Your weekend treat: Unreleased Horowitz

Your weekend treat: Unreleased Horowitz


norman lebrecht

July 14, 2018

A March 1946 Liszt sonata from Carnegie Hall, never released due to three cuts that Vladimir Horowitz made in the score.

Nonetheless exceptional.


  • La Verita says:

    Highly unlikely that Horowitz himself made these cuts – it’s more likely that the cuts were made when the tape was assembled, and per that era, this would have been done due to a variety of technical reasons.

    • Francis Romano says:

      These recordings were made on transcription discs not tape. VH employed these same cuts at another concert and the cuts are from Siloti’s edition.
      Klindworth played the Sonata to Wagner which is described in his famous letter to Liszt.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    A hell of a treat. Thank you.

  • adista says:

    Awesome piano playing, not sure we’ll ever hear anything like it again

  • John Borstlap says:

    I couldn’t listen to this more than the first 5 minutes.

    The problem with this piece is, that virtuoso pianists approach it as a vehicle for their own prowess, without any regard for the musical narrative or even, the authenticity of the score. The result is then mostly an avelanche of noise in the fast parts and sentimental squeezing in the slow parts. Horowitz is no exception, adding octaves in the left hand where this is not written, failing to convey a clear texture because of playing much too fast, etc. etc. The piece is in the tradition of the grand Beethoven sonatas, and structurally following the example of Schubert’s Wanderer Phantasie, a synthesis of different concepts brilliantly achieved. To give a loyal performance, the texture and the inner narrative has to be played with clarity and any virtuosity approached from the music outwards instead of being projected into the music from the pianist’s ego desires.

    Liszt being the great virtuoso, knew very well how to achieve thunderous effects, and when he wanted something else, he wrote different textures, as can be clearly seen in the score of his sonata which has passages of great virtuosity but also many passages of very lean and clear textures meant to be heard as such.

    Performers just have to follow what is in the score and not indulge in self-serving rape.

    • George Kern says:

      I would suggest that you read Berlioz’ description of Liszt ‘s performance of the Moonlight Sonata on two different occasions for two very different audiences in A Travers Chant. I don’t believe that virtuoso/composers thought that there was one final, diffinitive interpretation of anything!

      • John Borstlap says:

        When with professional musicians and / or connoisseurs, Liszt was loyal to the score; when performing for innocent / ignorant big audiences, he tarted-up the music for a more popular effect. After all, it was the first period of public concert life with paying audiences who did not know much about music. The score of L’s sonata is very carefully notated and I think the least pianists should do, is keeping to the text, there is enough space for personal interpretation.

        • George Kern says:

          We essentially agree about the recording, but I always want to push back against the idea of a definitive interpretation. This recording is valuable as a testimony to the artistry of a great pianist. I have heard it once and doubt that I will listen a second time. I am amused by the comments suggesting that pianists like to use the piece as a vehicle to show off their technical prowess. In fact, I more often hear it played as a vehicle to show off poses of profundity and spiritualism. Not long ago I heard a fine performance which was criticized by a pianist friend for not being sufficiently conscious of the supposed Faust subtext. He could just tell that the performer was not thinking of Goethe as he played! I also suspect that what you refer to as tarted up was in fact the standard manner of performance in the the late nineteenth century. There are plenty of recordings of students of, say, Clara Schumann, which demonstrate this, and her students would be a whole lot more conservative than Liszt. We are becoming too analytical and sterile in our music making. Hearing this recording, while far from ideal, was refreshing in its honesty and directness.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Yes, I understand what you mean. But probably there should not be some general conclusion drawn from the evidence that survived the times, because there are also reports that someone like Hans von Bulow played Beethoven very carefully what was written in the score. Also there are reports of Liszt playing things (Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin) without any embellishments, while at other occasions he apparently played Chopin in his own version (which irritated Chopin considerably). And Chopin himself insisted on a strict adherence to the text of the score, allowing only some freedom at places where a rubato was appropriate – which is not everywhere.

            I think there are two different things which should not be confused: a) loyalty to the notes, i.e. the performer should play the notes which are written, not more, not less, and try to keep to the expressive indications (dynamics etc.) and b) the way how the loyal text is played, which offers much space for differences. Two pianists can play equally loyally and precisely qua notes, but may differ immensily in the result. So, there is not a ‘definite interpretation’ but ANY worthwhile interpretation begins on the basis of a precise rendering of the notes. And then – what is a ‘precise rendering of the notes’? People may play the same notes in very different ways while still being loyal to the score.

            Performers who willfully change the note text are not good performers (like Pogorelich, and Horowitz). They violate a basic rule of music performing.

