured program and focuses on the sense of the live performance. Thirdly, his powerful explosive acrobatic performances. The first two are not beyond imagination but on the third point, it might be already observed in the early stage of his career, as we could hear and experience from the recordings during 1940s to 1950s. In fact, there are many episodes to tell us about his temperament and explosive performing style, such as an episode of Tchaikovsky Piano Concert No.1; he was on fire leading up tempo, ended the finale before the orchestra, and created an ecstatic sensation in the audience at his American Debut in 1928. And we have some live recordings which may make them sure.
Brahms Piano Concert No.1 in February 20, 1936, you can experience “Horowitz as a fire ball”. The razor sharp rhythm in the first and last movement were almost shocking, or even controversial to lead the criticism saying that is not a Brahms music. The rendition clearly distinguished himself from any other pianists in the same period. There is another Brahms concerto recording with Toscanini in 1935. This is fair enough but in poor acoustic quality, so I recommend the version with Walter.
Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1 in 1932 and 1934, the sounds quality was slightly lighter although, we could hear the flawless tempo that was one of his strong feature throughout the later years. The 1932 recording (Picture No.5) was released as a part of 1st movement (only a few minutes), but the recordings survives “17 minute” in fact, so it will be released sooner or later, even though it is incomplete (and finally Marston Records released it in 2018). The 1934 recording contained only the third movement. The rest of the first and second movements had never been issued for more than 30 years. I suppose they had been lost.
Debussy Serenade of the Doll (Picture No.6) in 1933, it was the only example of solo live recording, yet such an intimate short piece was not sufficient enough to imagine the atmosphere of the recital, his power and dynamics at the time.
Some recording accidents were also observed during the period. The recordings had been directly preserved to discs, not to tapes, therefore, it was not possible to conduct partial editing. In case of a recording accident, the artists had to play entirely once again for one side of SP (about 4 or 5 minutes of length). Such recording process was more expensive and inefficient than today, so the record company would not like to do re-recording and it favored a “cost efficient” recording artist who made less mistakes, I suppose.
Though Horowitz was a rising start at that time, I suppose that he was not yet at the level who could possibly argue or oppose to the record company. For example, Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.3 in the finale ( a few seconds from 6’59’’) / between the bar number 276 to 282), we hear an awkward performance. Rachmaninov Prelude Op.23-5, at the passages before the coda (from 2’51 / the 74th bar), he apparently forgot some notes and made them up by improvisation. I am sure that any pianist wishes that such apparent accident shall be deleted or claimed for the editorial correction, however, they were released for sale without any editing.
By the way, this Prelude Op.23-5 was a small piano composition and the only recording preserved in Berlin. I wonder he must had recorded other works at the same time, however, the evidence had never been confirmed yet and remained a mystery.
Another mystery was Brahms Paganini variations Op.35. It has been claimed that the recorded material had actually existed but never been issued in public. I imagine this virtuosic grand piano work perfectly matched with his brilliant technique at that time, but unfortunately it might get lost.
In the end of the chapter, I would like to mention three piano works: Chopin Etude Op.10-8, Liszt Grandes études de Paganini No.5 “La chasse”, and Schubert-Liszt “Liebesbotschaft”. Naxos had already released them as CD (Picture No.7), that has not yet by Sony Music who owned the originals, which is strange for me. In addition, "La chasse” was played by the 1838 version that is more technical demanding piece than the well-known 1851 version. “Grandes études de Paganini No.2” which I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter was performed on the Busoni version based on 1851 version. It seems to me that Horowitz had conducted a study of various editions and made an effort to explore his own repertoire.
9.2 The Period 1939-1953: Storm and Stress
In this period, he was in the late 30s to 40s and celebrated the peak of his career as a concert pianist. At the same time, he was awarded American citizenship and settled in the US.
Most of the recordings was issued by RCA, with an exception of two HMV SPs (recorded in London in 1951). The total volume had reached to 770 minutes (including all recordings from the period, regardless of the issuance year), which was about 4 times more in the volume than the first period of 1928 to 1936. Such a high volume was reflecting the longer duration of works, such as four piano concertos, piano sonatas and suites for piano. Needless to say, an invention of LP record contributed to this fact.
Before writing this chapter, I again listened to all CDs and found that the powerful and dynamic acoustic effect with thick texture can be seen in this era. These acoustic characteristics, I also have observed from other RCA recordings of Rubinstein and Kapell from the same period. I guess it represented the characters of RCA recording equipment. If so, the actual sound of his performance had been somehow altered and modified in the preservation. For this reason, “Yale Collection” (Horowitz’s private live recordings during 1945 to 1950) appeared to me more credible and faithful reproduction of his piano playing, in spite of loud scratch noises.
And in this era, he had a tendency to get emotionally overwrought and accelerated the tempo. In addition, because of the acrobatic program, such as “Rakoczy March” and “The Stars and Stripes Forever”, he gave us the powerful impression of his gorgeous virtuosic techniques, that I would like to call it whirlwind temperament.
But setting aside my impression on the characteristics of RCA recordings, I must say that his performing style and interpretation on the standard repertoires appeared to be very much consistent with his style in the period after 1965. Therefore, we must consider the fact that listeners’ impression could be affected by the acoustic quality and the type of repertoires in each period.
