Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How falsity becomes “fact”

I stumbled upon this short bio of Vladimir Horowitz at Arkivmusic. Probably written by a Steinway press agent (Arkiv is a subsidiary of Steinway), it’s chock full of inaccuracies. Sad thing is, many will consider this blurb an “authoritative source” even though the frequently dissed Wikipedia has a superior article on Horowitz. The full text is below with my remarks in red.

A pianist of legendary fame and stature, Vladimir Horowitz was born in Kiev, Ukraine. (According to some sources, Horowitz was born in Kiev, according to others, it was Berdichev. There are conflicting documents on this matter, and Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire at the time of his birth.) His mother, herself a professional pianist, provided his first instruction at the piano and was the first to recognize his extraordinary talents; he studied further at the Kiev Conservatory. His first public appearance was a recital in Kiev on May 30, 1920, (this was his graduation recital at Kiev Conservatory, which may or may not be considered a "public appearance") and in 1922 he gave a series of 15 concerts in Kharkov for which he was paid in food and clothing. Although Russia was still reeling from the revolution of 1917, Horowitz fashioned successful concert tours in major cities such as Moscow, Leningrad, and Kiev -- marking the beginning of a performing career of unflagging and spectacular success. (There is no mention here of Horowitz's most significant success from that era: 23 recitals in Leningrad {then called Petrograd} playing 11 different programs.)

His first international appearance came with his 1926 trip to Berlin (his Berlin debut took place on December 18, 1925, Horowitz playing the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto with the Berlin Symphony under Oskar Fried) soon after which followed concerts in Paris, London, and New York. Further appearances in the United States solidified his reputation as an exceptional virtuoso, and the country which was to become his adopted home embraced him warmly. He was invited to the White House to play for President Hoover in 1931, and in 1933 he married Wanda Toscanini -- the daughter of the famous conductor Arturo Toscanini, who would soon conduct Horowitz and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in performances of the Beethoven piano concertos. (Here, the writer has his chronology reversed: Horowitz played under Toscanini on April 23, 1933 – and it was only in the Beethoven Emperor Concerto. He married Wanda on December 21, 1933.) Horowitz permanently settled in the United States in 1940 and achieved citizenship in 1944.

Wanda Toscanini assumed a gentle stewardship (Gentle, are you kidding?) of her new husband, who was in fragile physical and emotional health. Often seized with an irrational fear of failure, Horowitz found the life of touring threatening to his equilibrium. He withdrew from the concert stage for several periods during his life, and made only rare appearances after 1970 (actually, his appearances from 1965 were pretty rare). When Horowitz did schedule a concert, it often took the persuasive powers of his wife and friends to keep him from canceling at the last minute. (If this is referring to the post-1970 era, it’s incorrect. Horowitz rarely canceled after 1970, most notably in the aftermath of his daughter, Sonia’s, death in 1975, and when he underwent prostate removal surgery in late-1978. In both cases, the concerts were rescheduled and performed.) His nagging, and often overpowering, insecurity led him to seek shock therapy in 1973, but though he seemed to achieve some benefit from treatment, he was never free of anxiety when playing in public. The one exception to this trend was when he appeared as accompanist to another artist, which he often did with baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, and violinist Isaac Stern. (He played with the listed performers only once, at a Carnegie Hall benefit concert on May 18, 1976. If that’s often then I’m a vegetarian.) Because of his long absences from the concert stage, Horowitz's popularity was largely sustained by his recordings.

Perhaps the most significant single event in Horowitz's long career was his long-overdue return to the Soviet Union (his first since his departure in the 1920s) for a series (Does two concerts count as a series?) of concerts in 1986. The resulting tour became a major political event, coinciding as it did with an era of new understanding between the United States and the Soviet Union, and it resonated powerfully with Soviet audiences. Revitalized by the Soviet tour, Horwowitz (<-don’t they have a proofreader?) signed a new contract with Sony, (He was still revitalized by the tour three years after the tour ended, and two years after he stopped giving concerts? In fact, he signed with Sony because the head of Deutsche Grammophon, Gunther Breest, went to work for Sony and Horowitz went with him.) the contract included provisions for recording him at home on his favorite piano. He made his last such recording on November 1, 1989; on November 5 he died of a massive heart attack.

As a performer, Horowitz had huge resources of speed and power, and a clean articulation. His performances were brilliant, exciting, and often mystifying to those who found his technique enigmatic (he played, for instance, with unusually straight fingers, laying them nearly flat on the keys). Though his performances were frequently criticized for their willfulness and self-indulgent nature, there was an undeniable charisma to his playing that endeared him to most everyone who heard him.

1 comment:

Bernie said...

Mistakes like this drive me crazy as well. They're all over the place.

I can't even count the number of errors in the Horowitz bio video put out by the piano competition bearing his name: