On November 5, 1989, Vladimir Horowitz passed away, the victim of a massive heart attack. One of the most venerated pianists of the 20th century, Horowitz had celebrated his 86th birthday only a month earlier. Horowitz was also the beneficiary of a brand-new contract with Sony, with an enviable provision that allowed him to record at home using his favorite piano. His most recent recording had taken place four days before. It was classic Horowitz, playing right to the very end.

The Beginning

Horowitz was born as Vladimir Samoylovich Gorowitz in Kiev — then part of the Russian Empire and now the capital of Ukraine — on October 1, 1903 to Jewish parents. He became acquainted with the piano early in life; Horowitz had yet to celebrate his 9th birthday when he was shipped to the Kiev Conservatory. By the mid-1920s Horowitz was a star in Russia, with training in both the piano and composition.

The move

Horowitz’s financial state not commensurate with his fame, and he longed to be a composer, rather than a pianist. Consequently, towards the end of 1925, the young pianist crossed over to the West, with the intention of making his move a permanent one. A year later, on the verge of making his performance debut in Berlin, he replaced the first letter of his surname with an H, perhaps symbolic of a turning point in his professional life.

The Craft

While in Russia, Horowitz had built a reputation for his explosive, thundering style, breaking piano strings as he pounded on the keys. Upon his move to the West, Horowitz continued to hone his craft. With an artful combination of speed, power and articulation, he perfected the art of playing the piano with his fingers pressed completely flat on the keys, and he minimized his use of the foot pedal. Not everyone loved his style. Some enthusiasts viewed his interpretations as too showy and personalized, and believed that they bastardized the intentions of the original composers. However, Horowitz was generally praised for his electrifying, spellbinding performances that thrilled audiences worldwide.

The Fame and Recognition

Despite starting the Western portion of his career in Europe, it was the United States where he eventually settled down in 1939. Within a few years he was the highest paid concert artist in the nation. Becoming a U.S. citizen in 1944 during World War II, Horowitz recorded a string of studio and live performances for RCA Victor and Columbia. Notable performances included his 1943 rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the NBC Symphony Orchestra under conductor Arturo Toscanini, and two Carnegie Hall concerts in 1965 and 1968. The pianist’s eccentric behavior — punctuated by severe self-doubt, four retirement periods, and worsened by shock therapy — only intensified the public’s hunger for more of his music. His 1986 return to Russia, after a six-decade absence, was widely publicized for its political undertones during the Cold War era. Upon his return, then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan awarded him the Medal of Freedom.

The Legacy

Years after his death, Horowitz remains widely considered as one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century. Best known for his treatment of Romantic piano pieces, critics acclaim his 1932 rendition of the Liszt Sonata in B Minor as the piece’s definitive interpretation. Horowitz is also associated with playing Robert Schumann’s Dichterliebe, Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3, and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1.

Terrence Brittle is a huge fan of both the piano and keyboard instruments; he enjoys listening to music and collecting musical gadgets and accessories such as the kensington ipad keyboard case.

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