Watch: Horowitz and the pianist who disappeared

Rare video was posted roday of a Mozart duet played by Vladimir Horowitz with Gitta Gradova, a pianist who vanished from the music scene in 1942, never to be heard in public again.

Admired by Rachmaninov and Toscanini, Gradova apparently succumbed to demands from her physician husband to give up the career and devote herself to family.

Her son believes the decision almost destroyed her.

This private tape is dated Chicago, 1950.

Anyone in Chicago remember hearing her play?

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  • Perhaps not the whole story. Per pianist Constance Keene, it was Horowitz who destroyed Gradova’s self-confidence.

    • Interesting. Can you give details of what Constance Keene said, and where and when she said it? Thanks.

      • I knew Ms. Keene over the last 27 years of her life, so I don’t recall exactly when she said it. But it came up during a discussion about pianists who had played for Horowitz, and Ms. Keene said that such pianists did so at their peril – and used Gradova as an example, saying that he damaged her confidence. One certainly wouldn’t assume that from reading the NY Times rave review of the 1940 Gradova/Barbirolli/NYPO performance of Rachmaninoff-Paganini Rhapsody, but in fact that was her final performance in New York, so perhaps Keene’s observation has some validity.

        • In the book her son released, a story was told about a performance she gave with the NYPhil and Barbirolli, the Rachmaninoff Paganini Variations (at least, that’s what I remember!) – the limo was taking both Gradova and Horowitz to the hall, and he kept reminding her how difficult the piece was and asking if she was nervous. She hadn’t been particularly nervous, but quickly became so with Horowitz’ needling. Her comments on the situation sounded exasperated, but it didn’t sound like her confidence was permanently destroyed. It sounded like two good friends, both professionals, one of whom was a bit insensitive.

          • Here is the way Thomas J. Cottle tells the story in his book When the Music Stopped (pp. 48-49):

            “On December 5, 6, and 8, 1940 [the online Carnegie Hall archive gives the dates of December 7 and 8, 1940, for Gradova’s performances], my mother performed Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Making these performances especially eventful was that the Sunday, December 8 concert would be broadcast nationwide on radio. Recognizing the significance of the concert, my mother’s dear friend, Vladimir Horowitz, telegrammed her on November 26 to report that he had arranged for her to use his own personal orchestral concert grand piano.

            “For that same Philharmonic concert, my mother was staying with Horowitz and his wife in their Ninety-fourth Street Manhattan home. Horowitz coached her during her visit. On the evening of the performance [the December 8 concert was at 3 PM, while the December 7 concert was at 8:45 PM], during their ride to Carnegie Hall–a description by pianist Gary Graffman [I Really Should be Practicing, pp. 144-145], once a student of Horowitz’s, perfectly depicts their relationship as I knew it. While Horowitz encouraged and coached her, and presumably supported her with words like ‘under no circumstances can you stop, for stopping is provincial,’ he managed to cause himself and my mother to become physically ill.”

  • My father, Sheppard Lehnhoff, played with her, both chamber music, and as a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He was a violist in the CSO twice—in the l930’s and early 1940’s, and again starting with Reiner, in 1953 . I grew up hearing about her. She was described as someone special. The forces working on her were similar to the forces working on all women. Think of the cellist Raya Garbousova. She also married a physician.

  • An absolutely glorious recording which we are lucky to have.

    Not a “video” which we can “watch”, though, at least as far as I can tell.

  • Her performance of Rachmaninoff’s Paganini Rhapsody is mentioned briefly in Abram Chasins’s book Speaking of Pianists. Chasins writes that it probably was the composer’s favourite version. It’s on Youtube.

    • PS: She didn’t ‘disappear,’ but stopped playing, apparently after 1941 recording of the Rach Paganini Rhapsody with Barbirolli. She also performed it with Frederick Stock in 1936 and Nicolai Malko, also in 1941. One of her 1941 performances of Rachmaninoff 2nd in Chicago received a “Tumult of Acclaim,” according to Chicago Daily News critic. Apparently not rattled all that much by VH.

      • Yes. I stand corrected. Gradova’s recording of the Rachmaninoff Paganini Rhapsody with Barbirolli and NY Phil. was from 1940. But she played it many times before ending her public career, including the one with Nicolai Malko in 1936, two years after its premiere.

    • Thomas J. Cottle in his book about his mother Gitta Gradova, When the Music Stopped (on o. 169), quotes from Chasins’s book Speaking of Pianists:

      “Rachmaninoff particularly admired Horowitz’s interpretation of [the Third Piano Concerto], Moiseiwitsch’s reading of his Rhapsody, and a performance of the same work in the early thirties by Gitta Gradova with the New York Philharmonic under Barbirolli. Rachmaninoff was always wreathed in smiles at the recollection of these performances. He wrapped himself in stony silence at the mention of all others”

      Gradova did not play this with the New York Philharmonic under Barbirolli in the early thirties. She did play it with Barbirolli and the New York Philharmonic on December 7 and 8, 1940. This was the occasion on which Horowitz coached Gradova and presumably made her physically ill as they rode together to Carnegie Hall (p. 49 in Cottle’s book).

  • This may help clear some things up. Horowitz, on the ride with Gradova, kept bringing up the horrible possibility of a memory lapse and kept helpfully reminding her that if she forgot something, just remember that the variations start on “A”! He worked both of them into a state – unintentionally. I’m not aware of any other problem with Horowitz and Gradova’s career.

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