Why Vladimir Horowitz Stopped Performing in the 1930s

Photo of the legendary pianist Vladimir Horowitz performing at the piano
Classical pianist and composer Vladimir Horowitz

Up in Riverdale, New York, there lives a small five-year-old girl named Sonia, who from all accounts is already very much of a personality. She knows what she wants when she wants it, and is never at a loss before adults, most of whom agree that she's going to need plenty of courage, staggering under the stupendous burden of two such names as Horowitz and Toscanini. For her father is Vladimir Horowitz and her grandfather is Arturo Toscanini.

Her father regards with envious admiration and some degree of astonishment her superb self-confidence. It is a quality that he has never enjoyed to any great extent. In spite of being acclaimed as the Liszt and Rubenstein of the younger generation of pianists, he still blushes easily, although he has no false modesty and is quietly aware of his status as an artist.

Until his advent some 12 years ago, music lovers sadly shook their heads and declared that the golden days of piano playing were on the decline. True, there were Paderewski, Hofmann, Rosenthal, Lhevinne and Bauer. But they already belonged to an older generation. Where were the young ones to take their place? Then a slim, dark 28-year-old Russian slipped onto the stage one night and plunged into the thunderous chords of the Tschaikovsky B flat minor piano concerto. At the first notes, spines stiffened in the audience, heads turned, dumbfounded glances flew around the hall. This was something! The next morning the hard-boiled music critics went wild with enthusiasm.

Season after season Horowitz returned in triumph. Then abruptly, a few years ago, he stopped playing. Rumors were plentiful -- he was ill, would never play again. In Switzerland, Horowitz lay stretched on a bed of wracking pain, stricken suddenly with phlebitis. It took him two long years to recover, two years far away from concert halls, cheering audiences and applause. For the first time he was able to regard music objectively. All the knowledge that he had acquired during his years of intensive concertizing had a chance to soak into his soul. And when he emerged from the sick room to resume his career, he had developed into a mature and deeply perceptive musician as well as a technical magician.

Much of the ripeness and splendid surety of his present playing is the result of a successful and happy marriage. The former Wanda Toscanini, daughter of a notoriously temperamental father, knows the quirks and vagaries of artists. She sees to it that Horowitz has the privacy he needs and the company he enjoys. Years ago he resembled a haunted poet, with a thin sad face and mournful eyes. Now he has filled out, goes in for dashing checked jackets and brilliant neckties and is well on the way to becoming a glamour boy.

He and Wanda talk French, because her Russian is sketchy and his Italian is picturesque but meager. His English, however, is better than it once was, when he solemnly acknowledged an introduction to the president of the United States with a handshake and the whispered words, "I am delightful."

V. Vidal in Movie and Radio Guide, March 30, 1940

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