Vladimir Horowitz – the piano king in exile
Vladimir Samoylovich Horowitz was born in Kiev, Russian Empire (now Ukraine), to the family of well-to-do and privileged assimilated Jews, excluded from the requirement to reside within the Pale of Settlement (all Jews in the Russian Empire had to reside within certain areas, predominantly in the South-West of the country) because Vladimir's grandfather Joachim belonged to the highest merchant guild and had been granted certain privileges by the royal family. Horowitz was born in 1903, but, as was the case with many Jewish citizens of the Empire, his father changed his son's birth date to 1904 - to make him too young for military conscription.
Horowitz's mother Sophia was a pianist and taught her son the art of playing the instrument from a very early age. This resulted in his being able to enter the Kiev Conservatory at the age of only 9, in 1912! At the age of only 17, in 1920, he already gave his first solo recital in Kharkiv.
Soon Horowitz began to tour Soviet Russia, not earning much (he was often paid with bread, butter and chocolate due to the country's dire economic situation after the Civil War) but gaining experience and fame. Within just two years, he gave dozens of concerts (23 in Petrograd alone).
In 1925 it became clear to Horowitz that he would not be able to achieve his goals under the new, Soviet, order, and so he went to Berlin, ostensibly for a study session, but in reality escaping, stuffing his shoes with US dollars and British pounds. He gave concerts in Berlin, Paris and later in New York.
The Soviet authorities invited him to represent Ukraine at the 1927 International Chopin Piano Competition in the Soviet Union - whether that was a ploy to lure him back or just an attempt to gain PR, using a famous performer, is not clear - but he refused, instead settling in the United States.
In 1928 he performed his first concert at the Carnegie Hall, playing Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 to a storm of applause and raving reviews in the press.
During the next two decades he actively toured the US and recorded with various studios, with one of the recordings - his signature Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 for RCA Victor in 1943 - later being inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. His dream of becoming a composer took on an unexpected form: he would alter certain parts of greatest works by famous composers, to more fully employ all the possibilities offered by the piano. In one case, with Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, he would simply rewrite the whole piece, giving it a completely new aspect. And in another case, with Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Sonata, he - with the author's consent - created his own edition of what he considered to be an "unpianistic" piece!
In addition to composing and performing, he also taught several students. Due to his extremely high standards of play and a very, very difficult character, only three students were endorsed by Horowitz and continued to study under him for a considerable period of time...
His later years were marred by the increasing insecurity as a performer (on some occasions he was so doubtful of his phenomenal skills that assistants literally had to push him onto the stage), his health problems and trouble with alcohol and medication. During an especially difficult tour in Japan, one of the local critic even compared the pianist to "a precious antique vase that has developed a crack".
His personal life was quiet and steady. In 1933 he married Wanda Toscanini, the daughter of his close friend, and had daughter Sonya with her. In 1975 Sonya died under unclear circumstances; one of the versions of her death was a drug overdose.
Persistent talk about his homosexuality did not bother Horowitz. He would jokingly state that "there are three types of pianists: Jewish pianists, homosexual pianists and bad pianists" and simply dismiss the rumors.
In 1986 he returned to the USSR for concerts in Moscow and Leningrad, getting the reception of a rock superstar or a national hero. He died of a heart attack three years later, aged 86, in New York.
Biography - Horowitz, Berlin
"Полновластный король, вечный странник-артист..." - Interesting Kiev, October 2003.
"Recordings; Horowitz's Parting Gift: Charming Novelties" - Schonberg, Harold C., The New York Times (April 22, 1990)