Let me start with the piano concertos; After three year absence from the concert stage since 1936, he recorded Brahms Piano Concerto No2 in 1940, and Tchaikovsky Piano Concert No1 in 1941 (Picture No.8). Already 10 years have passed since the previous concerto recording. I am sure that the collaboration with Toscanini as a conductor added mental pressure and high tension on his performance, it came out with such a powerful and exciting piano playing, sometimes with the explosion of bass code. I personally favored such style and temperament for Tchaikovsky concerto, but not for Brahms. (Brahms concerto, we could hear a better edition in the later years).
In the 2nd movement of Brahms concerto, there was an accident in a passage where tympani missed one bar and continued forward between the bar 173 and 182. We could also listen to another live recording by the same members that was produced three days prior, but contained no such accident. The maestro Toscanini was known as a perfectionist, but might have overlooked the accident in the relatively new composition for him.
Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.3 and Beethoven Piano Concerto No.5 “Emperor” in 1950s, Horowitz played with Reiner (Picture No.9) and these shall be noted as a masterpiece in his career. Rachmaninov No.3 was the second recording that we could hear much more penetrating lucidity and thrilling performance than the 1st recording in 1930. (Both editions included some short cuts as the old day tradition.) Beethoven No.5 did not gain high reputation, as far as seen the CD reviews in the music journals. Probably because he focused on tonal beauty and graceful articulation, rather than the powerful masculine side from Beethoven. Yet, I still personally favor his unique interpretation for Beethoven.
There are seven live recordings for Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1 including below;
[A] 1940: Barbirolli and New York Philharmonic
[B] 1941: Toscanini and NBC Symphony Orchestra (recording was produced three weeks prior to the above mentioned)
[C] 1943: Toscanini and NBC Symphony Orchestra (official issuance became available from RCA)
[D] 1948: Walter and New York Philharmonic
[E] 1949: Steinberg and Hollywood Bowl Orchestra
[F] 1950: Abravanel and Utah Symphony (not a complete version)
[G] 1953: Szell and New York Philharmonic (official issuance from Sony Classical in 2013)
All editions except [F] had been already issued by CD. In my opinion, [G] is the best Tchaikovsky performance ever with high temperament, beautiful lyrical expression and powerful energy, and with excellent sound quality among the other recordings available in the same period (Picture No.11). His emotions and virtuosity went beyond the edge of the highest level. I cannot imagine any other performances that could exceed to this edition. [D], the collaboration with Walter (Picture No.11) shall be remarked as the best rendition as far as the quality of performance is concerned, though it is in a poor sound quality. And it is strongly recommended for those who call themselves as “Horowitz fan”. [C] is the most popular recording among them but the performance quality was no better than [G] and [D].
On the other hand, [A][E] were never at the level of our expectation, rather somehow an awkward performance. I wonder it was because of his own health and mental condition or a bad teamwork with conductor, we never know the truth. This shows that Horowitz did not always guarantee a perfect performance at the stage.
There are three of live recording productions for Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.3, his famous signature piece.
[H] 1941: Barbirolli and New York Philharmonic
[I] 1944: Rodzinski and New York Philharmonic
[J] 1950: Koussevitzky and Hollywood Bowl Orchestra
Among the three, [H] was a stunning performance that shall be remembered as a showpiece of his concert pianist career. He was so frenetic and moving toward a very aggressive finale with a stormy fast tempo in the 3rd movement, nothing but overwhelming. [I] also had a very similar temperament, but with only 30 minutes of duration as its complete volume was not available. (CD was not issued but you could listen to this version on YouTube) [J] used to be a well-known edition, however, it was nothing but a blurry and dull rendition, a big disappointment for whom expected more exiting performance from his golden age. In addition, there was an accident in the first movement (from the bar 219), when orchestra missed one beat and continued behind. However, Horowitz tactfully waited one beat and made him match to orchestra within the following fourth bars. It was impressive.
Brahms Piano Concerto No.2, there are five recordings as follows;
[K] 1939: Toscanini and Luzern Festival Orchestra
[L] 1940: Toscanini and NBC Symphony Orchestra (three days prior to the studio recording)
[M]1945: Toscanini and NBC Symphony Orchestra
[N] 1948: Walter and New York Philharmonic
[O]1948: Toscanini and NBC Symphony Orchestra
[K] is of historic importance as the last performance of the maestro Toscanini in Europe before the WWII. However, I found this is not so characteristic and the sound condition is rather bad. [L] is something equivalent to the studio recording in the same period in terms of the performing style and the quality. [M] is a recent issued edition from Pristine Audio in 2009 (Picture No 13), I found it an excellent performance with a sense of maturity and ponderous, although it was not well known version nor seen in the import CD stores. [O] (Picture No.4) is my recommendation. This is an elegant performance that came with better acoustic sound quality. [N] was an archived edition in Yale University, and no CD so far. It has been praised and highly accredited as one of the best performance, according to whom luckily had listened to this version.
From various documents on Horowitz, I noticed the inconsistent reviews, one claimed that Horowitz favored Toscanini’s recording, while other said Walter’s version as his favorite. We would never know the truth, but my guess is that he had to say “my favorite is Toscanini” when Toscanini was still living who was his father in law.
Now let’s move to his solo repertory. Chopin “Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brillante” in 1945 (Picture No.15), that is one of my recommendations in this era. It was worth of our attention to see how he elicited the contrast between the romantic feeling in the Andante Spianato and the technical aspect in the polonaise. Also you could hear the perfect “Jeu perle”, one of the piano technique from the Russian school in the way that all fast notes are played with non-legato so that all notes sounds so clear and sparkling as if a series of pearls are rolling up and down over the keyboard.
