Thursday, March 19, 2015

Horowitz and Brahms - Adversaries?? How?...

One of the few recordings made by Vladimir Horowitz and his father-in-law Arturo Toscanini was the immense Concerto in  B flat by Johannes Brahms, which the composer  often referred to as  a "tiny wisp."
This particular recording has often been considered by countless listeners as the most important contribution given to history, as it pertains to this concerto of four movements. As a child, I recall thinking of it as a kind of symphony with piano, probably because of its particular dimensions.
When I get to listen to this recording, along with other recordings of  Brahms played by Horowitz, what comes to mind automatically is the brouhaha  surrounding  remarks, made more than once by Horowitz regarding his personal station concerning his playing of this composer. He, in different ways, felt 'uncomfortable' (his own word)  whenever he performed  the music written by Brahms for the piano.  I cannot uncover   any specific reasons that Horowitz ever divulged for his 'discomfort'. At times he actually said that he did not like playing Brahms in public. For instance, upon his learning and performing the Brahms Second Concerto, his exact words were(he said this two years before he passed away in 1989) "It is not a concerto for me. I never liked it very much, and I played it so badly, and my ideas about the music were so different from Toscanini's... I didn't enjoy rehearsing this performance at all."
And of the First Concerto, Horowitz said "I admit its great message, but it is not my kind of music."
Listen to the Horowitz recording of Brahms' great B flat minor Intermezzo - for me, it is positively ravishing, in its certification of late Brahms at its pinnacle. And yet, Horowitz positively squirmed while playing this and other brief masterpieces of the late Romantic.
So, why did Horowitz play Brahms throughout his career?
Perhaps, his statement about the Brahms First Concerto that I included above; namely, " I admit its great message" is the reality that like all great artists and their commensurate integrity, dealing with the truth  about Greatness, no matter the discomfort for whatever the reason -  that Greatness  must always be recognized for its existence.
Whenever I listen to Horowitz, I think of the different demons that pursued him, and were woven into the fabric which constituted HIS greatness...



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