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How would you describe Horowitz's playing? #2946886 02/14/20 04:37 PM
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pianoloverus Offline OP
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I did not choose Horowitz because he is my favorite pianist. I chose him because I think his style, sound, phrasing, etc. is one of the more unique ones. Yet if I had to describe his playing I would have difficulty because I find it difficult to describe any pianist's playing. (I also think it's difficult to describe a piano's sound.)

I was listening to his performance of a Scarlatti Sonata and asking myself if I would know it was Horowitz if the Youtube description wasn't there. I wasn't sure.

Here are a few things I think are typical of H's playing:
1. greater emphasis on bringing out the melody than many other pianists
2. a desire not to sound boring by more frequently changing the dynamic than other pianists
3. love of crashing basses
4. sometimes using less pedal in a passage than other pianists typically would

So how would you describe his playing? Do you agree or disagree with what I wrote? What do you think are the good and bad things about his playing?

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Re: How would you describe Horowitz's playing? [Re: pianoloverus] #2946915 02/14/20 06:14 PM
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I would add a much more esoteric description: command over communication with the music and communication with the audience.


"Music, rich, full of feeling, not soulless, is like a crystal on which the sun falls and brings forth from it a whole rainbow" - F. Chopin
" I never dreamt with my own two hands I could touch the sky" - Sappho

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Re: How would you describe Horowitz's playing? [Re: pianoloverus] #2946931 02/14/20 07:16 PM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
....Here are a few things I think are typical of H's playing:
1. greater emphasis on bringing out the melody than many other pianists
2. a desire not to sound boring by more frequently changing the dynamic than other pianists
3. love of crashing basses
4. sometimes using less pedal in a passage than other pianists typically would

So how would you describe his playing? Do you agree or disagree with what I wrote? What do you think are the good and bad things about his playing?

I think that's a good description.

All that I can add is this from a different angle, which doesn't disagree with any of the above or really add anything of detail, but which is just perhaps the underpinning of it:

A highly individual and creative and intense internal view of the music, involving all manner of extremes; and an astonishing ability to put out exactly what he internally felt and heard.

Re: How would you describe Horowitz's playing? [Re: pianoloverus] #2947020 02/15/20 01:42 AM
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Many pianists have a "beautiful tone". In itself this means nothing if the pianist is boring.

The greatest pianists make creative use of all the resources available to them (and Horowitz had more such resources than most).

Re: How would you describe Horowitz's playing? [Re: pianoloverus] #2947028 02/15/20 02:18 AM
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Big, effects based sounds, often with orchestral sonorities in mind.

Re: How would you describe Horowitz's playing? [Re: pianoloverus] #2947047 02/15/20 04:26 AM
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One term comes to mind almost instantly when I hear H: Extreme voicing.


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Re: How would you describe Horowitz's playing? [Re: pianoloverus] #2947178 02/15/20 10:54 AM
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When he plays a piece, people can sense his determination to make it his own, and he was often successful at that and made a strong impact in the minds of the listeners.


Chopin Op. 48, No. 1
Czerny Variation on a theme by Rode
Chopin Bolero
Schumann Piano Concerto / Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5

Re: How would you describe Horowitz's playing? [Re: pianoloverus] #2947180 02/15/20 11:02 AM
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I had a chance to hear him perform three times. One of those times I was able to score overflow seats on the stage and sat a few feet from him. The key to his virtuosity was not just bravura technical skills (Cziffra was even more astounding technically than Horowitz), it was his skill at voicing. His dynamic range was incredible, and he put that to sublime use by his attention to phrasing. Everything was thought out; all voices were well balanced, and I doubt he ever played a musical phrase in his life that wasn't invested with some interesting dynamic shading. Ultimately, and in true Russian style, the melody was always allowed to shine through. I watched him wince a few times when he didn't strike a key exactly the way he intended, but the tonal difference from what he intended and what he got was so subtle that the audience never noticed. He had little tricks, too, like dropping the dynamics suddenly from fortissimo to piano or pianissimo. The audience would gasp at moments like these, and judging from his smile, I'm convinced he planned these things out.

