A Quasquicentennial for a Centenarian Emeritus

June 29, 2017

It doesn’t seem like that long ago that we were cheering him on. For what? That he might reach his 100th birthday while still active as a performer. And he did it!  In fact, he nearly reached his 101st birthday. In his upper 90s, he was still making recordings and presenting piano recitals at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where he taught for many years.

According to the British music writer James Methuen-Campbell, Mieczyslaw Horszowski performed in public for more years than any other musician in the history of Western classical music.  Officially, he made his first public appearance in 1901. His final recital was on October 31,1991, a little more than a year and a half before he passed away on May 22,1993.

Mieczyslaw Horszowski (pronounced myeh-chih-SWAHF hor-SHOFF-skee – thank you, Alan Kozinn of the New York Times for putting it into print!) was born 125 years ago on June 23, 1892 in Lvov, Poland (now a part of Ukraine).  That was the same year in which Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and Ballet were performed for the first time.

In the booklet that accompanied a recording he made in his mid-90s, we were reminded of both Horszowski the teenager and Horszowski the nonagenerian with “then and now” photos. You couldn’t help but marvel at the story of his life in music. His first piano teacher was his mother, who had taken lessons from a student of Chopin. At age 7, he began to study with Theodor Leschetitzky, who had worked with the legendary pianist & composer Carl Czerny. Years later he would come to know and to play for famous composers like Gabriel Fauré, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and Enrique Granados.

He once had the opportunity to make the very first recording on the earliest surviving piano, an instrument built in 1720 by its inventor: Bartolomeo Cristofori. For the occasion Horszowski played sonatas by D. Ludovico Giustini di Pistoia, who was born in 1685 – the same year as Bach, Handel and Scarlatti. The sonatas by Giustini are the first known compositions written for the fortepiano or pianoforte, which is what the early version of the piano was called.

Among Horszowski’s students were Murray Perahia, Eugene Istomin, Richard Goode and Cecile Licad. On Classic Mornings, I often play an exciting performance from the 1979 Marlboro Festival with Licad and Horszowski featured in a march for piano 4 hands by Beethoven. She was 18 at the time, he 87.

His last student was the Japanese pianist Rieko Aizawa. She, violinist Jesse Mills and cellist Raman Ramakrishnan formed the Horszowski Trio. The group is a fitting tribute to the late pianist who, in addition to performing as a recitalist and orchestral soloist, was an active chamber music player.

There aren’t many legendary classical musicians who have made it to age 100. I did a little search online and learned that Anton Coppola, conductor, composer and uncle of film director Francis Ford Coppola, turned 100 in March. In honor of the occasion, he conducted a concert presented by Opera Tampa in Florida. And Hungarian pianist Lívia Rév, who as of last year was reported to be living and teaching in Paris, will celebrate her 101st birthday on July 5th.

It’s funny that there are legendary composers, including some whose music was performed by Horszowsi, who didn’t make it beyond their 30s. Somehow that didn’t seem to stand in the way of their becoming almost immortal through their music. That music has been embraced by successive generations of performers and their students.

We look forward to hearing the young performers of today as well as those who have nurtured their artistry over many decades. There’s excitement in the youthful energy than some players manage to retain well into their careers.  And there’s a poetic gift that some performers seem to have been born with and which others acquire over the years.  In some wonderfully mysterious way, the music and the spirit of music-making keep classical music alive in our time.

Audiences do their part as well by entering into the creative process as listeners.  The most intimate listening is in concert and recital halls. But recordings have played their role, just as radio stations have over the decades.

Public radio stations like WILL-FM that broadcast classical music have introduced millions of people to countless musical works written over the course of several centuries.  That music is heard around the clock in performances by musicians of our time and of yesteryear. Radio listeners have responded most generously with their support of the ongoing broadcasts of that music. That’s why it’s still on the radio in central Illinois.

June 30th is the deadline for all of the money to be in the bank for next fiscal year’s classical music programs. If you haven’t had a chance to contribute, please call 217-244-9455 or log onto will.illinois.edu. Thanks to all of you for your support and for helping to keep the musical legends alive!


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