This copy of Website Builder is licensed for another domain!

Compositions/Transcriptions » The Horowitz Website -

Sunday, July 21, 2024


Horowitz the Composer & Transcriber


Horowitz always wanted to become a composer, and even in his last years - with one of the most successful careers as a pianist in musical history behind him - he still felt frustrated he hadn't dedicated more of his life to composing. Horowitz's only known original compositions stem from his early years in Russia, but he kept toying with others music and created transcriptions and paraphrases all his life. This section is indended to shed light on Horowitz's legacy as a pianist/composer.

I have divided Horowitz's works into seven categories, namely: 
- Original Compositions
- Variations & Paraphrases
- Extensive Reworkings
- Works Edited by Horowitz
- Cadenzas & Codas
- Transcriptions
- Simple Arrangements

But it should be pointed out that there's no clear way to distinguish these compositions. Horowitz altertered at least SOMETHING in nearly every work he played. I have decided to include only works of which Horowitz's performances are different to the point that one can easily make the distinction from the original.

Apart from the early original compositions, Horowitz had an outstanding memory, so never notated these works. Most of his alterrations are known through recordings, although some enthusiastic amateurs with sensitive ears and LARGE erasers have notated them by listening to the recordings repeatedly. One such enthusiast is pianist Dennis Gustafsson, who has become something of an expert on Horowitz's transcriptions. Dennis has supervised my work with this section, and I owe him for a lot of valuable suggestions as well as insight into how these works were conceived and the ingenuity they contain.

The first person we know to have attempted to notate one of Horowitz's works was the pianist Jan Holcman. Horowitz heard about Holcman's attempts, and was anything but flattered. Reportedly, he sent his lawyer to Holcman who offered him exactly $34 if he never published or showed the manuscript to anyone. If he did, Horowitz would use his legal right to sue Holcman as a the copyrightholder of his works. Holcman did not take either Horowitz's offer or threat seriously, but for one reason or another nothing ever came of the threat to sue.




Known Original Compositions

All surviving original compositions authored by Horowitz stem from his student years in Russia. Horowitz is said to have composed copiously between ca 1911 and 1919, but very little seems to have survived for posterity. Horowitz kept some of the manuscripts of his early compositions in his private collection his entire life, but he was not proud of them and when he was asked in an interview towards the end of his life whether he would like to have them published he quickly replied "No. [long pause] They are modest." After his death, Wanda ensured that the works remained unpublished. The opus numbers on the manuscripts are most likely Horowitz's own.

It bares mention that the list below is not complete - Horowitz composed many more piano works, a violin sonata, several songs, etc - but these below are currently all manuscripts Dennis and I know have survived. 


Danse Excentrique (a.k.a Moment Exotique)
This is a colourful little morceau Horowitz must have composed somewhere in the early or mid  1920s before leaving Russia. Practically the first thing he did when he visited the United States was to make a piano roll of it for Welte & Sons. He also recorded it for RCA a couple of years later in 1930. The work differs only very slightly between the roll from 1926 and the recording dating from four years later, but the manuscript - if there ever was any - is lost as far as we know.

There are some disputes whether this work is actually a transcription, or if Horowitz perhaps composed it together with a friend. One of the original RCA Victor releases was labeled as "Demeny/Horowitz: Danse Excentrique." Nobody has been able to identify "Demeny." However, both the other RCA release and the piano roll list only Horowitz as composer. Demeny could of course have been a pseudonym used by Horowitz, just as Hofmann used to call himself Dvorsky. At any rate, the work is also rather "Horowitzian" in style, so I believe we can call it an original work.

Etude-Fantaisie in E-flat major, Op.4 (Les Vagues)

Une Conte, Op.14
Fragment Doloreux, Op.14
Prelude in F major, Op.9 (Presto)
Tableau Musical
Not much is known about these.... They were most likely composed in the years before Horowitz's graduation from the conservatory in 1920, and they were kept in Horowitz's private collection until Wanda gave them away to a friend shortly after Horowitz's death. This is the only reason I know about their existence at all really.

Waltz in F minor


Horowitz's hands




Variations & Paraphrases

In these works, Horowitz has only used a theme or a couple of ideas to create a work of his own. In terms of pianistic understanding and ingenuity, these works are fascinating, and in their day they were pre-eminent in their exploration of the piano's tonal as well as technical capabilities. He never performed any of them exactly the same way twice, and even in recordings made just a couple of days apart, the music is somewhat different.

