Forgotten Pianists: Mieczysław Horszowski

Mieczysław Horszowski in 1990

Mieczysław Horszowski in 1990

At his death at age 100, just one month short of his 101st birthday, the Polish and later American pianist Mieczyslaw Horszowski (1892-1993) had one of the long-lasting careers in the performing arts. His age puts him with other pianists such as Alice Herz-Sommer (1903-2014) and Leo Ornstein (1893-2002), as spanning a century of amazing musical change.

When you trace his influences, we find that his first teacher was his mother, who had been a student of Karol Mikuli who had been a student of Chopin’s. He then became a pupil of Theodor Leschetizky, who had studied with Carl Czerny who had been a student of Beethoven. Thus, in one performer, we have both the great German and Polish piano traditions.

His first notable performance was in Warsaw at age 9 of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, and his international career as a child prodigy began thereafter, with tours of Europe and America.

His repertoire was limited because he was small, barely 5 feet tall as an adult, and therefore couldn’t play the works that required a large hand span. His repertoire, therefore, was diverse and ranged widely over both the Classical and Modern periods. He performed the entirety of Beethoven’s solo piano repertoire in New York in 1954-55 and all of Mozart’s piano sonatas in 1960. He also played music by Bach and Stravinsky.

Mieczysław "Miecio" Horszowski in 1902

Mieczysław “Miecio” Horszowski in 1902

His performance style was ‘natural, unforced….balancing intellect and emotion,’ and, as was common with Leschetizky’s students, his tonal quality was also noted. In this performance of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1, we hear these qualities, as the piano seems almost to sing.

Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11: III. Rondo: Vivace (Mieczyslaw Horszowski, piano; Vienna Symphony Orchestra; Hans Swarowsky, cond.)
In the final movement of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier, he brings a sense of both sound and silence.

Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 29 in B-Flat Major, Op. 106, “Hammerklavier”: IV. Largo – Allegro disoluto (Mieczyslaw Horszowski, piano;)
An amazing pianist and teacher to the end, he gave his last lesson a week before his death. His students at the Curtis Institute of Music included Richard Goode, Dina Koston, Anton Kuerti, Murray Perahia, and Peter Serkin, among many others.

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  1. I attended Horszowski’s last public recital in Philadelphia, October 31, 1991. His final encore, the Chopin Prélude in B minor, was unforgettable.

    In addition, I have had published articles on Horszowski in Baker’s and in the old “Clavier” keyboard magazine.

    1. That was an amazing concert. I was there too. I remember wondering at the start whether he was going to make it to the piano as he was so unsteady, but once he started to play he was completely secure.

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