“Yes, I can play like an angel but I am unapologetically of the devil's party.” So said the most famous pianist of the 20th century, who could play Chopin with both angelic grace and devilish abandon.
Vladimir Horowitz: a Great Chopinist. Or a middling Chopinist? Or a bad Chopinist. Pick your decade; pick your critic; pick your record label; Vladimir Samoloyvich Horowitz had an abundance of all three. From his early, blazing performances of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky concertos in the 1920s, to his celebrated solo appearances in the 1980s, Horowitz never failed to attract attention – or to play Chopin.
Early in his career, Horowitz was known for his fiery, incandescent performances of Chopin, like his 1945 recording of the Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante. But his reputation rested elsewhere.
As Horowitz progressed from celebrated pianist to cultural icon, so too did his connection to Chopin grow. A Ballade for a live television broadcast from Carnegie Hall in 1968; a Heroic Polonaise for the White House in 1978:
In 1987, a Mazurka in the Vienna Musikverein…during Horowitz’s final European tour.
And in 1989, just three days before his death at the age of 86, Vladimir Horowitz was still playing in his New York brownstone, and the tape recorders were rolling as he made his final recordings…including a timeless performance of the Nocturne in E-flat, Op. 55, No. 2. As the New York Times observed: “Critics like to describe Horowitz's playing as 'incomparable' — and that is a very well-chosen word. Whether great or misfiring, it was incomparable — like no one else's.”