All of this was put into service of the musical message and the emotion he wanted to convey, and at that he was beyond compare. I've never been at any other recital where the audience was so wrapped up in the music that our breathing was synchronized. Some of that was the Horowitz mystique; his concerts were always sold out well in advance and people arrived expecting something extraordinary. They were rarely disappointed (the only instance of disappointment I can remember was when he was obviously ill with a cold and had trouble technically with the Chopin Ab major Polonaise encore). He was not an artist of the long line, like Rudolf Serkin, and you never expected him to program a Beethoven or Schubert sonata. But in the Romantic repertoire of Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, and Rachmaninoff he was the premiere artist of his time. His only rival was Artur Rubinstein, who had a very different style of playing.

Audiences today might find him a bit strange, because he was nearly motionless at the piano. There was no swaying of the body, no raised arms at key moments (he left that to Rubinstein), no grimacing or playing with closed eyes. He let the music speak for him. When he was satisfied with a performance, and the audience began to roar its approval, he would stand and light up the hall with his famous grin. It was at those moments that he projected an innocent, little-boy demeanor, as if he were saying "Look Ma! I played all that with only two hands!" You had to love him then, because he was just as astounded as we were that any person could play the piano as he had just done.

Re: How would you describe Horowitz's playing? [Re: Numerian] #2947182 02/15/20 11:06 AM
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Originally Posted by Numerian
I had a chance to hear him perform three times. One of those times I was able to score overflow seats on the stage and sat a few feet from him. The key to his virtuosity was not just bravura technical skills (Cziffra was even more astounding technically than Horowitz), it was his skill at voicing. His dynamic range was incredible, and he put that to sublime use by his attention to phrasing. Everything was thought out; all voices were well balanced, and I doubt he ever played a musical phrase in his life that wasn't invested with some interesting dynamic shading. Ultimately, and in true Russian style, the melody was always allowed to shine through. I watched him wince a few times when he didn't strike a key exactly the way he intended, but the tonal difference from what he intended and what he got was so subtle that the audience never noticed. He had little tricks, too, like dropping the dynamics suddenly from fortissimo to piano or pianissimo. The audience would gasp at moments like these, and judging from his smile, I'm convinced he planned these things out.

All of this was put into service of the musical message and the emotion he wanted to convey, and at that he was beyond compare. I've never been at any other recital where the audience was so wrapped up in the music that our breathing was synchronized. Some of that was the Horowitz mystique; his concerts were always sold out well in advance and people arrived expecting something extraordinary. They were rarely disappointed (the only instance of disappointment I can remember was when he was obviously ill with a cold and had trouble technically with the Chopin Ab major Polonaise encore). He was not an artist of the long line, like Rudolf Serkin, and you never expected him to program a Beethoven or Schubert sonata. But in the Romantic repertoire of Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, and Rachmaninoff he was the premiere artist of his time. His only rival was Artur Rubinstein, who had a very different style of playing.

Audiences today might find him a bit strange, because he was nearly motionless at the piano. There was no swaying of the body, no raised arms at key moments (he left that to Rubinstein), no grimacing or playing with closed eyes. He let the music speak for him. When he was satisfied with a performance, and the audience began to roar its approval, he would stand and light up the hall with his famous grin. It was at those moments that he projected an innocent, little-boy demeanor, as if he were saying "Look Ma! I played all that with only two hands!" You had to love him then, because he was just as astounded as we were that any person could play the piano as he had just done.


Thank you for this beautifully written description of how he played. My teacher showed me the way he would cock his head at the end of a piece and smile, just as you described in the last paragraph, and, it was with a sense of gratitude.


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Re: How would you describe Horowitz's playing? [Re: pianoloverus] #2947224 02/15/20 12:34 PM
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Horowitz had the widest dynamic range of all pianists, a wonderful sense of rubato and often enjoyed making his own little transformations of scores to optimize works, because he was also a composer at heart. And he was one of the very best to transmit musical emotions. As he played happy or sad passages, people would have a much harder time pretending not to smile or sob (https://youtu.be/JMfybeyfg60?t=507).

Re: How would you describe Horowitz's playing? [Re: pianoloverus] #2947467 02/16/20 12:59 AM
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Argerich has a witty comment.

"He has five different interpretations for each piece and he plays them at the same time" .

Last edited by 3am_stargazing; 02/16/20 01:07 AM.

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Re: How would you describe Horowitz's playing? [Re: pianoloverus] #2947491 02/16/20 03:12 AM
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Thanks for sharing that documentary clip. I really enjoyed that. I LOVE his Mozart, and I’ve always been in awe of how his hands just seem to ‘float’ over the keys!