A description of “playing piano” in Japanese can be written in Chinese characters (Kanji) as “flipping piano”. Flipping is a very quick movement when touching an object, that also exactly described the Horowitz performing style in the way how he was striking keyboard by bending fingers. This enables to produce a series of beautiful, steadfast non-legato in the fast passage. His non-legato technique was demonstrated so well and effectively in Moszkowski Etude Op.72-11 (Picture No.16), and this Chopin Polonaise, as he showed a vivid and dexterous enviable performance.
There are quite a number of recordings of his favorite Chopin and Schumann repertoire. I personally favor their recordings from the later years, because his real touch and sounds quality might not be preserved faithful in this period caused by RCA acoustic nature. (Typical example was Chopin piano sonata No.2). Of course, we could not ignore some recordings, such as Chopin Ballade No.3 op.47, Impromptu op.29 and Brahms piano works, because these were recorded only once in this period. Horowitz did seldom play Brahms since 1954, I wish he had played Brahms late piano works in Horowitz’s later years.
RCA’s acoustic effect with dazzling bass sounds had made a positive impact on the famous acrobatic repertoires, such as “The Starts and Strips Forever”, “Rakoczy March”, “Totentanz” by Saint-Saens/Liszt” and his “Variations on Themes from Bizet's Carmen”. He had showed off the gorgeous virtuoso by the way how he produced the incessant elastic octaves, the glassy leaps by the right hand, and the heavy thick code sounds by the left hand, as powerful as if metal was hit by hammer.
Among them, “Rakoczy March” shall be remembered as the most gorgeous and stormy passionate performance in this period. We could hear several editions of live recordings including some recent releases, and found that he added more aggressive and stormy tastes in the later versions. In fact, a friend of mine had requested a professional to write down the score only by listening to the music by ears, but eventually he gave up, claiming that some specific passages played by Horowitz were too complicated to analyze. That is understandable, because we heard the massive aggressive explosions all over the score, which must be impossible to catch all notes. The largest piece among his own transcriptions was Mussorgsky “Pictures at Exhibition”. While some people claimed this too decorative and with bad taste, it is still worth of listening to experience his creative transcription.
Speaking of acrobatic repertoire, I was so pleased with the official release of Balakirev “Islamey”, which existence had been known from long time ago. I am personally opposed to his editorial alternation of at the middle part and the coda although, he delivered a persuasive performance.
On the other hand, Liszt “St. Francois de Paule marchant sur le flots” was such a disappointment, even for my ears of Horowitz aficionado. It describes a holly miracle of the Saint and religious mysticism. However, he created a liquid rush and banging, missing a sense of refined expression of the sacred drama. The massive double octaves at the coda was too flashy. I wished to listen to all recordings by the hands of Horowitz, but his name would not always guarantee the quality performance. Very sad but the reality has to be accepted.
In the acrobatic repertoires, he impressed us with the flawless velocity, which became even faster in the middle of technically demanding passages with no hesitation. Recent years, many young pianists challenged the Horowitz’s transcription but no one has ever reached or exceeded his level from the view of “thrilling performance”.
I think that he might play these acrobatic works solely to entertain the American audience who preferred such gorgeous and thrilling rendition. In fact, his program was not necessarily too academic nor classical standard repertoire, never be a formal serious program, something like three consecutive piano sonatas. Rather he usually played for the combination of the various miniature works (at most 10 minutes long) and 1~2 of piano sonata or large piece. There must be his consideration in order not to bore the listeners. In that sense, I would say that he tried to attain to be an entertainer than an artist. For example, from the recent releases of live recordings, Schumann Fantasy and Liszt Piano Sonata (Picture No.20), we could find some unusual shortcuts which cannot be seen in other recordings including those by other pianists, that I suppose was intended by Horowitz not to bore the listeners.
Schubert Piano Sonata D960, he had hesitated to perform this for a long time, because of its ponderous duration. In 1953, he finally performed it. We could hear this in CD (Picture No.21), however, it was not a success, unfortunately. His decorative interpretation or his efforts to please the audience had not matched Schubert’s music. His performing style had never fit well with Schubert original piano work throughout his career.
There were some new repertoires from the contemporary piano compositions by such as Prokofiev, Kabalevsky and Barber. (Picture No.22) Among Prokofiev compositions, it seems he especially preferred Piano Sonata No.7. At the 25th anniversary recital in 1953, he tactfully produced the aggressive drives on the frenetic finale, which had burned up the hall and electrified the audience. I wish we could hear more works such as Prokofiev piano sonata No.8. Kabalevsky Piano Sonata No.3, it was, in a sense, an interesting recording because the performance is not so sharp and I should say it is a little bit warm and blurry compared to the today’s interpretation. Scriabin piano works, he started their public performance and recordings around 1948 and was regarded as Scriabin expert in his late years. I imagine that his strong appetite for Scriabin was triggered by his nostalgia and homesickness for Russia since after he had left the homeland and resided in the US. It was understandable because of Scriabin’s music that had much more of Russian dark-hued romantic sensitivity, compared to any other contemporary Russian composers such as Prokofiev or Kabalevsky.
As the only chamber music recording, he recorded Brahms Violin Sonata No.3 op108 with Milstein (Picture No.23). It was an excellent collaboration, in spite of some loud acoustic sounds due to RCA’s recording system. Even though he used to play with Milstein since 1930s, and occasionally with Piatigorsky, Cellist, they left only one recording.
By the way, Brahms Violin Sonata No.3 is a particular ensemble work from a point that many famous pianists as soloist had played for the recordings, including Rubinstein with Kochanski and Szeryng, E.Fischer with de Vito, Petri with Szigeti, Casadesus with Francescatti, Richter with Oistrakh, Kapell with Heifetz, and so on.
9.3 The period of 1954 to 1964; Heart Searching and New Repertoires
Since February 1953, soon after he made the 25th anniversary recital of the USA debut, he canceled all scheduled recitals and completely disappeared from the public performance for the following 12 years. According to Glenn Plaskin and among the various rumors, it was mainly due to the strain from the massive travels, audience’s high expectations and overworks in the past few years through 1953. In addition, his disaffection for the recitals involving the acrobatic programs was noted as well. For example, it is said that he used a flight for the first time after the anniversary recital. This means that he had used to travel either by train or car until 1953. This story indicated the level of fatigue he suffered from at that time.
After a year of absence, he revitalized both mentally and physically, and again started recording in the following year of 1954. In this period, he had explored the new repertoires and achieved a quite number of excellent recordings, reflecting his recovery and a well balance in techniques and emotions.
In 1954, he played for a set of Clementi Piano Sonatas; well-known piano works for piano students, but very unusual selections for the LP recording, probably, it was the first LP of Clementi collection produced by a world famous pianist like Horowitz. It seemed that he came up with this idea to reveal these undiscovered treasures and planed well during the sabbatical period.
In 1955, he played Scriabin Piano Sonata No.3 and Preludes. He already had performed Scriabin’s piano works in the recitals, but it was for the first time to record certain amount of Scriabin piano works at a time. And most of the works he recorded would not be re-recorded later. In the following year, he also engaged in a special recording session for this LP promotion, including a short interview, which is rare for him.
In 1956, he played Beethoven Sonata “Waldstein” and “Moonlight”. “Moonlight Sonata” was the 2nd time recording. It was also unusual as he seldom played Beethoven’s program.
In 1957, he played Chopin Scherzo No.2 & 3 and Nocturne Op.9-3, 15-1 & 27-1. These are as a result the only recordings by him, and he recorded such works more than his other favorite works. During his absence from the public performance, he actively researched new repertory, chose good works and committed to the studio recordings. This cycle became his pattern and was repeated during this period.
In 1957, he played “Variations on a Theme from Carmen” of his own transcription with the 7 minutes length (the other versions need 3 minutes and a half) (Picture No.14). According to Glenn Plaskin, he tried to excel this piece into more virtuoso composition in order to impress and please the audience in the recital. However, it was not a success. The transcription began with some dissonance, lacking the textual infidelity, losing the clarity and integration with the original transcription. It was totally understandable that Horowitz did not allow to issue the edition in public during his life time. After his death, it was officially released in public. I thought it was a bad idea for the sake of his fame.
In 1959, Horowitz’s first session for stereo recording was devoted to Beethoven Piano Sonata collection. After he played two sonatas, he again had ceased the recordings for another 3 years. In 1962, when he transferred from RCA to Columbia, he started a new recording project.
He had continued the studio recording from 1962 until 1965 when he made a “historic return” recital. During the period, he had played for some of his signature pieces, including Chopin Piano Sonata No.2, Schumann Arabesque, and some unusual programs including Beethoven Piano Sonata “Pathetique” and Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies No.19 (Picture No.25). He recorded many Scarlatti Piano Sonatas, which were highly accredited and praised for, and eventually named him as “Scarlatti expert” for the rest of his career (Picture No.26). Such concentration onto Scarlatti was only once in his life.
There was, of course, no live recording available during this period. Generally speaking, a pianist in the age of 50s would enjoy the most productive period of his professional life with a sense of maturity and well balance in techniques and artistry. It was very sad and unfortunate that Horowitz had not left any live recordings during 12 year of the second retirement. Nevertheless, I would like to emphasize on the positive aspect that he had explored the unique repertoires and achieved a stunning volume of these archives. In addition, thanks to the innovation in recording technology, we could hear his piano playing with better acoustic quality. Therefore, it should be remarked that the 12 year of retirement was not only an interruption, but somewhat useful for his career to build a solid ground of his repertoires, leading to the golden age following the year of 1965.
9.4 The Period of 1965-1974: Stardom and Balance
In May 9, 1965, Horowitz returned to the stage after the 12 year absence. It seems to me that the recordings made in the following 5 years through the end of 1969 were the best among all of his recordings, because he improved both his physical and mental condition and the innovation in the recording technology came along.
If I am asked to choose one LP or CD from Horowitz’s, I pick up “Horowitz on TV” in 1968 (Picture No.27). This LP can be called as “Snapshot of Horowitz”. The program contained his signature pieces that we could hear how he was capable of expressing the dramatic feeling in Chopin Ballade No.1, the delicate fingering in Scarlatti Sonata and the marvelous virtuoso piano playing in Carmen Variation. I have listened to it for countless times.
I had been wondering why the video edition of “Horowitz on TV” had not been released for long time. But in 2013, DVD version was finally released. When I watched this for the first time, I guessed the reasons why it was hidden in the past. A copyright issue must be one of the reasons but it seems to me that some clear evidences of editing the original tapes are more serious. Even if they would like to edit it once again, they cannot do because original video tapes have not been available any more, so it seems to me that they judged not to handle the video as “sell software”. In fact, the DVD was treated as “Bonus”, as a supplement of a set of 41 CD set.
“Carnegie Hall Live” in November 24, 1968 (Picture No.28), this is another favorite edition of mine, including Haydn, Schumann and Rachmaninov. Especially, Rachmaninov Piano Sonata was the monumental performance. In the middle of the 2nd movement, a piano wire at a bass key snapped and he had to continue from the passage after repair. However, he made the accident as a dramatic interlude, as he escalated the temperament towards the finale and played through with more fever, which brought the storm of sensation and enthralled the audience. (There is another official live recording edition from Columbia on different dates, but this never retrieved the level of frenetic excitements.) In 2013, the official CD of this live recording was finally issued. Nevertheless, I personally favored the unofficial version from the private recorder, which could tell us realer atmosphere of the Carnegie Hall. The recorded sound from this pirate edition is now available on YouTube.
The next recommendation is “Carnegie Hall Live in 1966”. He played Haydn Piano Sonata No.23 and Mozart Piano Sonata “with Turkish March” from classical works. These are good examples of his performance of these works, reflecting his elegant and stylish artistry. Chopin “Polonaise Fantaisie” and Liszt “Vallee d'Obermann” are the master pieces, exceeding to any other pianist. Especially, Liszt was such an extraordinary performance in terms of the wide dynamic range and of the variety of tonal colors and musical expression. These programs were already released in LP and CD as extracts from 3 concerts (Picture No.29), but in 2013, complete editions of 3 concerts were released. We could listen to some of his best performances at his peak of career. I honestly feel so jealous and envy for those who attended at these live concerts.
On the other hand, Horowitz “Historic Return” recital on May 9, 1965, was no better than the live recordings in 1966, but we should remark some works which he would not record later. Schumann Fantasy that deserved our attention and shall be noted as one of the best recordings of this work. Scriabin Piano Sonata No.9 was included in the program, intended for the 50 years memorial of Scriabin’s death and also for a reflection from the repertoire he played at the last recital before the retirement. After 12 years, he delivered a completely different performance. A significant difference was the speed control and the tempo. The former version was 6’20’’ of the duration with more fluent and straight tempo but less dynamics during the performance. But the latter version was 9’ of the longer duration with more dramatic, sensitive tonal colors and maturity.
The recital received negative reviews about “wrong notes”, but it was not noticeable from the LP because of the correction. For probably fulfilling Horowitz fans’ needs, “Horowitz Live and Unedited” came out (Picture No.30) in the 21st century. Unfortunately, the content was not a complete nor faithful enough to satisfy the Horowitz’s manias who wished to hear more accurate preservation and experience more real atmosphere from the live. To satisfy these fans, the unedited version should have been a complete recording from the first note to the end, including long applauses between the performances. For example, there were clear short cuts for the applauses before the first piece and after the last piece of Chopin Ballade No.1. I expected at the latter there must have been much longer passionate applause before the encore. Such short cut made us disappointing. In addition, ideally, a set of 2 CDs should have been divided by according to the 1st half program and the 2nd half. However, the 2nd CD started from the middle of the 2nd half. The CD company should have researched better to meet the fan’s expectations, if wish to target the specific market for the classical music fans.
His famous acrobatic repertoires were one of the reasons of the physical strain and the 12 year absence form the public stage. However, since 1967, he again started to play, probably because he had recovered the physical condition and gained the confidence in his techniques. “Variations on Themes from Bizet’s Carmen”, he played for several times, but only once for Liszt “Scherzo and March” and “Hungarian Rhapsodies No.13” (Horowitz’s transcription). We could listen to excellent performances, but he never played it any longer. I wonder he might have felt uncomfortable with flashy virtuosic pieces.
I would like to make a remark on the different takes of existing CDs. The studio recording of Schumann “Kreisleriana” in 1969, which has been highly accredited and praised by the critics as one of best performances of this work. However, the CD version (Picture No.31) is not exactly the same as LP. For example, the beginning of passages on LP was somehow tantalizing in the interpretation, clearly different from the CD edition. The repetition at the beginning of 1st piece was faithfully replayed on LP. but on CD, there was a strange pause just returning to the beginning. As far as we know from live recordings of this work in the same period, his interpretations always went with those of LPs. Maybe it was due to a loss of the LP master tapes. However, when it was released as CD in Japan for the first time, such changes were not observed. (Picture No.32, 1985). This CD master tape should have been used in the following CD versions.
More than 10 years ago, in addition to the official Columbia live recordings, unofficial live editions became more available from private recordings. In fact, some of unofficial editions provided better performances than those on the official edition. I had been wondering that Sony Classical still possessed quite a volume of unreleased resources which I thought should be officially sold. In 2013, a 41 CD-set “Carnegie Hall Live” appeared, which was welcome very much, but this set did not include live recordings at other locations. Corresponding to my long time wonder, “Vladimir Horowitz The Unreleased Live Recordings 1966-1983”, a set of 50 CDs, was finally released in the fall of 2015. It was an almost complete set of live recordings recorded by Columbia and RCA at the recitals held other than Carnegie Hall, published with a very formal program note and booklet.
The 50 CD set are “unedited” as well as the set of 41 CD at Carnegie Hall. However, this time, we could find more serious wrong notes compared with Carnegie Hall lives. Speaking of Horowitz, he had been known for “virtuoso” and “perfect technique”, while the 50 CD set had revealed opposite side of his reality, unfortunately.
Nevertheless, in the 50 CD set, Horowitz proved his genius by his improvised interpretation. Interesting to say, we could listen to some same works but performed on different dates, therefore, it was very clear that his performance on a same work was never be the same. He played the wrong notes because of his excess temperaments and extemporaneous intention. Compared with the studio recording session, it delivered much more energy and lively performance. I would like to conclude that it shall be remarked as the excellent recording collection, in terms of the good quality of the recording and the booklet that contained the various interesting information about the program and photos as well.
During the period of 1965 to 1974 (the scope of this chapter), the 50 CD set included the live recordings from 9 recitals that are all wonderful representing the peak of Horowitz career. I would be more than happy to continue writing my personal opinions about these recordings, but not enough space herein. From Boston recital, April 1968, as it was 3 days after Martin Luther King’s assassination, following an announcement of program change, Horowitz played “Funeral march” from Chopin Piano Sonata No.2.
This would probably become the last large-scale issuance of Horowitz unpublished recordings. But there must be some recordings that had remained unreleased as of today due to a special reason or situation. I still wish that these unreleased items would become available someday.
Other than the live recordings, he also committed to a series of the studio recordings during short retirement from 1969, and had the regular annual releases. “Scriabin Album” in 1972 (Picture No.33) was noted as a splendid performance. This is a new edition of Scriabin’s album since 1955. Along with the innovation in the recording technology, we could hear the wonderful Scriabin with vivid and picturesque expression. Especially, “Vers la flamme Op.72” is an extraordinary rendition with wide dynamics. The same piece from his video recording at home was included in DVD “Horowitz Reminiscences” (Picture No.34). We could hear the equivalent level of artistry and acoustic quality, which I strongly recommend too.
Beethoven Piano Sonata “Moonlight” “Waltstein””Appasionata” (Picture No.35) and Schubert Impromptus were not so good performances. Horowitz is known as his frenetic performing style as seen from Chopin and Rachmaninov programs. People would naturally expect that his style would approach well and fit perfectly with Beethoven compositions rather than among the other classical composers, such as Haydn or Mozart, however, the results were opposite to our expectation. My impression was that he suppressed his emotion, when he played Beethoven. Speaking of Schubert, as mentioned in the earlier chapter in the period of 1939 to 1953, the four of Impromptus, he often played with some blemishes in the chord. I even questioned myself if I would ever become Horowitz fan in case that I listened to his Beethoven or Schubert when I know him for the first time.
Notwithstanding, this period was the summit of his professional career, especially in 1966 and 1968. In recent years, not only studio recordings but also a large volume of live performances became available. I was so happy to acknowledge the trend, even envy the young generation today who can access them easily and listen to the valuable and wonderful recording materials of Horowitz.
9.5 The Period of 1975-1983: Pianistic Exaggeration and Maturity
In 1974, after the 3rd retirement, Horowitz came back to the stage again. At the same time, he started the recordings for RCA. Since then, his pianistic exaggeration had become more obvious. For example, he began and ended melody lines very clearly and along with emphasizing inner voice. In addition, RCA preferred microphone position closer to the piano (than Columbia). The microphone was able to catch more detail acoustic, but sometime too loud, even shrill. Schumann Piano Sonata No.3 and Scriabin Piano Sonata No.5 from the first recording for RCA and the next Liszt’s Sonata, these were the typical examples; the performances were very powerful and impressive, yet sometime too harsh, even painful on the ears for repeat listening.
Unfortunately, his physical capability was slightly declining in terms of speed control and precious octave jumps. Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.3 in January 1978 (the 50th anniversary concert of USA Debut, with Eugene Ormandy and New York Philharmonic) (Picture No.36), he already lost technical brilliance that was once showed off at the collaboration with Reiner in 1950. Nevertheless, he compensated it enough by his artistry, the tactful articulation, beautiful tonal control and romantic expression. He had a poetic serenity. It was so miraculous and extraordinary by any standards of pianists.
In 1978, he played Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.3 for several occasions as below;
February 5 Zubin Mehta with Los Angeles Philharmonic
April 16 and April 30 Eugene Ormandy with Philadelphia Orchestra
September 24 Zubin Mehta with New York Philharmonic
In my opinion, the recording with Mehta on September 24 (DVD Picture No.37) was superior to the 50th anniversary concert edition with Ormandy. The DVD was an official release but it was strange because it came out with monaural sound. When the concert was broadcast for the first time on January 3, 1979 in Japan, it was with stereo sound. For your reference, the broadcast in Japan was sponsored by Pioneer Cooperation. But Pioneer did not insert their commercial films during his performance. I was impressed with their special consideration.
Subsequently, I found the stereo recording edition within “Vladimir Horowitz The Unreleased Live Recordings 1966-1983”. The recording was made by RCA. I wonder RCA provided the stereo recording edition for the TV broadcast.
