Skip to main content
Piano Concerti

Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, op. 58, Mieczysław Horszowski piano, (c) Alexander Schneider

By July 2, 2022March 19th, 2023No Comments

This is my favorite pianist, conducted by Alexander Schneider of Marlboro Music fame during the Pablo Casals Festive in Puerto Rico. The recording is live from 1958. I hope that you enjoy it.

The public premiere of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto on December 22, 1808 was inauspicious. It was part of a four-hour-long marathon concert which took place at the unheated Theater an der Wien during a particularly frigid cold snap in Vienna. The under-rehearsed program included the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, the concert aria, Ah! perfido, excerpts from the Mass in C Major, and the Choral Fantasy, which fell apart and had to be restarted. Regarding the concert, the German music commentator Johann Friedrich Reichardt wrote, “There we sat, in the most bitter cold, from half past six until half past ten, and confirmed for ourselves the maxim that one may easily have too much of a good thing, still more of a powerful one.” Although a May, 1809 review called it “the most admirable, singular, artistic and complex Beethoven concerto ever,” the Fourth Concerto suffered neglect until 1836 when it was championed by Felix Mendelssohn.

Mieczyslaw Horszowski

Horszowski made his debut as a child prodigy, playing a Beethoven concerto in Warsaw in 1901, and continued giving concerts and making recordings until 1992. He was not so famous as Arthur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz or other elder statesmen of the keyboard in the late 20th century. But he always had a strong cult following, and toward the end of his life, his reputation and audience blossomed anew as a younger generation discovered him through a recent series of recordings that reveal his special mastery of the works of Chopin, Mozart, Schubert, Debussy and Bach.

He was also greatly esteemed by his colleagues. He was a frequent chamber-music partner of the cellist Pablo Casals. He first performed with Arturo Toscanini in 1906 and continued appearing with him until 1953. When he was seeking an American foothold at the start of World War II, Rudolf Serkin invited him to join the faculty of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Throughout his career, he gave recitals with the violinists Joseph Szigeti and Alexander Schneider, the cellist Janos Starker and the tenor Askel Schiotz. And he outlived them all, winning a place in the musical record books for the span of his career.

Horszowski was born on June 23, 1892, in Lvov, Poland (now in Ukraine). His father owned a piano shop, and his mother was an amateur pianist who had studied with Karl Mikuli, a pupil of Chopin. He began to pick out melodies at the piano when he was 3 years old, and by the time he was 5, he was playing the Bach Inventions by memory and composing works of his own.

In 1899 he began his formal studies with Theodor Leschetizky, a legendary virtuoso whose students included Ignace Paderewski, Artur Schnabel, Benno Moiseiwitsch, Ignaz Friedman and other great pianists who flourished in the first half of the 20th century. By 1903 Horszowski, then 11, was touring Europe and making an impression on some of the great musicians of the day. Around this time, he became friendly with Casals, Rubinstein and the violinist Jacques Thibaud, and he performed for the composers Ravel and Faure.

In 1906, after touring Europe and South America, the 14-year-old pianist made his New York debut. He was known, at the time, for his interpretations of Romantic composers like Tchaikovsky and Grieg. A dozen years later, he changed his emphasis to the music of Ravel, Debussy and the French Impressionists, and after World War II he drifted toward Chopin, Mozart and Beethoven.

Horszowski dropped out of the performing world for seven years starting in 1911. At the time, he announced that he wanted to continue his studies, not only in music but in Greek, Latin and other academic fields. He settled in Paris until the end of World War I, and then in Milan, where he resumed performing.

At the start of World War II, Horszowski came to the United States by way of Brazil. He eventually settled in Philadelphia, where he joined the faculty of the Curtis Institute. Among his more distinguished students were Seymour Lipkin, Anton Kuerti, Peter Serkin, Murray Perahia and Richard Goode.

Horszowski performed widely from the 1940’s on, and he undertook a few marathon projects. In the 1954-55 season, for example, he played all of Beethoven’s solo piano works in 12 recitals. In 1960 he played all the Mozart sonatas in four concerts.

Contemporary music was also part of his repertory, though not a large part of it. In the 1920s, he gave the first New York performances of works by Honegger, d’Indy, Stravinsky and Szymanowski. Even as late as 1975, in a concert celebrating (slightly early) the 75th anniversary of his debut, he gave the New York premiere of a set of Bagatelles by the Finnish composer Joonas Kokkonen. And unlike most pianists of his generation, he experimented, though gingerly, with the fortepiano. In 1983, he played part of a recital at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on an 18th-century Cristofori fortepiano.

From the 1940’s through the early 1970’s, Horszowski collaborated with other musicians nearly as much as he performed as a soloist. He was a regular visitor to the Casals festivals in the village of Prades, France, and in San Juan, P.R., and he performed with Casals at the United Nations in 1958 and in a televised concert at the White House in 1961. His collaborative performances were often as impressive as his solo recitals. When he accompanied the Polish bass Doda Conrad in Schubert’s “Winterreise” in 1942, for example, he played the lengthy, detailed cycle from memory.

Horszowski’s memory was one of the secrets of his longevity. In the 1980s, when he began to lose his eyesight, he drew on the enormous repertory he had memorized over the years in preparing for his recitals and recordings. He also relied on his wife, Bice Costa, a pianist whom he married in 1981, who helped him practice by dictating the notes when he was unsure. He married only once, at the age of 89.

Listening to even his very last recordings, one would not have had the impression that he was ever unsure about anything. Among his finest recordings are a set devoted to the first book of Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier,” released by Vanguard in 1981, and a series of mixed recitals recorded by Nonesuch in the late 1980s and early 1990s. A collection of superb live recordings, recorded from 1958 to 1983, was released in 1992 by Pearl Records.

In recording the Nonesuch series, and in presenting his final recitals, Mr. Horszowski rarely provided a program in advance, but instead played the works that moved him at the moment. The result was the kind of pure, unforced musical expression that gave the impression that the music was being improvised on the spot.

Rudolf Serkin, a Marlboro founder and its guiding spirit for four decades, often said that Marlboro was based upon a spirit of generosity. That spirit remains at the heart of our community. This is the first in an ongoing series of profiles focusing on some of the legendary figures who helped to establish that spirit—true originals who inspired and influenced generations of young musicians with their musical insights and humanity. Through their performances, photographs, biographies, and the recollections of past participants and others, we hope to bring to life a sense of their substantial contributions to Marlboro and music, for which we are ever grateful.

Alexander “Sasha” Schneider was a force of nature, a larger than life figure who had a passion for music and life matched only by his love of food and members of the opposite sex. For those who favored a gentle manner and refined music-making, Sasha was not their cup of tea. But he attracted enthusiastic and devoted audiences, and he was a major influence on generations of musicians, especially string players. Sasha felt it an honor to be a musician: that one should give one’s all at every rehearsal and performance, should play with warmth and from the heart, and should make music come alive.

In his time at Marlboro between the years of 1956 and 1991, Sasha did just that. He was “the godfather” of the Guarneri Quartet, whose formation at Marlboro he encouraged in 1964. And in his series at The New School in Greenwich Village, he presented the New York debuts of Peter Serkin; the Guarneri, Cleveland, and Vermeer Quartets; TASHI; and many other artists with whom he had collaborated in Vermont. At Marlboro, from the second violin chair in chamber music to the podium of small orchestral works, he brought vivid colors and a spitfire temperament that opened new vistas and inspired his young colleagues. As the most recent Groves Dictionary of Music & Musicians described him, Sasha was “one of the most unquenchably energetic figures in the public musical life of the USA.” His full Marlboro performance history can be found here, alongside those of every past Marlboro participant, which can be easily searched for by name, year, and instrument.

Sasha also brought Pablo Casals out of self-imposed exile from Franco’s Spain by starting the Casals Festivals in Prades and, later, in Puerto Rico. He shared the musical lessons that he learned from the great cellist and conductor, and he helped bring Casals to Marlboro in 1960—the first of 13 inspirational summers that Casals would spend in Vermont. Sasha was well-known as a member of the legendary Budapest Quartet. Yet it was his Schneider Quartet that was the first ensemble to record all the string quartets of Haydn (the remarkable performances of which were recently re-released by the Haydn Society), and he formed a number of other notable ensembles. For 24 years, he opened new musical worlds for some of the country’s most gifted 16-23 year-old musicians during the acclaimed 10-day Christmas-time New York String Orchestra Seminar and Carnegie Hall Concerts, which continue to this day under the direction of Jaime Laredo.

Sasha Schneider’s influence will live on through his legendary recordings, through the many notable musicians he mentored and inspired at Marlboro and elsewhere, and through generations of their students.


For background on the Casals Festival in Puerto Rico, please see the following website: