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Sunday, July 21, 2024

Horowitz Stories

Remembering Horowitz



If you would like to add an entry to this section, please write down your recollections or reflections on Horowitz and send them to me. They will be presented below exactly as they were submitted.



Perhaps the best Horowitz story of all came about thanks to the sense of humor of his dentist, Dr. Bob Sloane of NYC. Pianist Steve Mayer told me the story, but informed me that the protagonist (Dr. Sloane) was still around and could give the account himself.

Sure enough, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Sloane -- who treated Horowitz from the mid-1960's onwards -- on September 27, 2010. Over the years, the pianist and the dentist became very friendly and would frequently go on walks together. Dr. Sloane often attended Horowitz's concerts, his favorite of which was November 24, 1968. Amusingly, Horowitz refused to visit his dentist's office at any time except for Wednesdays at 3PM, and the office tried to be accommodating. If Dr. Sloane was on vacation when Horowitz wanted an appointment, Horowitz simply neglected to get his teeth checked for a few months, before again attempting to make a 3PM-Wednesday appointment.

One day in the late 1960's, a woman named Doris -- the wife of a physician with whom Dr. Sloane had interned in his youth -- was undergoing treatment at Dr. Sloane's office on the Upper East Side. She was a Horowitz fanatic and collected all his recordings. Due to the extensive work to be performed on Doris's teeth, Dr. Sloane was behind schedule. Horowitz was in an adjacent examination room, waiting. Dr. Sloane -- knowing Horowitz loved practical jokes -- had an idea for a prank, and asked Horowitz "if he wanted to have some fun."

"Of course!" said Horowitz, who was subsequently armed with a full medical gown, a mask, and a dental instrument. The plan featured Horowitz in his one and only performance as a dentist. Dr. Sloane went back into the room where Doris waited. He explained that a friend of his -- another dentist who was from out of town -- wished to assist with the examination. Doris nodded her consent, and in came Horowitz. 

Horowitz asked Doris to "open wide," and proceeded to use the instrument he had been given by Dr. Sloane to "poke around" in her mouth, which was filled with gauze. Dr. Sloane describes Doris as being sleepy, with her eyes half-closed. After some time, very suddenly, Horowitz revealed his identity by pulling down the mask, only inches from Doris's face. Loudly, he said, "helloooo, my dear!" Doris was taken completely by surprise, and she "screamed and screamed."

- My thanks to Dr. Sloane for his first-hand account     




Steve Mayer’s grandfather, John, owned the 14 E 94th St. townhouse before Horowitz. Sadly, John Mayer had only owned the house for a short time (and was just moving in) when he suffered a fatal heart attack on June 16, 1945. Mayer's widow, Midge, sold the house to Horowitz for $52,000.

- My thanks to Steve Mayer for this addition



I knew nothing about Horowitz until an older friend of mine gave me the "Horowitz in Moscow" video and, from then on, I was hooked. I had never heard anyone play with such expression and unusual technique. I then began to collect as many Horowitz videos as I could find because watching him play adds so much to the enjoyment. I now also have "The Last Romantic", "A Reminiscence", "Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor", "Horowitz Plays Mozart", "Horowitz in London". "Horowitz in Vienna", "Horowitz in Tokyo", "Horowitz at the White House" and "Horowitz at Carnegie Hall" as well as CD's, several books about him, some posters I found on eBay and an LP from his return to Carnegie Hall. You could say I have become somewhat of a Horowitz fanatic. There is no better music in my opinion. 

Recently, Steinway toured his and Van Cliburn's pianos and I got to play both at the Steinway Gallery in Atlanta, Georgia as well as meet and hear a lecture by his long time Steinway technician Franz Mohr who autographed a copy of his book "My Life with the Great Pianists" for me. It was a very special occasion. 

- Cliff Seely, Atlanta


In 1979 I was 25 years old and held a part-time job as a chauffeur at a Toronto livery service. I must confess I had no appreciation or knowledge of classical music at the time, so had absolutely no idea who Vladimir Horowitz was when I met him and his young assistant, both impeccably dressed, at their Toronto hotel. I was to drive them to Massey Hall, wait for them, then drive them back. I assumed they were attending a concert. Despite his wearing a cape, something I'd never seen before, it wasn't until I dropped them off at Massey Hall that I realized he was the performer.

I sat in the Limo, probably listening to rock & roll on the radio while Mr. Horowitz performed. Although I do remember hearing the applause, especially the encore applause....quite loudly...even from in the car. I could tell by the smiles and animated discussion of the exiting audience that these people loved Vladimir Horowitz.

He and his assistant came out soon after the crowd dispersed, and I drove them back to the hotel. From what I recall, little or nothing was said by anyone. Almost like nothing had happened. You'd have no idea the man had just received a massive standing ovation at Massey Hall. I remember thinking to myself, how cool and calm this guy is. As they were leaving the car, he appologized to me for not having any cash with him and therefore not being able to give me a tip. He seemed genuinely embarrassed about it. I explained that a tip was not necessary, and in fact, was already included as part of the limo fees. He wasn't satisfied with that however, and said he'd mail a tip to me. Since he didn't ask for my address, I didn't think for a moment he actually would.

About two weeks later, the owner of the livery service hands me an envelope with a short note from Mr. Horowitz and the largest cash tip I ever received during my short limo driving career. I don't remember the exact amount of the tip, and although the amount was a definate highlight, I was much more overwhelmed that this man had actually kept his word. Despite having just performed, at his advanced age, to a full house at Massey Hall, he was genuinely concerned about me, the limo driver. He was a true gentleman.

I'm a successful businessman these days, and sometimes now find myself riding in the back of limos. I've never forgotten the lesson of humbleness Vladimir Horowitz taught me so many years ago.

- Mike Briant, Toronto


I was doing postgraduate studies at the Moscow conservatoire. I don¹t remember how we students got the news that Horowitz was coming to Moscow, but it had the effect of a lightning. Everybody was talking only about the event. I remember the hand printed poster with his name in Russian! One fine day I was practising in the conservatoire building where the Rachmaninov Hall is. Somebody just said that there would be a press conference taking place in the Rachmaninov Hall by Horowitz. I phoned my brother (at that time Chargé d¹affairs at the Embassy of Malta in Moscow) to tell him about it since he would not have missed it for anything, and what¹s more, I could always get in with him. Unfortunately he was not in his office and I just left a message. I decided to get in at all costs. One has to remember that in those soviet days, security was something one worried about. The KGB aura was omnipresent even if I never had any problem with the « venerable » institution during my 8-year stay there. So I decided to hide and wait in the toilets in that building. I just locked myself in and waited. I do not remember how long, but quite long. The building became little by little more and more quiet. That meant that people, mostly students, but also administration, were being asked to leave the building. The security authorities were not going to leave anybody inside with all the VIPs and foreign journalists and TV people around. I started to get worried, because I figured that at one moment the world champions in security would surely find me out in the toilet room, but now it was too late and the fear of being found out was less terrible than just walking out voluntarily and giving up. Some time after there was complete silence in the building and I thought that maybe I should walk out. Luckily I did not, for seconds later I heard heavy steps approaching and two Russian male voices were asking each other if the toilets had been checked. I thought this was it, but by some sort of miracle, there was a slight hesitation, probably they where just peeping into the entrance to the toilet rooms, then they just switched the lights off and left!

A few moments to take hold of my nerves and I decided that if I did not walk out, I would risk missing the arrival of Horowitz. So, I decided to walk out. At the other end of the corridor, I saw a group of people who turned out to be the persons in charge of checking the visitors, admitting them only if they had special cards or whatever. There was such an excitement and tension that nobody noticed that I had arrived from the « wrong » side of the door and I just decided to wait until I could get in, hoping my brother would appear with his diplomatic card. Time was passing fast and I decided to try to go in when a lady at the door asked me who I was. I stammered something like « Embassy », pointing at my brother who happened to arrive at this very moment. She looked at me not noticing I was pointing at the real diplomat. She ordered me « Yes, go in! ». 
How I ran into the hall! My brother later told me that he was nearly not allowed in, being told that the person from the embassy had already arrived.

Sitting in that hall, I thought I was in heaven. Imagine me a student from Malta actually in this hall where Horowitz was going to talk! Sure enough in he came with Wanda Horowitz and a whole lot of other people. One of the first questions was by an American journalist who asked Horowitz how come was he back in Russia since a short time before he was still telling everybody that he would never go back to Russia under soviet rule. There was silence in the hall; you see perestroika was still in its foetal stages. Horowitz looked completely lost, probably not knowing how to answer. Wanda gently but firmly stopped him from talking with her arm and very distinctly and without batting an eyelid declares something like, « Mr Horowitz has achangéd his amind! » with her Italian accent. I thought that extremely funny and it succeeded in establishment a limit on the following questions in that there was to be no more politically connected questions.

Another question concerned the Russian school of Piano. Some Soviet journalist asked Horowitz some question mentioning the fact (according to him) that Horowitz was part of the Russian school. Horowitz reacted immediately saying something like « What school? No I am of no school, my school is the Horowitz school ». He mentioned his younger colleague Richter who, he was told, was performing with the score. There was a twinkle in his eyes. This remark was not well digested by the Richter clan and I still meet people who knew Richter personally who still do not forgive Horowitz this remark. 
I have to admit I do not remember other details. At the end, my brother took me by the hand and led me up on stage. Leading me up to Horowitz who was still at the table with the microphones in front of him. After he bent and said a few words to Horowitz he actually pulled me closer, knowing I would not have dared to move any closer. I was dazed and really do not remember much what I said although I remember him smiling and saying « Malta? Malta? Ah! ». The photo at the top of the message shows this very moment. I am the one with the moppy hair and in glasses. To my right is Giuseppe, my brother. 

I also wanted to get into the rehearsal performance that Horowitz gave the day before the actual concert. What a crowd there was! People without tickets were going mad. The police could not control them. At one moment, a huge number of students, quite angry at not having tickets even though the public rehearsal was supposed to be reserved to students, just gate crashed into the hall and we ran up stairs with a couple of police agents running after us. Luckily, as soon as we entered the gallery and started to look for any place to sit, mostly on the stairs, Horowitz came out on stage and the police just left everybody alone, not to disturb the maestro. 
I will never forget the feeling of happiness when Horowitz walked out on stage. The public just exploded and even before he started playing, there were tears in many eyes, mine included. I still have a very bad walkman recording of this rehearsal in which one hears Horowitz trying the acoustics with various pieces and improvisations and even joking when some passage he tried did not work well. For me personally this concert was one of the few really unique moments of my musical life. It probably had a deep effect that is still very present in my soul.

I have recently watched the TV documentary about this historic visit and to my surprise I could actually catch a fleeting glimpse of myself on the top stair of the Moscow Large Hall entrance behind a large crowd of mostly students greeting Horowitz arriving in the old limousine that was driving him around.

- Brian Schembri



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© 2003 Christian Johansson