Vladimir Horowitz is possibly the greatest pianist of the twentieth century. His coolness and implacability onstage masked a bone-deep passion and sensitivity.
Over the course of his career, he gave countless legendary performances. Today we’re looking at
Youtube to see which five performances have proven to be the most popular.
Here are the top five, in reverse order…
5. Chopin Piano Sonata No. 2
Washington, D.C., 1978
2 million views
During his presidency, Jimmy Carter claimed that he listened to about ten hours of classical music a day. So it makes sense that when Horowitz was celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of his American debut, President Carter would invite him to play at the White House.
On 26 February 1978, a few hundred luminaries – including composer Samuel Barber and cellist Mistislav Rostropovich – filled the East Room for a live broadcast featuring the music of Romantic Era giants. The centerpiece of the hour-long recital was Chopin’s second piano sonata. It’s played so masterfully that it’s easy to see why, after the performance, Carter gushed to violinist Isaac Stern, “He’s never played better.”
4. Chopin Ballade in G-minor
New York, 1968
2.3 million views
Over the course of his career, Horowitz was routinely approached by television executives hoping he’d agree to give a televised concert. He turned them all down…until 1968, the fortieth anniversary of his American debut. The resulting concert was broadcast live from Carnegie Hall, a watershed moment in American media.
This Chopin Ballade is exploding with passion and energy. One highlight is around the 4:40 mark, when Horowitz glances out at the rapt audience, as if to make sure they’re paying attention.
3. Schumann Träumerei
2.5 million views
Robert Schumann’s elegant Träumerei (“Dreaming”) – a beautiful, tender little piece written when Schumann was deeply in love with the young Clara Wieck – has never been played more wistfully. When he gave this performance, Horowitz, in his early eighties, only had a couple of years left to live.
The amount of control on display here is astonishing. His face is virtually immobile and his hands only move as much as they have to, and no more. And yet it’s one of the most searing piano performances ever recorded.
2. Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3
New York, 1978
4.5 million views
Interestingly, this is the only concerto performance that makes the list! This 1978 performance of Rachmaninoff’s giant third piano concerto was given in partnership with the New York Philharmonic and Zubin Mehta at Avery Fisher Hall.
Horowitz’s trademark steely virtuosity is on full display here, made all the more impressive by the fact that he was in his mid-seventies. The intensity of the buildup of the final minutes, beginning at 41:00, is jaw-dropping. Enjoy the moment at 41:40, when the soloist snaps his fingers in the air in triumph.
Schubert’s Impromptu No. 3
9.7 million views
Drumroll! The most popular Horowitz video on Youtube by far is this otherworldly rendition of Schubert’s third impromptu, yet another selection from the 1987 Vienna performance. It currently has twice as many views as the next most popular Horowitz video.
So what makes this performance so special? There’s something mesmerizing about the man’s placidity here. He looks and feels so peaceful. The performance also feels intensely personal, like we’re listening to a private conversation between man and piano, reminiscing about a lifetime spent together on the concert stage. That intimacy, although less flashy than the extroversion of the Rachmaninoff, is in its own way just as moving. My favorite moment is the top of the whispered phrase at 3:40…but listen a few seconds before so you can hear how he leads into it. Divine.
Do you agree with Youtube viewers’ top picks? Which Horowitz video would you recommend to your friends? Happy listening!
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