Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Why Did Vladimir Horowitz Utter Such a Statement?

As I had written before, the legendary pianist Vladimir Horowitz, with a pyro-technique equal, probably, to Franz Liszt a century earlier, was an admirer of the equally legendary pianist Art Tatum. The two became friends, even though they were worlds apart in the kinds of music they produced.
When Horowitz, in mid-century, remarked that "I wish that I could play like Art Tatum," I am quite sure that these words produced some consternation, if not confusion; after all, why would one of the most celebrated pianists of all times say such a thing? I remember reading that this statement appeared in the New York and other newspapers, as a form of sensationalism.
It seems to me that what these rather cryptic words meant was that with all of his technical powers, Horowitz wished that he could extend the range of those powers through improvisation, which Tatum, as a pop pianist, did at all times. The closest Horowitz could get to any improvisational expression was through his own fabled transcriptions of famous piano compositions.
A rather delicious form of mini-frustration on the part of this giant? Perhaps.

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