VIENNA, MAY 31 -- Vladimir Horowitz, returning to Vienna after an absence of 52 years, played today for the highest fee ever paid to a pianist in this country.
For 85 minutes of Mozart, Liszt, Schubert, Chopin and Schumann he collected the equivalent of $427,000, or more than $5,000 per minute. Half the sum came from ticket sales and half from Austrian state television, which carried the entire piano recital in prime time just after the evening news. Austrian state radio carried the recital live in the afternoon.
Viennese fans filled Musikverein Hall, the city's mecca of classical music, after paying as much as $240, the highest box office prices in Austrian history. Minutes of stormy applause and shouts of "bravo" climaxed in a half-hour ovation, with three encores for the man the Vienna press hailed as the world's greatest living pianist.
Television music critic Karl Loebel called the event a "meeting with a legend" because the last time Horowitz played here was in 1935. At a press conference the 82-year-old master said he could not remember when he was in Vienna last: "Ich habe alles vergessen (I have forgotten everything)," he said, lapsing suddenly into German, with indirect reference to the Nazism already on the rise in Austria atthat time.
Horowitz's wife Wanda came to the rescue and pointed out that it was on Dec. 1, 1935. And she remembered another Vienna concert in October 1933, two months before they were married.
The move for Horowitz's return to Vienna began about a year ago, when the director of the rival Konzerthaus Hall, Alexander Pereira, contacted the pianist and nearly signed a contract until Horowitz suddenly announced he was prepared to play only in Musikverein Hall.
The resulting astronomical ticket prices slowed ticket sales -- fans here are used to paying no more than $50 for an excellent seat in Musikverein Hall. Several times Austrian radio announced that tickets were still available, and the hall was not sold out until minutes before Horowitz walked onto the stage.
Preparations for the concert were as unprecedented as the ticket prices. Musikverein Hall was reserved entirely for Horowitz's use for nearly a week before the performance, and fans kept watch for him outside.
Horowitz stayed at the Royal Suite of the nearby Imperial hotel, and his requirements for vegetarian cuisine and a totally darkened bedroom for sleeping till noon filled the gossip columns for days.
He made just one sightseeing tour: to the house where Mozart completed "The Marriage of Figaro" and to the house where Beethoven died. Finally at the Sacher Hotel he came into contact with Vienna's famous pastries, as his Austrian fans could observe in a special film aired on TV during the concert intermission. The announcer said Horowitz had been filmed by a hidden camera as he ate his way through a couple of Vienna cream cakes.