Sunday, May 24, 2009

Liszt or Horowitz - Which of the Two Had More Hubris?

Two pianists engendered more audience reaction than any other of the great pianists.
One was Liszt, in the nineteenth century, and the other was Horowitz, in the last century.
We know that at one particular period in Liszt's relatively short career as a concert pianist (he retired from the stage at a comparatively young age), an attempt at using stage seats to bring in a larger audience ended in disaster, as some ladies sitting close by would attempt to snip a fragment of Liszt's hair as a memento. On another occasion, a distraught woman actually attempted to take a shot at Liszt at one of his recitals - another woman took a cigar stub that Liszt had just discarded, from an ashtray, and kept it with her until she died. These incidents were documented during the great pianist's life, and so we perhaps ought to take them seriously; at any rate, this is the kind of sensationalism that Liszt created wherever he went.
In our time (remember that he passed away in 1989), Vladimir Horowitz possessed the same kind of power over his audience, even over his colleagues; for instance, Nathan Kroll, a violinist and producer relates an occasion he was actually at:
A new young pianist from Russia had just come to America, and was in recital - his name; Vladimir Ashkenazy, who is now one of the truly great pianists of our time.
After a few encores, his audience would not let him go, and clamored for more. Ashkenazy sheepishly took a watch from his pocket, and said " I would love to play more for you, but I see that I have exactly fourteen minutes to get to the Horowitz concert."
In 1926, when Horowitz was just approaching his 23rd birthday, a recital that he had just concluded in Paris ended with police becoming involved, as these overwhelmed people refused to leave the hall, demanding that Horowitz play on.
In 1928, after Rachmaninoff had just finished playing the orchestral part of his 3rd Concerto with the young Horowitz, the composer remarked that Horowitz had just "swallowed my Concerto whole," and Rachmaninoff then made a decision never to play his Concerto in public again - keep in mind that Rachmaninoff was probably the reigning pianist of his time.
Rachmaninoff DID break his promise in 1941, when the conductor Ormandy beseeched the composer to record all of his Concerti with the Philadelphia Orchestra in order to create the
Rachmaninoff legacy.
I remember, as a youth, the stomping and yelling after every Horowitz concert I attended.
So you choose which of the two had more hubris.

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