Horowitz plays for President Roosevelt

Horowitz plays for President Roosevelt


norman lebrecht

December 29, 2019

Herbert Hoover was the first president to invite artists to perform in the White House.

In 1938 Steinways replaced the 1903 piano with a 9’7″ instrument that is still in use today.

Vladimir Horowitz played it for the first time in April 1942.

These items from his concert were broadcast and recorded:

Schubert/Tausig: Marche Militaire in D-flat major, Op.51 No.1 (Edited by Horowitz)
Brahms: Waltz in A-flat major, Op.39 No.15
Horowitz: Variations on a Theme from Bizet’s Carmen

Video courtesy of Mikhail Kaykov


  • Robert Levin says:

    Where was the piano tuner?

    • Steven van Staden says:

      It’s not the piano but the wowing tape. Nevertheless, it’s amazing that the unique Horowitz sound is captured in some of the most unsympathetic recordings, as here. In the Argerich link in this Slipped Disc issue the piano in the Schumann concerto rehearsal is really quite shockingly out of tune though.

  • Nick2 says:

    I believe Earl Wild was one of the first artists to perform for Hoover at the White House in 1931. He then became the only artist ever to perform for six consecutive Presidents there. Earlier he had played before Calvin Coolidge – but not at the White House.

    • Madeline says:

      Thank you so much for mentioning the fact that Earl played for six presidents’ Inaugural Concerts. I’ve known that for years, but there are so many people who have no idea of the extent of his career. According to his book, page 162, he was 15 when he played for President Hoover In NYC at an official function at the Waldorf Hotel

    • Dave T says:

      Surprised that he didn’t play for Nixon.

  • Norman Krieger says:

    What a New Years gift Norman. Thanks for posting! He was in his prime. That creative pianism, fire and burning passion coupled with super charged love of the music!

  • Jay Shulman says:

    Pablo Casals performed for President Theodore Roosevelt at the White House January 15, 1904. Hofmann and Paderewski also played for the Roosevelts.

  • Piano Fan says:

    In fact, Horowitz did not play the White House Steinway at this concert. The 1942 concert in question was played not at the White House, but at Carnegie Hall on Horowitz’s own Steinway. Horowitz allowed the encores to be broadcast as a birthday greeting to Franklin Roosevelt.

    Horowitz appeared at the White House three times: In 1931 for Herbert Hoover, 1978 for President Carter (video of this concert is on youtube), and 1986 for President Reagan (the encores from this concert are also on youtube). At none of these events did Horowitz play the White House Steinway – which was inaugurated by Josef Hoffmann in 1938.

  • Michael Kaykov says:

    Sadly only those items were broadcast.
    The concert also featured the Carnegie premiere of the Prokofiev 6th sonata

  • Scott Messing says:

    I doubt I’ll be the last individual to note the names of artists invited to perform at the White House prior to the twentieth century. One earlier pianist is Teresa Carreño, who played for the Lincolns in 1863.

    • John Marks says:

      Sissieretta Jones (1868-1933) sang in the White House for four American presidents in succession: Harrison (1892), Cleveland, McKinley, and TR Roosevelt. Until the TR Roosevelt engagement, she was forbidden to use the front door.

      Dvorak was so enthralled with her voice that he conducted her and made an orchestral song arrangement for her. She sang for 14 crowned heads of Europe, and was the highest-paid African-American performer for several decades.

      Sad to relate, she declined to record, perhaps fearing that she would never get paid. She ran out of money, and was buried in a pauper’s grave in the North Elmwood neighborhood of Providence, RI. When I lived there, I walked by her unmarked grave countless times.

      In 2018, they finally scraped up the money for a headstone for the first African-American woman ever to sing from the stage of what was later called Carnegie Hall (having earlier made her NYC début at Steinway Hall).

      Famed for her aria interpretations, she never actually sang a role in a staged opera, because of Jim Crow laws.

      The wiki article is very up-to-date on recent research and publications.


  • Robert Holmén says:

    The factoid regarding Hoover first inviting guest musicians can not be correct.

    Aside from the Marine Band which had been providing appropriate music for dinners and events since the White House’s earliest days, invited guests artists are known to have performed there from the 1840s.


  • David K. Nelson says:

    Perhaps the most famous White House recital was that of Enrique Granados, at the invitation of President Woodrow Wilson. It caused Granados to change his travel plans, so instead of sailing to Spain he sailed to England, then took a ferry with his wife to mainland Europe to continue the journey. The Germans attacked the ferry and Granados’s wife fell in the water. He jumped in to save her and both drowned. Ironically those on board survived.

    Wilson’s interest in music appears to have been sincere and genuine and sophisticated (unlike, say, JFK’s), as his daughter Margaret was a concert singer of enough ability to make commercial recordings. She trained as a pianist and singer at Peabody, and I have also seen references to her as a “concert pianist.” I would not presume to compare her talents to those of another Presidential daughter named “Margaret.”

    • Fliszt says:

      One assumes you are referring to Margaret Truman, whose vocal “talent” pained all who heard her. Nevertheless, her impact on the music world was enormous: When her small-time manager explained to her that his difficulty in securing engagements for his artists had to do with Arthur Judson’s monopoly of the American music scene (through his Columbia Artists management), Margaret informed her daddy, who then called J. Edgar Hoover, who mobilized the FBI to break up Columbia’s monopoly. Thanks, Margaret!

  • John Kelly says:

    Who plays for first our current President? Lola Astonova…….

  • Scott Messing says:

    At the risk of boring readers with minutiae, Horowitz’s performance on January 30, 1942 (President Roosevelt’s 60th birthday), came from Carnegie Hall and was slated to be broadcast at 10:15 pm EST by the CBS Blue Network. The audience included sailors and soldiers seated onstage as special guests. Milton Cross introduced the pianist: “Mr. Horowitz has contributed his great talents tonight in this his first solo broadcast as a reminder to us, his fellow Americans, that it is by giving our dimes and dollars for the afflicted children of the nation that we can send our pledge of faith and loyalty and friendship to our president.”