Liszt Mephisto Waltz No.1 (Picture No.38), a fabulous rendition with his powerful and dynamic expression from the natural impulses. We see many young pianists try so hard to focus on the speed and accuracy on this work, and yes, occasionally they have achieved a success. However, Horowitz delivered something different beyond the tempo or techniques. He employed his artistic technique and emphasized the contrast throughout the conception of this piano work. He held back and retrained the sensitive speed control with the combination of massive fortissimo and the very delicate pianissimo. It was so effective that he incorporated the Busoni edition in the middle section. There are several unofficial editions from private recordings, where you could hear the various arrangements at the coda, which showed he played this part with improvisation. The best one, we could hear from the official issuance from RCA.
“Horowitz on Tour” (Picture No.39), this represented the true and real performance form at his last peak of career. In Chopin Barcarolle, his unique way of interpretation with some exaggeration and imaginative expression, as noted earlier, produced a positive effect as to create a sensitive lyrical passage and a subtle feeling from musical time and space between the passages, this shall be remembered as one of his best performance of this work.
To the contrary, Rachmaninov Piano Sonata No.2 within “the Horowitz Concerts 1979/1980” edition, he played with passion as he had played in the past, yet I have a negative comment for his performance how he lost the balance by crushing bass code, giving nearly noisy banging. The same tendency can be seen in the London live recording in 1982, especially in the same Rachmaninov sonata, you could hear how he weaken the structure and made brittle and uneven playing in Chopin and Schumann. Such distortion was eventually revealed more often and obvious, and ended in a disastrous performance remembered at the Japan Tour in 1983.
From “Vladimir Horowitz The Unreleased Live Recordings 1966-1983”, a set of 50 CDs, we could hear the live recordings from 17 recitals of this period 1975-1983. It would be very interesting to compare with the recordings previously released by RCA. Especially, Chopin Scherzo No.1 from the live recital in Chicago, November 2, 1975, Horowitz delivered the most exciting and thrilling performance as if walking on the tightrope. In addition, he played 6 encore pieces at the end of the day, while he normally played 2 to 4 encores. It also indicated his high tension and temperaments on the day of the live.
The recital in Metropolitan Opera House, November 1, 1981, most of the recordings were already released by CD in the following year. But Scarlatti Piano Sonata from “Vladimir Horowitz The Unreleased Live Recordings 1966-1983”, we could hear the repetition in accordance with the instruction on the score. It seems the repetition had been edited from the previously released CD, probably for the purpose to hide the wrong notes and match the total duration to that of LP.
The CD set included the recital live recordings in April and May 1983. It mentioned that the Japan recitals in June 1983 was also recorded but not included in the CD set. It is strange for me that the recordings in April and May were released in spite of low quality of performances. To some extent, the recordings provided his unique interpretation and willful expression, yet, not of the satisfactory level exceeding our expectation for the name of Horowitz and his reputation. There were some defects in the master tape that was substituted by the audience’s private recordings. I would like to admire the editor’s efforts although.
During the 60 years of the recording engagement, most of recordings were piano concertos and piano solo works. He made a rare appearance as a collaborative pianist. Brahms Violin Sonata No.3 in 1950 used to be the only ensemble recording. So it was remarkable that the recording of the Carnegie Hall 85th anniversary concert in 1976 became available. He played the 1st movement from Tchaikovsky Piano Trio, the 3rd movement from Rachmaninov Cello Sonata and Schumann “Dichterliebe”. You could hear the wonderful romantic expressive performances. My only negative remark was on Schumann, where Fischer Dieskau seemed somehow uncomfortable with Horowitz’s collaboration.
Two of Faure’s piano works, unusual repertoires of Horowitz, were recorded in 1977. According to the conversations with Japanese music critics, all Faure program was also considered and proposed when they saw Horowitz at the 50th anniversary in 1978. (Noted from Mr. Naomi Momma, NHK-FM Ongaku-Yawa in February 1978). However, the proposal had never been realized. It seemed that Horowitz quickly lost his interest in Faure program after giving several recordings and recitals.
Since 1960s, more of recording materials had become available from private tapes. Even myself, I had to admit that there are too many to listen to all. But I could not neglect them completely, because some works have not yet been available on official CDs such as Kreisler “Liebesleid” and Scriabin Prelude Op.9-1. He played them in this period only, and delivered the fabulous renditions with full of beautiful and artistic nuance.
Fortunately some of Video recordings in this period are available as below;
1978 Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.3
1982 Horowitz in London
1983 Horowitz Legendary Live in Japan
It was strange that the official release of video live in Japan in 1983 was permitted. But it is also strange that the video at White House recital in February 1978, was not released yet.
In Japan, it was on broadcast on January 2, 1979, followed by the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.3 broadcast in the next day. In other local cities in Japan, it was on air on January 15. Some additional programs was on television later again but the video never became available commercially (CD was released by the 50 CD set.) It did not represent the perfect performances, nevertheless, it deserved our attention as to understand more real and true aspect of Horowitz piano playing at his peak. “White House Concert” by Pablo Casals had been issued by LP and CD, so I do not think it was because of “White House Concert”.
Liszt Piano Sonata, it partially could be seen during a TV interview. According to an expert of TV broadcast, as far as judge from the camera distribution for the video, it could be reasonably assumed that the entire recording should have existed in somewhere. My guess is that it was an excerpt from the Chicago recital video recording in 1977, which was not released yet although. I hope these recording resources will be officially released and available to the fans in the near future.