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Re: How would you describe Horowitz's playing? [Re: Bosendorff] #2947496 02/16/20 04:02 AM
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Originally Posted by Bosendorff
Horowitz had the widest dynamic range of all pianists, a wonderful sense of rubato and often enjoyed making his own little transformations of scores to optimize works, because he was also a composer at heart. And he was one of the very best to transmit musical emotions. As he played happy or sad passages, people would have a much harder time pretending not to smile or sob

This is exactly how I would describe Horowitz too. The only two other pianists who posses these qualities are Ignaz Friedman and Evgeni Bozhanov.


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Re: How would you describe Horowitz's playing? [Re: pianoloverus] #2947707 02/16/20 04:31 PM
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Actually if I have to nitpick I think his posture is a bit too stiff for the modern taste and I can't say I like how the flat finger technique looked on the keyboard.


Chopin Op. 48, No. 1
Czerny Variation on a theme by Rode
Chopin Bolero
Schumann Piano Concerto / Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5

Re: How would you describe Horowitz's playing? [Re: newport] #2947710 02/16/20 04:42 PM
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Originally Posted by newport
Actually if I have to nitpick I think his posture is a bit too stiff for the modern taste and I can't say I like how the flat finger technique looked on the keyboard.

The way something looks probably shouldn't be a relevant consideration for us when judging a musician, though - in the end, the important thing is how they sound.

Last edited by 3am_stargazing; 02/16/20 04:43 PM.

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Re: How would you describe Horowitz's playing? [Re: 3am_stargazing] #2947715 02/16/20 04:48 PM
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Originally Posted by 3am_stargazing
....
The way something looks probably shouldn't be a relevant consideration for us when judging a musician, though - in the end, the important thing is how they sound.


True, it's all about inner beauty ... isn't it? :-)

Last edited by newport; 02/16/20 04:49 PM.

Chopin Op. 48, No. 1
Czerny Variation on a theme by Rode
Chopin Bolero
Schumann Piano Concerto / Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5

Re: How would you describe Horowitz's playing? [Re: pianoloverus] #2947787 02/16/20 08:07 PM
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This is a great thread. It's as good a thing about what made Horowitz Horowitz as I've ever seen.

Re: How would you describe Horowitz's playing? [Re: newport] #2947801 02/16/20 08:42 PM
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Originally Posted by newport
Actually if I have to nitpick I think his posture is a bit too stiff for the modern taste and I can't say I like how the flat finger technique looked on the keyboard.


Harold Schonberg in "The Great Pianists" talks about how novel the flat finger technique was when Horowitz first came on the scene. By the 1950's, piano students everywhere were copying it, hoping it would turn them into the next Horowitz. It didn't work.

Horowitz said this is how he was taught, and further research indicated that flat fingers were an accepted technique in 19th century Russian conservatories. This is only part of the Horowitz technique. If you watch closely the video above, you can see he drops his hands down into the keys to accent the melody. The drop can be quite minor, but it is built into his technique and is part of how he obtained such exquisite shading of tone. The flattened fingers are critical to making this drop technique work.

Schumann's Traumerei was Horowitz's signature encore in later years and you can hear his tonal control as applied to this piece in the above video from his Moscow recital. For the longest time, the Kinderszenen were considered suitable only for children beginning to learn the piano. Horowitz shocked the concert world when he first programmed this "kiddie music," but in his Traumerei you can see why it worked so well for him. You are mesmerized by his performance because it is a tonal masterpiece. A very short incidental piece of music with a nice melody is turned into its own magical world of swelling and falling phrases, some disappearing into a bare whisper, the melody contrasted and balanced perfectly against inner voices, and everything paced to perfection. It is so beautifully done that people are crying in the audience. Horowitz is making the case here that a two minute piece of music can have the same emotional impact as a Beethoven sonata - if performed in the right hands.

Re: How would you describe Horowitz's playing? [Re: pianoloverus] #2947858 02/17/20 02:53 AM
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Originally Posted by Numerian
Harold Schonberg in "The Great Pianists" talks about how novel the flat finger technique was when Horowitz first came on the scene. By the 1950's, piano students everywhere were copying it, hoping it would turn them into the next Horowitz. It didn't work.
How does it differ from the "finger tapping" technique that Glenn Gould used? At first glance it would seem to be kind of similar, but I don't know.

Re: How would you describe Horowitz's playing? [Re: pianoloverus] #2947868 02/17/20 03:27 AM
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Finger tapping is a practise method and not a playing technique.

Last edited by johnstaf; 02/17/20 03:32 AM.
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