Vladimir Horowitz

Vladimir Samoylovich Horowitz was a Ukraine-born pianist of Jewish descent, who began his career in the USSR and then moved to the US and became a citizen there. He is widely considered one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century.


Horowitz was born to a Jewish family in Kiev or Berdichev in 1903. The sources are in disagreement about this. [1] Horowitz’s father later listed his year of birth as 1904 in order to make him appear too young for the army. His mother was a skilled pianist and gave him his first piano lessons.

Horowitz joined the Kiev Conservatory in 1912. He studied under Felix Blumenfeld, Sergei Tarnowsky, and Vladimir Puchalsky. He graduated in 1919, performing Rachmaninoff’s third piano concerto at his graduation.

Horowitz embarked upon his career as a professional pianist, giving his first solo concert in 1920. He toured Russia extensively and performed many concerts, often being paid with food instead of money due to the country’s poverty. In 1922, he gave 15 concerts in Khakov in exchange for food and clothing. From 1926 onwards, he debuted in Berlin, Paris, London, and New York.

In 1932, Horowitz began a lasting partnership with the conductor Arturo Toscanini. The next year, he married Arturo’s daughter Wanda. She did not speak Russian, so they communicated in French. They quickly had their first and only child, Sonia Toscanini Horowitz. Their different religious backgrounds were not a problem because neither of them was practicing.

At the outbreak of World War 1, Horowitz and his family moved to New York City. He was naturalized in 1944, and spent the rest of his life in the US, with the exception of some.

Horowitz suffered from doubt in his own abilities, in spite of his great popularity. He became depressed. Some sources indicate that Horowitz was homosexual, which would have worsened his psychological condition.

From the late 1930s until 1985, Horowitz would often withdraw from public performances for many years at a time. His longest retreat from public performances was from 1953 to 1965. In 1965, he resumed giving recitals on rare occasions. During his long periods of withdrawal, he continued to produce recordings. He sometimes requires great pressure from his wife and friends to stop him from canceling concerts. He also sometimes had to be pushed onto the stage. [1]

Horowitz underwent electroshock therapy for depression in the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1980s, he tried antidepressants, and his piano playing suffered from their effects. He quit the medication by 1985 and his pianism improved again. [1]

He returned to the USSR for a series of politically significant concerts in 1986. The following year, he went to Europe and gave his last tour. Horowitz died of a heart attack in New York City in 1989. He was buried in the Toscanini family tomb in Milan, Italy.

Musical Style and Legacy

Horowitz was known for his clean and clear playing, his technical skill, and his colorful, exciting style. He had a number of students, notably including Byron Janis, Gary Graffman, and Ronald Turini. He remains one of the most famous and respected pianists of the 20th century.


[1] http://www.berdichev.org/vladimir_horowitz_and_his_biography.html



Article written by me for Lunyr