9.6 The Period 1985-1989: Tonal Expression and Gracefulness
The Japan recital in 1983 was such a disastrous event, not only for the fans but also for Horowitz himself. His unsatisfactory performance had been caused by drugs prescribed by a physician. Soon after returning to the US, he canceled all public performance for the next two years, changed the physician and focused on the recovery. In 1985, Horowitz changed his CD company to Deutsche Grammophon. He again started recordings with the documentary film “The Last Romantic”. To be honest, when I heard the news of his comeback, I questioned his capability, because the reason of his distortion associated with physical condition and drug uses was not disclosed at that time and there was no ground to believe his recovery. I even had wondered why he could ever manage the recording activities. Therefore, it turned to be a happy surprise to see how he revitalized and renewed himself after listening to new recordings.
He appeared with a totally new performing style to deliver a delicate pianissimos, tonal contrast and dramatic articulation, less emphasis on the technical aspect or dynamic sound volumes. His interpretation appeared still very unique, but no longer with eccentric taste or exaggeration. It changed to something more acceptable by the general audience, including those who used to criticize and oppose to his style before. The recital program shifted to more intimate and lyrical short works than acrobatic or virtuoso repertoires.
An unexpected delicate pianissimos became so obvious in his performing style during the period. Scriabin Etude Op.8-12 and Scarlatti Piano Sonata L.224 (K.135), we could hear totally different renditions from the previous recordings in 1981 and 1982, only 4~5 years of intervals although. Even with less dynamic sounds volume, he was still capable of using the effective fortissimos in Scriabin Etudes and Chopin Polonaise “Heroic”. It was noticeable in other piano works in the way how he used the fortissimo first and design a dynamic articulation of the work or a recital.
As a famous recording, “Horowitz in Moscow” had been released soon after the recital in Moscow, which was held in April 1986. The extract selections were released by CD and the entire program was archived in DVD. The recital was an important and a major media event to celebrate his return to Moscow after 61 years since 1925. But as the best edition from his last five years, I pick up “The Legendary Berlin concert”, a live recording from West Berlin recital in 1986, a month after in Moscow, released from Sony (Picture No.40). In terms of the quality of performance, Berlin recital was much better. We could hear how he was revitalized and presented with maturity, deep interpretation and affection in music which is a different fascination from that in 1965-1969. The recording technology had been further progressed as to provide the wonderful acoustic effect from the large concert hall, where created a vertically spreading space for the music.
In this period, he returned to Mozart, and recorded Piano Sonata K.333 and the first recordings of Piano Concerto No.23, Piano Sonata K.281 and Rondo K.511 etc. Regarding Mozart Piano Concerto. this does not seem particular because we could hear better and excellent recordings by other pianists. Yet, I must insist that his Mozart Sonatas and short works were so unique and precious to draw our attention.
“The Last Recording” by Sony Classical (Picture No.43) had consisted of all first recording repertoires and charming intimate piano works, which had reminded of us the inimitable grace and elegance in his late years. He was still very active and seemed ambitious to search and explore new side of his artistry. It was such an unfortunate that he passed away all the sudden. I must remark that it was a heart-felt consideration that Wagner-Liszt “Isolde’s Libestod” was allocated at the last of this CD as the memorial edition to dedicate for his death.
Schubert Piano Sonata D.960, the rendition was better than the previous recording in 1953, yet not the level of exceeding our expectation. His tempo rubato and very obvious tonal controls was not a success for Schubert. Simply because it was too heavy and decorative for the composer. On the other hand, it appeared much more effectively in the Liszt transcription of “Serenade” (Picture No.44). It was so fabulous in the 2nd half, where he played beautiful harmony with echoing each single melody line. “Soiree de Vienne No.6” was so fascinating, splendid rendition with his phantasmagoric finger controls and brilliant expression. At the very end of the passages, he emphasized the note of E for six times, I wonder he intended to count six o’clock.
In 2015, the live recording “Horowitz Return to Chicago” was released, including Horowitz favorite repertories in 1986 plus 2 of Mozart piano pieces. It was good selections to express his charms in the period, but may not achieve the level of quality as good as DG recordings.
There are four of video recording materials, including “the Romantic”, “Horowitz in Moscow in 1986”, “Mozart Piano Concerto No.23” (recorded in Italy in 1987 and Piano Recital in Wien in 1987. Also in 1987, White House recital was hosted by President Ronald Regan. That was partially broadcasted by television, but only few encore pieces were recorded and not sold.
It seems there are still some of unreleased materials. For example, Mozart Turkish March in double notes, I wonder how he had demonstrated his technical feats as a magician on keyboards. I dare to hear some unreleased Chopin Etudes pieces by his hands. I wish these unreleased editions would be issued in public someday soon in the future.
Here I came to the end of the chapter. Throughout the six different phases in the discography, he had covered a wide spectrum of recording repertoire. Of course, he did not always guarantee the perfect performances. In fact, some of the archives were remarked with the critical negative comments and questioned in the quality. Notwithstanding, Horowitz had attained a new height of achievement as a concert pianist and established himself as the Titan of piano in the 20th century. It has been already 30 years since his death, so the name of Horowitz is only a legacy in the history, especially for many of young pianists or piano students. My wish is that this book would help the readers, especially in the young generation, to show fascination of his piano playing and share the appreciation in his musical achievements by listening to his recordings. This is simply from my respect for Horowitz and heart-felt wish that his musical legacy shall continue to live on in our hearts.
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