The night after they were seen with Mike Wallace on the CBS show "60 Minutes," I was visiting with Vladimir Horowitz and his wife, Wanda, in their New York City home. Mrs. Horowitz, who is the daughter of Auturo Toscanini, commented on the fact that it took about nine hours of camera work to produce the 20 minutes that were seen on TV. She gestured around their beautiful living room, dominated by the Steinway concert grand at one end and ornamented by vivid Chinese panels on the walls.
"One of the things I regretted about that show," she said, "was that some of my husband's best answers to Wallace's questions did not get on the air. For instance, Wallace asked Horowitz, 'What do you have that makes people stand for hours in lines that are blocks long to get tickets to your concerts? To hear you? What have you got?'"
Horowitz's answer, which was not heard on the Dec. 26 broadcast, was "Mr. Wallace, you have a lot of work to do for the answer to that question. Because you have to go along the line and ask each one of them why he is there."
Even people who stand in lines for a long time, or who send in advance orders for Horowitz events, do not always get tickets. For instance, over 9,000 mail orders for tickets to a Horowitz concert this afternoon in Carnegie Hall had to be returned.
What is so special about this afternoon's concert? Simply the fact that Vladimir Horowitz has not played with an orchestra for 25 years, a situation that he is going to correct shortly after 5 o'clock today.
He will walk onto the stage of the same Carnegie Hall where he made his U.S. debut 50 years ago. And with the New York Philharmonic, the orchestra with which he played then, he will play the Third Concerto by Rachmaninov. Obviously, no one is still playing in the Philharmonic who was playing then. Today there will be a different conductor and a different concerto.
Fifty years ago, the conductor, the late Sir Thomas Beecham, was also making his first appearance in this country. And the concerto was the Tchaikovsky in B Flat Minor. So explosive was Horowitz's performance of the famous piece that the report that has come down to this day has never been denied: Horowitz reached the end of the concerto ahead of Sir Thomas and the orchestra. Some time later, when he was rehearsing it with Sir Thomas again. Beecham said to the sensational young Russian. "Mr. Horowitz, really, you cannot play like that. It is incredible, not permissible. My orchestra can't live up to it."
During my visit with the Horowitzes, I asked why the change from Tchaikovsky to Rachmaninov. The pianist had two reasons: "I am playing the Rachmaninov Third because I have always thought of my real debut in this country as the 8th of January rather than the 12th, although the 12th was the date of my public debut.
"You see," he began, launching into one of his most treasured reminiscences, "I had only arrived in this country about the 6th or so. I had learned the Rachmaninov Third very soon after it was published. But even by the time I came to this country. I was still a kid. I had never met Rachmaninov, and I did not suppose that I would meet him right away." (Horowitz was 23 at the time of his U.S. debut.)
"However, almost immediately after I got to New York, Rachmaninov sent word through the Steinway people that he would like to meet me in the Steinway basement on Jan. 8. He offered to play the second piano part of the concerto while I played the solo." (The Steinway "basement" is the famous spot where the world's great pianists go to pick out the instruments on which they want to play.)
Horowitz continued: "So I played for him; and since he liked my playing, our relationship after that was like father and son. He was wonderful. But you know, he did say 'I wrote this concerto for elephants." Abram Chasins, an authority on pianists of the past 50 years, says that Rachmaninov told him later, of Horowitz' performance of the concerto, "He swallowed it whole."
Returning to the matter of the switch from Tchaikovsky to Rachmaninov, Horowitz, with a smile that he can change from braodly humorous to shy and slightly bemused, gave his second reason: "Some pianists have made the Tchaikovsky a little demode." Which took care of that.
One of the stipulations Horowitz made when he told the New York Philharmonic that he would like to play with them this afternoon to mark his 50th anniversary in this country was that the conductor must be Eugene Ormandy. Several years ago he had told me that if he were to play with an orchestra again, the conductor "would have to be Ormandy." The reasons are simple:
Ormandy knew Rachmaninov very well, frequently conducted for him, and recorded the Third Concerto with him. There is a kind of understanding between Horowitz and Ormandy that can be traced back to that earlier association. Now that Horowitz has broken his quarter-century of silence in the concerto arena, he is making other choices among today's conductors. After playing Rachmaninov with Ormandy today, he will, in the next few weeks, play it on the West Coast with Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. After that there will be performances with the Philadelphia Orchestra in its home city as well as at the annual May festival in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Today's concert, for which Horowitz and Ormandy are contributing their services, is a benefit for the New York Philharmonic Fund, which will profit to the tune of around $160,000. It will also be recorded.
