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Tall and slim, he had become, by the end of his life, a kind of New York fixture, frequently seen about town on his walks or at concerts, rather like Garbo without the hats and sunglasses. Sometimes, astounded onlookers would spot him wearing earplugs amidst the din in risqué nightclubs, as I did once at the notorious Studio 54 back in the 1970s in the company of my date that evening, Eartha Kitt.

And yet, some fifteen years after his death from a heart attack in 1989, the Horowitz myth continues unabated. Nothing of the sort, or at least on such a large scale, occurred in the years following the deaths of his no less esteemed and gifted colleagues, such as Claudio Arrau, Arthur Rubinstein, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli or even the immensely popular Sviatoslav Richter. So what is it about Horowitz that compels pianists, critics, archivists, biographers, broadcasters, producers and even music theorists to continue debating the merits of his musicianship as well as his legacy so energetically?

The answer, beyond all the extra-musical hype that surrounded him, is clear, as it goes to the heart of what really made him a star: his piano playing. This week Sony Classical celebrates his life and art with a series of events, including the re-release of his 1965 and 1966 Carnegie Hall 'comeback' recitals, though this time, the recordings are unedited. The wrong notes and errors -- which Columbia Records surrepetiously discarded and then replaced with corrections, with the pianist's approval, but without disclosing as much in one of the juicier record industry scandals at that time -- provide a kind of visceral excitement that brings the listener into the anticipatory mood in the hall. In addition, four films about Horowitz, including the Maysles brothers touching documentary The Last Romantic as well as a new ten-minute segment of outtakes, will be presented in a special public screening in New York, followed by a panel discussion attended by his friends, producers and several renowned musicians.

'What ultimately made Horowitz irresistible to the public,' explains Sony Classical president Peter Gelb, who was also Horowitz's manager towards the end of his life, 'was his unrivaled technique combined with a completely spontaneous interpretive approach that made each of his concerts an event of utter and unparalleled excitement. His was a tradition that was rooted in the grand romanticism of piano performance in the early twentieth century when artists felt greater freedom in their interpretations.'

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Copyright © 26 October 2003 John Bell Young, Tampa, Florida, USA


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