For Sunday Morning “A War-Gift to the West” Vladimir Horowitz
My fascination with the arts may rise from my creative side. I find those with extraordinary talents exciting and inspirational, which has led me to resurrect my piano lessons that I took when I was sent to a boarding school at age 10. ( It is painfully slow, but returning to some degree.)
Reading about the lives of famous artists, musicians, and the highly talented has also interested me. How often they wade through their talents plagued with demons of alcohol, self-doubt and even suicidal tendencies (the artists Jackson Pollack and Van Gogh as examples). In my writings, I often ask the reason why? Was it something in their early years or relationships. Sometimes there is no answer, but the appreciation for what they brought to this world is high in my mind.
This Sunday morning, I want to share with you Vladimir Horowitz … his music and his life.
“Vladimir Horowitz was born in Kiev, Ukraine. He was the youngest of four children of Samuil Horowitz and Sophia Bodik, who were assimilated Jews. Samuil was a well-to-do electrical engineer and a distributor of electric motors for German manufacturers. Horowitz’s grandfather Joachim was a merchant (and an arts-supporter), belonging to the 1st Guild. This status gave exemption from having to reside in the Pale of Settlement.
Horowitz was born in 1903, but in order to make him appear too young for military service so as not to risk damaging his hands, his father took a year off his son’s age by claiming he was born in 1904.
Horowitz received piano instruction from an early age, initially from his mother, who was herself a pianist. In 1912 he entered the Kiev Conservatory, where he was taught by Vladimir Puchalsky, Sergei Tarnowsky, and Felix Blumenfeld. His first solo recital was in Kharkiv in 1920.
Horowitz’s fame grew, 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 eleven different programs in Petrograd alone.
Despite his early success as a pianist, Horowitz maintained that he wanted to be a composer, and undertook a career as a pianist only to help his family, who had lost their possessions in the Russian Revolution.
In December 1925, Horowitz crossed the border into the West, ostensibly to study with Artur Schnabel in Berlin. Privately intending not to return, the 22-year-old pianist had stuffed American dollars and British pound notes into his shoes to finance his initial concerts.” This was the beginning of a war-gift to the West.
The personal life of Horowitz was often one of depression and confusion about his sexual orientation and other matters. “In the 1940’s, he began seeing a psychiatrist. He underwent electroshock treatment during the 1960’s and 70’s. In 1982, Horowitz began using prescribed anti-depressant medications and he was drinking alcohol as well. Consequently, his playing underwent a perceptible decline during this period. The pianist’s 1983 performances in the United States and Japan were marred by memory lapses and a loss of physical control.
(At the latter, one Japanese critic likened Horowitz to a “precious antique vase that is cracked.”)
He stopped playing in public for the next two years. By 1985, Horowitz, no longer taking medication or drinking alcohol, returned to his concerts and recordings.”
This Russian Jew, who might have ended up as a casualty of war, had always wanted to return to his former homeland. Now, back in good form, this talented pianist and composer decided to do so.
“In 1986, Horowitz announced that he would return to the Soviet Union for the first time since 1925 to give recitals 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 political, as well as musical, significance. Most of the tickets for the Moscow concert were reserved for the Soviet elite and few sold to the general public. This resulted in a number of Moscow Conservatory students crashing the concert, which was audible to viewers of the internationally televised recital.”
Below is a video of his performance in Russia. One will notice the tears on some of the men and women in the audience. A person gave this comment about his performance in Russia (formerly USSR) and what the people may have been remembering during his performance as to the treatment of the Jews and others in Nazi camps , but also in Russian Siberia.
“The reason why we weep is that not only is he playing for the living but also the dead. The choice of Schuman’s Traumerei is not caprice. He is playing for all those who lost their lives due to the war. Those forced to flee with the loss of family, the ones sent to the gas chambers, the ones who starved to death, the ones who died in the hell of battle. He also is sending a message to the military leaders of the USSR and the US. – Remember!” We may add here that is a message to all the world…and those in power today.