            It is also possible that the performer discovers things in the music which improve it, which were not noticed by the composer, and which the composer may take as a wise advise and insert in the score. That is only possible when the composer is still alive, changing something of a ‘dead’ composer is full of risks. And what to think of situations like Brahms and Joachim working together on the solo part of Brahms’ wonderful violin concerto? Which note is by whom? And does it matter?

            As for interpretation: it is a source of complex worry for every composer, you cannot notate everything you want and have to trust on the musical understanding of the performer. Arthur Schnabel said: ‘Great music is music that’s better than it can be played’, i.e. different performers may get something different out of the score that is there, but which cannot be played at the same time. Think of the performances of Brahms symphonies under Toscanini and Walter. And they both are very loyal to the score, and these scores only give very general, although precise, instructions. There is this story of Brahms receiving a quartet playing one of his string quartets to get his comments. He said: ‘That’s beautiful, it’s OK. Last week there was another quartet playing this same one and they did it very differently, but also very beautifully.’ I wish I had been there.

    • Anson says:

      Are there recordings you particularly like or which you think come closest to the right interpretation? (I’m not accusing — I’m genuinely curious and would like to listen to a few additional interpretations to gain perspective.)

      • John Borstlap says:

        I find the recording by Zimerman very good, he gives the music all its due but also lets the monumental narrative shine through, and almost everything is very clear, and he is very loyal to the score. Only, the piano sound is too hard for my taste, but well, these are the modern pianos:

        As good as Zimerman but better sound quality, the pianist André Laplante:

        • Paul Davis says:

          All very true, added to which, Liszt never played the Sonata in public; it’s a sort of testament of aspects of his life and philosophy. Unusually, or maybe uniquely in Liszt’s output, if a note is changed, one notices it; it’s his purest expression, (at least of his mature output, until the late, sparse-textured pieces). It is NOT a virtuoso work, and should be off-limits to speed merchants, young upstarts and competition addicts!

          I found this Horrorhits (a)version barely tolerable, chaotically noisy and inaccurate from the start, saved a little by some intimate lyrical playing later. The mania for putting every possible bass down ruins all the line and texture.

          Question: When does the KEY note of this work make its first appearance? (A slightly tricked question with a double sense on “key”).

          • John Borstlap says:

            Only in bar 32 the key of B minor is reached. Up till then, it is all preparation.

            Liszt played this piece occasionally for guests, at one time for a gathering at his home in Weimar including the young Brahms who visited him together with the violinist Remeniy, where Brahms fell asleep during the performance.

            Liszt also played it, years later, to Wagner at Wagner’s home, which moved Wagner profoundly, embracing Liszt and showering him with compliments. Surely they discussed the thematic transformations in the piece, which also much concerned Wagner in his symphonic writing (Wagner had already carefully studied ALL of Liszt’s symphonic poems and took lots of ideas from them).

        • Petros Linardos says:

          I agree about the hard piano sound, but would blame it more on the recording than the instrument: it sounds closely miked to me. I haven’t heard a hard sound from Zimerman in live concerts.

          And of course I feel the same way about Zimerman on just about every recording I’ve heard or concert I attended. I think of him as one of the greatest living pianists.

        • Paul Davis says:

          Aha! You, sir, of all people, should find the astonishing answer to this question riddled with traps….or should that be a riddle of questionable nature? Not just the KEY, but the key NOTE, (in the sense of a key to the answer)!

          It’s also related to that problem of banging down unwritten bass octaves and shows why, in this work, alone of Liszt’s output, the score should be scrupulously respected, (as it hardly ever is!).

          Try to unlock it again.

          • John Borstlap says:

            I don’t see any real problem with that. In bar 31 there is, in the left hand, a clear downward figure that indicates the importance of B which comes down in bar 32.

            But in this piece, ‘key’ is very relative, everything is in a floating space, as if the music is unfolding in a continuum. So, keys are much less structurally defining than, say, in the middle period sonatas of Beethoven. In Liszt’s sonata, it is also interesting that the various episodes are almost all of them ‘open’ at the end, they don’t close at a definite key, thereby confirming the tonal place where we are in the narrative. This enables him to mix the various elements of sonata form in a new arrangement: bits of the first movement allegro, the slow movement music, the scherzo music, and fugue. Obviously he knew the late Beethoven sonatas (opus 101, 109, 110, 111) very well.

            The structure of this wonderful sonata was also well-known to Schoenberg who followed its example in his admirable 1st Chamber Symphony, which is also a one-movement synthesis piece.

        • Paul Davis says:

          Well, ok, the question is difficult to formulate well, so here’s the answer: the KEY (in all senses) note makes its first, and only appearance at the very end, in the last bar! Liszt works systematically all around the bass B, NEVER touching it and at one impossibly dramatic moment, (bar 385), snatches the bass line AWAY from the the bass B, where it was seemingly inevitably destined…, the wound will not be healed yet, (full of Kundry harmonies!), healing and peace arrive only after full battle and victory.

          Of course, most “virtuosi” cannot resist adding basses, thereby making nonsense of Liszt’s narrative, even aided and abetted by corrupt editions with “improvements” suggested by the editor. This doesn’t neccessarily negate all those “improved” interpretations; i’ve heard plenty who give great poetry and power even so. But once you’ve understood that “key” element, it’s harder to accept a shallower view.

          And à propos de la Sonate: no Liszt b-minor: no Parsifal!

          • Paul Davis says:

            I mean, of course, no Parsifal as we know it, musically and harmonically. It certainly would have taken form anyway, but Liszt’s harmonies (in the Sonata) and mystic narrative had enormous effect and influence on Wagner.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Nowadays I am often critical of Horowitz along the same lines, but don’t feel that way about this recording. I here a very natural flow of the music that draws me in so powerfully I almost don’t want to look at the score, find the infidelities and spoil the fun.

      @Anson: for more apollonian and spiritual interpretations of Liszt’s piano music I turn to Arrau, Brendel and Krystian Zimerman.

    • Elisabeth Matesky says:

      With much due respect for John Borstlap, my violin mentor, Nathan Milstein, was the closest musician (violinist) friend of Vladimir Horowitz,
      having met together in pre Bolshevik Russia at a Horowitz concert. Most
      impressed (a gross understatement!) with Hirowutz’s artistry & to become
      ‘Hurricane’ titled Fame later on in America, Milstein, thought incredibly well
      of his close friend, “Veloyda’s” playing! In reading your comments of real
      interest, my late night pen shot onto Mr. Lebrecht’s slipped disc site after
      the last sentence of your earlier Reply re Horowitz’s fault’s of ego playing
      or self-prowess segueing into a startling final phrase, “Performer’s just have to follow the score and not indulge in self serving rape.”

      Mr. Borstlap, Sir!!! The great Roseanna Lehvine always famously insisted, ‘One must Always exhaust the printed page ~’! However true & profound (which indeed it is and must be) need the closing adjectives of your self proclaimed & impassioned plea to do so go Low?? I’m sure both Horowitz & Mr. Milstein would agree with you, yet if here, seeing your phrasing of this Rule of musical taste and knowledge, might be offended with virulent wording ~

      Not intending to have any discord, & not with an impassioned British core contributor far across the Atlantic, I will hope to understand what peaked
      your eire, as something said or someone getting under your ‘artist should’s’
      Mantra ~ Please know I understand how one can feel when speaking of a
      beloved artist or an adored/deeply respected Composer, which if not duly
      honoured by those representing the inner messages of the Composer, it
      can try one’s nerves way past the limit … I Know this, ‘Mate!! (It makes me
      ‘Nuts’ hearing exaggerated so called stories about both my great violin
      mentor’s, & on occasion, I’ve actually found myself so incensed, I’ve gone
      a bit ballistic in black & white!!! (In my case, it’s always best to tuck the
      fiddle under my chin & practise out the elevated blood pressure in throwing one’s self into the opening bars of the Brahms Violin Concerto to channel
      temporarily over the limit emotions ~ Alas, our passions mustn’t overtake us if onstage performing major soloist w/ orchestra works!!

      A Sage recently quoted over here on local TV, said, “A man’s success is in mastering his passion’s!” It’s worth thinking about yet a big challenge to try mastering all which we are so passionate about ~

      Please accept transatlantic Apologies for any perceived disrespect for it is not so ~ One thing is for sure! Horowitz would surely be intrigued by a Man
      devoted to the fidelity of artist’s to the score & messages therein contained

      Wishing you very best wishes from afar, I remain

      Yours musically ~

      E. Matesky

  • Daniel Poulin says:

    Could it be that Horowitz himself, after listening to the tape, demanded that it should not be released? I just had an uneasy feeling at the end of the performance, and it would not surprise me at all that both Vladimir and Wanda declared it should remain confidential. There are far too many idiosyncrasies obvious to even an amateur listener to let that recording stand the test of time.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Authorized Horowitz recordings also have plenty of idiosyncrasies, but your hypothesis sounds plausible to me. Great performers have their very personal perceptions of interpretation and self criticism.
      On this matter there is an eye opening story about the great cellist Jaqueline Du Pre. When she listened to her legendary recording of the Elgar concerto, the one she made with Barbirolli, she started crying and stated that she didn’t mean it that way. And yet among lesser mortals this recording is an absolute classic. Go figure. Let’s not get started about Carlos Kleiber, famously a serial killer of own recordings.

    • Andrew Thayer says:

      None of his private recording collection had ever been even conceived as a candidate for release. The author of this post is simply making stuff up as he goes along.

  • barry guerrero says:

    It’s a 30 minute sonata that’s 32 minutes too long.