Thursday, December 15, 2011

Vladimir Horowitz

Otherwise known as the "last romantic", Horowitz's pianistic virtuoso has long been considered one of the deepest and most brilliant, and his interpretations remain legendary in the music world. One of the greatest things Horowitz has been associated with is his deep interpretations of romantic composers, mostly notably Chopin, some of which he himself brought to the public's attention, such as Scriabin's etude in D-sharp minor. A certain factor of his playing, which ironically was his greatest source of admiration as well as criticism, was his unique ability to add so much tone color to the piano and at times play extremely loudly, but never too harshly. A big music critique in Horowitz's day, Virgil Thompson, once reported of Horowitz that he was a "master of distortion and exaggeration", to which Horowitz replied that many great artists such as Michelangelo were also great masters of distortion. Granted, he was daring, but he never was without soul. When he played he never made exaggerated facial expressions and he never swayed as many pianists do, but the heart he played with is very noticeable when listening to his works. 
Another thing Horowitz did - at times somewhat controversial, but yet always admirable - was sometimes edit pieces to better fit the piano. For instance, he changed some phrases in Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" because he felt that Mussorgsky wasn't a pianist and he did not know how to use the piano to its fullest. He would sometimes substitute octaves for chromatic scales because he felt it added to the flavor of the piece. Understandably to change music which has been standard repertoire for decades would be subject to great debate, but nonetheless he felt that sometimes pieces needed to be modified to extract their full color. Horowitz was also famous for playing octaves extremely fast. When asked how he was able to play them so fast one reporter said that "he practiced them exactly as we were all taught to do". When playing, he almost always kept his palms beneath the keys, much lower than pianists are typically taught, and his fingers were straight when he played, as opposed to the semi-curled position that most pianists keep them. In addition, his pinky would remain curled when not playing with it, and when he would need to use it it would spring out "like a cobra". These techniques, which are not typical ways of playing, became almost a trademark of his. Horowitz once remarked that a pianist must play Chopin like Mozart and Mozart like Chopin. In other words, what he was trying to say is that a person cannot be completely overtaken by the technical details of a piece so that he removes all feeling and emotion from the piece, but he must also not let all the emotion blur the technicalities of the piece. Horowitz himself definitely lived up to this standard.

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