October 1, 1903 – Vladimir Horowitz:
“There are only Jewish, gay, and bad pianists”
We hear the word Ukraine a lot these days. It is a country in Eastern Europe, in case you don’t have a globe handy. The Ukrainian Embassy on Monday cheekily implored the public to stop using “The Ukraine,” a request that came after President Flaghumper McStupid repeatedly used the outdated construction, tweeting:
Let us kindly help you to use the words related to #Ukraine correctly.
Ukraine, not “the” Ukraine, the capital is Kyiv, not Kiev.
These are the only politically correct terms that express respect to the country and its nation. Be smart and avoid Soviet style clichés.
UKR Embassy in USA (@UKRintheUSA) September 28, 2019
Ukraine is currently in a territorial dispute with Russia over the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia took by force in 2014. With Crimea, Ukraine is the largest country entirely.
Ukraine has been ruled and divided by Poland, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Russia, before becoming part of the Russian-dominated Soviet Union in the late 1940s. It was then called the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1991, Ukraine gained its independence from the USSR with the fall of communism.
One of the most famous Ukrainians, Horowitz was a 20th century pianist who embodied the grand piano style of the early part of the century. His technique and artistry remain a source of inspiration for generations of pianists and listeners.
A child prodigy, Horowitz made his American debut at Carnegie Hall in 1928. He played Tchaikovsky‘s Piano Concerto No. 1. Horowitz’s rapport with the audience was phenomenal. In 1933, he played for the first time with the conductor Arturo Toscanini in a performance of Beethoven‘s Piano Concerto No. 5. Horowitz and Toscanini would pair again and perform together many times, in concert and in recordings. He made his television debut in a concert taped at Carnegie Hall in 1968, broadcast nationwide by CBs.
Despite rapturous receptions at recitals and rave reviews, Horowitz was terribly insecure of his abilities as a pianist. Often, he had to be pushed onto the stage. He withdrew from public performances from 1936 to 1938, 1953 to 1965, 1969 to 1974, and 1983 to 1985.
His solo career began in the USSR, where he established himself as an exciting performer with an astonishing technique. In 1925, He was on tour as part of a mission to propagate Soviet culture abroad. He defected and accepted the honorary citizenship of Haiti, in order to still have international travel. In 1945 he became a citizen of the United States.
During his early performing years Horowitz developed a reputation as an eccentric who dressed in lurid, extravagant clothing, with lots of pink. He hung out in sailors’ bars in port cities, wearing make-up. His queer adventures were much gossiped about.
In a piece in The New York Times, the late Kenneth Leedom mentions that long ago he answered a newspaper ad posted by Horowitz looking for a personal assistant. Leedom took the job and also became his lover for five years, although Horowitz was married at the time. Leedom:
”He had an anger in him that was unbelievable. The number of meals I’ve had thrown on the floor or in my lap. But then he was calm and sweet. And he really adored me.”
Horowitz’s same-sex attractions were no secret to his friends. He hired live-in ”personal assistants” who would accompany him in all his travels, both business and personal. His wife tolerated it. In 1933, Horowitz had married Toscanini’s daughter, Wanda. Because of his strong sexual interest in men, the people around him expected the marriage to last no more than a month. The couple went on to have a daughter, but Horowitz was temperamentally unsuited to be a father.
In 1940, Horowitz began psychoanalytic treatment with Dr. Lawrence Kubie, a New York City psychiatrist who specialized in “curing” homosexuals, especially celebrities, from 1930 to 1959, including Tennessee Williams, Leonard Bernstein, Moss Hart, Kurt Weill and Sid Caesar. Horowitz separated from his wife in 1949 after failing to cure his gayness. In the 1960s and 1970s, he underwent electroshock therapy to cure depression.
Later in life Horowitz was seen in New York City’s gay bars and discotheques, where he displayed a more relaxed attitude toward his queerness.
In 1980, Horowitz began using prescribed antidepressant medications, and he was drinking a lot too. His playing underwent a perceptible decline during this period, with his performances marred by memory lapses and a loss of physical control.
In 1985, Horowitz gave up drugs and alcohol, and returned to performing and recording. His first post-retirement appearance was in the television documentary Vladimir Horowitz: The Last Romantic (1985) by David Maysles. As an octogenarian, Horowitz substituted finesse for bravura, although he was still capable of remarkable technical feats. Many critics felt that his post-1985 performances and recordings were some of his best.
In 1986, Horowitz announced that he would return to the Soviet Union for the first time since 1925 to give recitals in Moscow and Leningrad. These concerts were of political and musical significance. Most of the tickets for the Moscow concert were reserved for the Soviet elite and few sold to the general public. A large group of Moscow Conservatory students crashed the concert, seen by viewers of the internationally televised recital.
Horowitz’s legacy is preserved through his recordings. Although Horowitz was a leading interpreter of Liszt, Schumann, and Rachmaninov, he championed American gay composer Samuel Barber.
He won 26 Grammy Awards. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan awarded Horowitz the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the United States. Three years later he stopped playing for good, taken by a heart attack at 86 years old.
Horowitz was a big fan of Jazz and returned over and over to NYC jazz clubs to hear Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum. Horowitz was working on his own arrangement of Tea For Two, and he was eager to show Tatum. Tatum listened carefully, and then sat down at the piano and played his own version. Amazed by Tatum’s interpretation, Horowitz asked where he could have a copy of the score. Tatum replied: ”Oh, I was just improvising”. Horowitz remarked, ”If Art Tatum took up classical music seriously, I’d quit my job.”