December 14, 2010
For those of you who are not familiar…
Vladimir Horowitz (1903 – 1989) was a Russian-American virtuoso pianist who came to fame in the 1920s in Russia and then throughout the world. He was a legendary pianist and many of his recordings are renowned as being the definitive performances of frequently played pieces by well known composers such as Chopin, Liszt, Scriabin, and Rachmaninoff.
His performances were often exaggerated and dynamic; Frequently overwhelming audiences with waves of sound, then immediately contrasting with phrases of incredible delicacy and gentleness. His dynamic style and virtuosity earned international esteem and he consequently performed for kings and queens, emperors and presidents, and multitudes of adoring fans over a 70 year career.
In my opinion, Chopin’s Mazurka, Op. 17 No. 4 is a relatively simple piece. I’ve heard several recordings over the years and have mostly ignored it. It’s not very dynamic, it is short, and I always just thought of it as just sort of plain. Until I heard Horowitz play it.
The following video is among the last of his recordings before his death in 1989 and has become one of my favorites. It is from the 1985 documentary film Vladimir Horowitz – The Last Romantic. This clip is just a little scrap of the film that I found on YouTube. Before the Mazurka actually begins, it shows a brief bit with his wife talking about her ability to listen without being influenced by personality, and then shows him playing a little snippet of Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca from Sonata 11 while the recording crew are getting everything set up. He misses a few notes and makes a joke about not being Heifetz after his wife mentions it. Sweet. Enjoy.
“Is very intimate now…pshhhh” – Vladimir Horowitz