"I am playing it complete, without any cuts," Horowitz said. "It is true that Rachmaninov himself made cuts in it. But that was back when the concerto was new and it was considered long." W.J. Henderson, music critic of the New York Sun, wrote when the work was first played there, "The concerto was too long . . . it has at times the character of an impromptu . . . and prone to repetition." "But today," Horowitz continued, "audiences listen to symphonies for an hour and a half. It is better to play it all. The cuts mar it.
"Do you know what I am doing to play myself into the Russian mood for the Rachmaninov?" Horowitz asked. "I have not played it for a long time, so I am going through all the Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korosakov operas." With a nod of his head, he indicated, standing in several stacks on his piano, the opera scores. "Everything is in them," he went on. A quick step and he was sitting at the keyboard, playing as he talked, "Here, in Rimsky-Korsakov - these . . ." and out came a line of curling tremolos. "Even this," he noted, as he played a sequence of four fast chords, something that Rachmaninov made a kind of sign-off signature.
"When I was 10 - my parents were a bourgeois family - they took me to Scriabin. He, poor man, had to listen to me play. But he gave my family some very hopeful advice. He told them, 'Make him a well-rounded musician.' So, as I say, I played everything.I slept with Gotterdammerung under my pillow when I was 14. I was in Berlin when I was 20, I heard it. I wept! I wept!!
"To play with the orchestra again is no problem," he said. "I can balance the orchestra. Oh, there are a lot of notes in that concerto! But playing with orchestra again, no problem."
While Horowitz felt no concern about returning to the world of the concerto, he did say, a few weeks-ago, that he would like to sit down in front of an orchestra again just to hear the sound of the orchestra all around him before the final rehearsal. And so it happened, according to a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra with which Horowitz will play in March, that not long ago, at rehearsal of that orchestra in Carnegie Hall, the musicians, to their amazement, found the music of the Rachmaninov Third Concerto in front of them during a rehearsal called for the Verdi Requiem. To their even greater astonishment, out came Horowitz to play. From all accounts, he sounded as if he had never been away.
Another word that was used on the "60 Minutes" show brought Horowitz to an animated discussion and a series of illustrations at the Steinway. "On that program," he recalled, "They said I was the greatest technician. It is OK. I know what they mean. But it is really the Steinway men who tune and voice and regulate the pianos - they are the great technicians.
"But no," he paused for a moment. "Technique - technique is with the pedal, with the hands, knowing what to do with the mechanics of playing the piano." He moved again to the piano. "The pedal is the heart of the piano." He played this passage from the Liszt Sonata:
The pedalling at this pint is not marked in the score. But Horowitz's right foot was moving sensitively to create a momentary blur that would disappear as if struck by a shaft of sun-light when the pedal made the right move at the right moment. Meanwhile, the piano seemed to sing.
"What I do with the pedal comes from my having spent my life trying to conceal, to make up for the fact that the piano is a percussion instrument, by making it sing. Nearly all the instruments in the orchestra sing: the strings, the brass, the woodwinds. There are really very few percussion instruments in the orchestra. But the piano is a percussion instrument. But I use the pedal like this . . ." here Horowitz played the climatic chord from Schumann's Traumerei, "to conceal the fact.
"At conservatories," he continued, "if you play it like that, they say, 'But change the pedal! Change the pedal!' You see, you have made a false moment. But then see . . ." and his foot moved in that way that seems to be known only to Horowitz, and the false harmonies cleared away like mists from around a mountaintop.
To make his point still more strongly, Horowitz played a descending sequence of chords, the first time-without pedal, so that they came out detached, and, as he said, "percussive." Then, like one of the world's great magicians, which among other things, he is, he repeated them. But his time, his foot rising and falling swiftly as each new chord sounded, they seemed like a string of matched pearls, each one gleaming softly in the warmful and color of its neighbor.
On the value of competions: "No, No, No. One judge is for this one for that; the winner is picked not for his excellence, but because others are eliminated. They give them $10,000 and say, 'Now you are ready to play in Carnegie Hall' when they are not ready. I don't care if it is called the Cliburn or the Rubinstein or the Horowitz or what." At his point Mrs. Horowitz added, "And there must always be the Russian prize. If not first place, then second, but always a Russian prize."
Horowitz, at the age of 73, has no plans for taking things easy. "Every year I play something new, something I have not played before," he explained. Next season he is putting the "Polka de S.R." into his repertoire. Again he went to the piano to explain why "S.R.," being Sergei Rachmaninov, wrote the "Polka" the way he did.
"It was because his father, whose name was Wassili, was an amateur pianist. Rachmaninov could remember his father sitting down at the piano and playing a polka that sounded like this." And suddenly Horowitz played as if he were at work on the "Beer Barrel Polka." Clunky! You wouldn't believe it. "So," he continued, "I will play something new, it keeps me from getting old."