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Thread: Horowitz's technique

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    Post Horowitz's technique

    I remember the day I first "met" Horowitz, at age 15, through a recording of 3 Beethoven Piano Sonatas. For most of my life since then, he has been the #1 pianist in my book. That's not so much true now, but he is still solidly a part of my "Pack of 5" and I remain an unabashed fan. (The others are Richter, Rubinstein, Argerich, Gilels, not that anyone asked.)

    That being said, I am curious about something. So much of the discussion about VH centers around his phenomenal technique; but I have come to notice more and more that even in his early years his playing is far from flawless and that he often sacrifices accuracy for showmanship. Recent examples from my listening include an early recording of the Rach G minor Prelude (mid-1920s, I think) and the 1940 performance of Rach 3 - both from his peak years technically. And then later in his career - while there are the obvious lapses, even at his best he can be surprisingly mistake-ridden.

    None of this much detracts from the electrifying effect of his playing on me, but I just wonder that I don't see it talked about more. I admit that I'm not well versed in the scholarly or popular literature on his life and work (aside from Dubal's book which I found to be more about Dubal than about VH). I'm also not well versed in early 20th-century playing - it's mostly VH, Rubinstein, Lipatti, and Schnabel. Can anyone shed light on this, or point me to some resources where it is discussed?

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    Senior Member Livly_Station's Avatar
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    I think technique is not related to flawlessness or lack of showmanship. People mention Horowitz's technique because he had an amazing yet dry articulation of notes, a smart and restrained use of the pedal, an incredible ability to make loud fortissimos and quiet pianissimos with precise control of the gradation, and a deep understandment of texture. This is all impressive, and it's all technique -- true virtuosity. Even the way Horowitz rests his hand on top of the piano with flat fingers is interesting from the perspective of technique.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Livly_Station View Post
    I think technique is not related to flawlessness or lack of showmanship. People mention Horowitz's technique because he had an amazing yet dry articulation of notes, a smart and restrained use of the pedal, an incredible ability to make loud fortissimos and quiet pianissimos with precise control of the gradation, and a deep understandment of texture. This is all impressive, and it's all technique -- true virtuosity. Even the way Horowitz rests his hand on top of the piano with flat fingers is interesting from the perspective of technique.
    I wholeheartedly concur with all of that. It's why I love his playing.

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    Senior Member hammeredklavier's Avatar
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    1:27

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    Senior Member tdc's Avatar
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    The mistakes don't bother me much, I agree he has great technique, but I find his interpretations a little hit and miss. I think he was quoted once as saying the only great pianists are Jewish pianists and gay pianists. I lost some respect for him there.

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    Senior Member Livly_Station's Avatar
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    That was obviously a joke.

    Btw, Horowitz was a great fan of the virtuosity of great jazz pianists. He famously said that if Art Tatum became a classical pianist, he would quit the next day.

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    Senior Member Rogerx's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tdc View Post
    The mistakes don't bother me much, I agree he has great technique, but I find his interpretations a little hit and miss. I think he was quoted once as saying the only great pianists are Jewish pianists and gay pianists. I lost some respect for him there.

    Well as he being both, he should be a genius, alas not in my ears.
    “Never argue with an idiot. They will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.” ― Mark Twain

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    Quote Originally Posted by tdc View Post
    The mistakes don't bother me much, I agree he has great technique, but I find his interpretations a little hit and miss. I think he was quoted once as saying the only great pianists are Jewish pianists and gay pianists. I lost some respect for him there.
    The actual quote is something along the lines of "There are 3 types of pianists: Jewish pianists, homosexual pianists, and bad pianists" and it was very much tongue-in-cheek.

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    Senior Member JTS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tdc View Post
    The mistakes don't bother me much, I agree he has great technique, but I find his interpretations a little hit and miss. I think he was quoted once as saying the only great pianists are Jewish pianists and gay pianists. I lost some respect for him there.
    I don’t think you should lose respect for a man’s pianism just because he makes an off-the-cuff remark which was obviously intended as a joke

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    Senior Member tdc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JTS View Post
    I don’t think you should lose respect for a man’s pianism just because he makes an off-the-cuff remark which was obviously intended as a joke
    I didn't lose respect for his pianism because of that remark at all, my view of his piano playing is the same as I described in the first part of my post. Before and after I came across that quote.

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    Senior Member tdc's Avatar
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    Fair enough, it was tongue in cheek, I won't mention it again.

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    His technique is so unique that it does not fit into a lot of piano players. I would suggest that you take a look at the other four pianists of your "Pack of 5". They all use highly effective and widely applied techniques.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Livly_Station View Post
    I think technique is not related to flawlessness or lack of showmanship. People mention Horowitz's technique because he had an amazing yet dry articulation of notes, a smart and restrained use of the pedal, an incredible ability to make loud fortissimos and quiet pianissimos with precise control of the gradation, and a deep understandment of texture. This is all impressive, and it's all technique -- true virtuosity. Even the way Horowitz rests his hand on top of the piano with flat fingers is interesting from the perspective of technique.
    I got to listen to Horowitz live back in the late 1970s. Our seats were in the back of the 2nd balcony. It was hot, but at least the sound was good.

    I couldn't see his flat fingers at the time due to the distance to the stage, and the internet had yet to be invented.

    But when I saw his flat fingers technique for the first time I was quite perplexed. THAT is not how to play a piano, yet he's a master.

    Mmmmph.

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    Senior Member lextune's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tdc View Post
    I think he was quoted once as saying the only great pianists are Jewish pianists and gay pianists. I lost some respect for him there.
    It was a tongue in cheek remark/joke.

    And you left out a bit of it. He said:

    "There are three kinds of pianists. Jewish pianists, gay pianists, and bad pianists."

    EDIT: I commented before reading the rest of the thread, I see this point has already been made.
    Last edited by lextune; Oct-14-2021 at 00:05. Reason: Doh!

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    Senior Member lextune's Avatar
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    Horowitz' technique was an absolute marvel. He could play a feather light pianissimo that could still reach the last row at Carnegie Hall.

    In his student days he would race his fellow piano students, they would play a C major scale up and down the entire keyboard, and he would do it in octaves with both hands and "win" every time.

    The coloration and gradation of notes within chords were at his total command.

    Every serious pianists after him had to deal with him (go through their Horowitz phase). He cast a dangerous spell. Playing "like him" was a fools errand, and made any pianist sound trite and inane.

    His only spiritual successor was Argerich. She was the only one to capture his volcanic impetus without "sounding like him" (or a pale copy).

    Rachmaninov, himself a titan of the piano, was staggered by Horowitz' virtuosity.

    The stories/anecdotes go on for days...

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