A discreet but devastating hatchet-job: from extensive research and interviews with ""approximately 650 friends and...


HOROWlTZ: A Biography of Vladimir Horowitz

A discreet but devastating hatchet-job: from extensive research and interviews with ""approximately 650 friends and associates"" (some of whom are clearly not friends), Plaskin has assembled a massive, unlovely, but fairly convincing portrait of piano virtuoso Horowitz--as flawed artist, as crass careerist, as hen-pecked husband, thwarted homosexual, unloving father, and shallow human being. Born in pre-Revolution Kiev, from an upper-middle-class Jewish family, ""Volodya"" was a moody, conceited prodigy--""exceptional car and flawless memory""--who hated the pressure of student recitals. But when the family lost everything after 1917, the ""introverted, thoroughly spoiled"" 18-year-old had to earn money with a concert career--touring Russia with violinist Nathan Milstein, becoming a local idol, living decadently (occasionally ""walking the streets of Moscow in an enormous fur coat, his face shimmering with makeup""). Then: the escape to the West (turning his back on Family forever); the ""acrobatic display"" and flashy successes (for years he ""remained obsessed with technique as an end in itself""); the hilarious US debut with Sir Thomas Beecham in 1928; the international acclaim. But in 1933 Horowitz married Arturo Toscanini's daughter Wanda--despite his longtime preference for ""male friends."" And a year later came his first breakdown/retirement--partly caused by overwork and artistic problems but primarily, says Plaskin, by the private-life conflicts as reluctant, still-homosexual husband and father. (He treated daughter Sonia--an eventual suicide--""as a burden to be tolerated."") During his first comeback, in the '40s, ""Horowitz was still addicted to giving audiences what they wanted""; tantrums and cancellations escalated into a second collapse in the '50s. However, in his tiptoeing return to recording circa 1960, ""poetry and refinement were seen to have finally taken precedence over digital dexterity."" And then came, of course, the heroic Carnegie Hall reappearance of ""the Greta Garbo of the concert world""--which Plaskin chronicles, moment by moment, as if it were the first moon-launch. Admittedly, there is something slippery and distasteful about the quasi-scholarship here: Horowitz's sex-life is sketched in through quotes from anonymous sources, ex-employees, and third-hand hearsayers; the few Horowitz friends who declined to talk corne off badly; Plaskin is often too reluctant to draw conclusions, assess conflicting testimony. But, however iffy Plaskin's approach, the accumulation of telling anecdotes is ultimately vivid in a sad, ugly fashion--and, even without the private-life exposÉ, the detailing of Horowitz's professional life (including feverish involvements with his few students over the years) makes this lively, juicy reading for followers of classical music's more eccentric and gossipy aspects.

Pub Date: March 3, 1983


Page Count: -

Publisher: Morrow

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1983