Many of these pieces were favourite encores of Horowitz. There was even a time when Horowitz was not allowed to leave the stage before he had played one of them, usually Carmen or his transcription The Stars & Stripes Forever (which can be found listed under "Transcriptions"). The only exception in this group is "Tea for Two," which has the character of a small party piece rather than a large technical warhorse, and which Horowitz only played for friends at home or at parties.


Mendelssohn/Liszt:  Wedding March & Variations
RCA studio
- Shorter encore version with structural changes performed live

Variations on a theme from Bizet's opera Carmen

- (1926?)

- 1928 (roll)

- 1928 (recording)

- 1942-1950

- 1956-1957

- 1967-1968

- 1977-1978

Youmans:  Tea for Two




Extensive Reworkings

Horowitz altered something in nearly every work he ever played to suit his taste and style. These touch-ups vary in degree from minor textual changes which can only be noticed by a sharp ear to large-scale reworkings in which Horowitz uses the original work as a mere skeleton to formulate his own composition.


Liszt:  Hungarian Rhapsody No.2

Liszt:  Hungarian Rhapsody No.15 (Rákóczy March)
1949 (Unreleased studio)
- 1949 (Unreleased live)
- 1951 (Released studio)

Liszt:  Hungarian Rhapsody No.19

Liszt/Busoni:  Mephisto Waltz No.1
- October 8, 1978
- 1978/1979

Mussorgsky:  Pictures at an Exhibition

Saint-Saëns/Liszt:  Danse Macabre



Horowitz at the piano, 1940s




Works Edited by Horowitz

In contrast to the extensive reworkings in the category above, these are works which Horowitz only "touched-up" one way or another, and the textual changes are almost always sparing. Horowitz's goal with these pieces can be said to create something which is easier to play, AND sounds better.


Balakirev:  Islamey (Oriental Fantasy)

Brahms:  Variations on a theme by Paganini, Op.35

Chopin:  Etude in C minor, Op.25 No.12

Liszt:  Hungarian Rhapsody No.6

Liszt:  Hungarian Rhapsody No.13

Liszt:  Impromptu (Nocturne) in F-sharp major

Liszt:  Jadis (from the Weihnachtsbaum suite)

Liszt:  Legend No.2 "St. Francois de Paule marchant sur les flots"

Liszt:  Paganini-Etude No.5 in E major

Liszt:  Scherzo & March

Liszt:  Vallée d'Obermann

Rachmaninoff:  Piano Sonata No.2 in B-flat minor, Op.36
- 1968 revision
- 1979/1980 & 1982 revision

Schubert/Tausig:  Marche Militaire
- 1942
- 1985

Stravinsky:  Danse Russe (from Pétrouchka)




Cadenzas & Codas

Instead of arranging or "touching up" these works, Horowitz was satisfied by inserting a Cadenza somewhere in the piece. The rest of the works are left more or less untouched. Often, these additions fit into the piece so snugly that only those familiar with the score notice their insertion.


Cadenza for the second movement of Clementi's Sonata in C major, Op.33 No.3

Cadenza for the first movement of Clementi's Sonata in B-flat major, Op.47 No.2

Coda to Moszkowski's  Etude in A-flat major, Op.72 No.11
- 1950s
- 1965

Coda to Moszkowski's  Etude in F major, Op.72 No.6

Coda to Moszkowski's  Etincelles, Op.36 No.6

Coda to Mendelssohn's  Etude in A minor, Op.104b No.3

Coda to Schubert/Liszt's  Soirée de Vienne No.6 (Valse Caprice)






In the works in this category, Horowitz remained faithful to the original text and only transferred the music from its original ensemble to the piano, without further embelishments.

The art of transcription can be seen as the musical equivalent to the translation of a text from one language to another. In the hands of a poor interpreter, the original often loses much of its spirit, while if undertaken by a skilled interpreter, it makes less of a difference in which language the text is being read. From the quiet and introvert song by Mussorgsky to the explodingly virtuosic Stars & Stripes transcription, Horowitz shows himself capable of both recreating and producing any kind of sound on the piano with a glowing conviction. 


Mussorgsky:  By the Water

Sousa:  The Stars & Stripes Forever




Simple Arrangements

While these works still are transcriptions in the technical sense of the word, I have decided to include them in a group of their own anyway, as these small arrangements are nowhere near the seriousness of the other works in this category. It should be noticed that both are national anthems, and Horowitz sought to play them on the piano simply. All he did was really to harmonize the melody.


Anonymous:  God Save the Queen

Smith:  The Star Spangled Banner
- As performed during the second world war
- As performed at the White House in 1978



Copyright © 2003 Christian Johansson (edited in 2010 by Bernie Horowitz)