Friday, November 14, 2003
THE LAST ROMANTIC
The Deutsche Grammophon hallmark yellow banner stands proudly superimposed on the sleeve of Vladimir Horowitz’s recording of his last concert in Moscow. A dimly lit photograph of the performance taken during the concert- recorded live at the Moscow Conservatory in April 1986- depicts a solemn and introvert Horowitz seated behind his personal Steinway- reaching out deep in front of him like a lapping tongue.
The scene, limited to a postage stamp size within the space of the sleeve picture, evokes the melancholic euphoria stirred by Vladimir Horowitz on his dramatic return to the USSR- 60 years after he left his native country for the US. The sleeve picture and matching dramatic title “Horowitz in Moscow” iconifies the pianist- and “last romantic”- Horowitz as he appears transfixed in state- in a deft display of a Maestro’s last momentum.
An excerpt from the introduction by CBS NEWS Charles Kuralt-
“A simple poster appeared one morning in spring on the pale yellow wall of the Moscow Conservatory of Music. It said a piano recital would be given by “Vladimir Horowitz (USA).” Only one poster- but it sent an electric shock of surprise and joy through the Soviet capital. Those who saw the poster, or heard about it, knew that this would be a concert always to remember. And it was.
Oh, you should have been there!
But how could you have been? Fewer than 400 tickets were put on sale to the general public, and a long line of Russian music lovers stayed up all night to snap up those within minutes after the box office opened. All the rest of the 1,800 seats in the Conservatory’s beautiful Great Hall were reserved for government officials and members of the diplomatic corps.
It was raining when the moment of the concert arrived, 4 p.m. Moscow time, Sunday, April 20, 1986. Hundreds of people stood under umbrellas in the street outside the hall. They knew they would not hear a note; they merely wanted to be able to say they were present on that day.
At the appointed hour, the applause began as a thunderclap from the seats at the stage right as a slight old man in a dark blue suit and bow tie appeared in the wings. The applause quickly engulfed the hall and was joined by cheers as he shambled to the center of the stage, gave the crowd a shrug, a wave and a nervous grin, patted his piano as if to reassure the instrument and himself, and sat down to wait for silence.
Then he put his fingers upon the keys to play the first notes of the Scarlatti sonata-and in that motion, there arrived a climax of memory And emotion. Vladimir Horowitz (USA) had returned, at the age of 82, after an absence of more than 60 years, to play again in the country of his birth.
He played with great subtlety and great power. He gave the crowd pastel rainbows and crashing thunderstorms. By the time he reached the music of the Russian composers Rachmaninov and Scriabin, many in the audience were weeping. Horowitz poured it on, warming to the affection, pounding out the familiar octaves and greeting the shouts of “Bravo!” at the end of each group of pieces with a broad smile and a playful wiggle of his fingers toward the audience.
“It is not human. It can only come from heaven,” said a concertgoer at intermission. “he is the only pianist who can play colors,” said another. A Soviet pianist in the hall told an interviewer, “His music is just bits of beauty flowing through the air.”
The headline on page one of the New York Times next day summoned up the reaction:
“FOR HOROWITZ IN MOSCOW, BRAVOS AND TEARS.”
Horowitz left Russia in 1925, a beautiful 22-year-old boy from Kiev, already celebrated in his homeland for the pyrotechnics of his piano style. Even the border guards knew him. One of them put his hands on the shoulder of the young Volodya “Gorovitz” and told him gravely, “While you are gone, do not forget your Motherland.”
Horowitz, though touched by this admonition, was also profoundly relieved that the guards did not ask him to remove his shoes, for in them were hidden thousands of American dollars to finance his concert tour in Germany.
His exit visa permitted him to be gone for six months. He overstayed it by 60 years, received his United States citizenship in 1942, and often said he had no wish to return ton the Soviet Union.
But with old age, he began to yield to a desire to “see Russia once more before I die.” In 1985, with the resumption of the cultural exchange agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union, he wondered aloud to his manager, Peter Gelb, if he might not return as “an ambassador of peace.” When Gelb assured him that the trip could be carried out in the customary Horowitz style- with a comfortable apartment in Spaso House, residence of the American ambassador, and with the Maestro’s own Steinway, retinue, and daily supply of Dover sole from Paris- Horowitz said yes, and the trip was announced.
The concert occurred at a time of international tension. The United States Air Force had bombed Libya, provoking an angry outcry from the Soviet Union, and the world’s television screens had been full of warlike images for a week. Now, suddenly, on those same screens, appeared the tender image of a great American pianist playing Schumann’s “Traumerei” (Dreaming), one of the Scenes from Childhood, for a Russian audience. The emotion of Horowitz’s choice of encores was lost on nobody in the hall. And thousands of miles away, in New York, the television essayist and syndicated columnist Andrew Rooney also felt the emotional power of the moment. In his column for the next day, he wrote:
“During the latter part of the concert, watching this 82-year-old genius play, I found mist forming in my eyes for some mysterious reason I could not explain. I was not sad, I was exultant. It had something to do with my pride, at that very moment, in being part of the same civilization that this great and endearing man playing the piano was part of.
“Almost at the same instant I felt the suggestion of tears in my eyes, the television camera left Horowitz’s fingers on the keyboard and dissolved to the face of a Soviet citizen in the audience. He did not look like the enemy. His eyes were closed, his head tilted slightly backward so that his face was up… and one long teardrop ran down his cheek.
“It was the same teardrop running down mine.”
Charles Kuralt 1986
“Horowitz in Moscow- Polydor International Gmbh, Hamburg 1986
posted by Walter at 11/14/2003