State of the Art

Loosen those fingers and take a crack at Vladimir Horowitz’s piano

Vladimir Horowitz played his favorite Steinway up through the 1980s. Now you can, too.
Vladimir Horowitz played his favorite Steinway up through the 1980s. Now you can, too.

The last piano used by Vladimir Horowitz has come to town, and you can play it.

Of course, rippling the keys on Steinway and Sons’ Model D CD-503 no more makes you Horowitz than swinging Serena Williams’ racket would make you a tennis champion. But one can dream.

This news means more to readers of a certain age, as Horowitz died in 1989. When I typed the name “Vladimir” into Google, it suggested Komarov (a Soviet test pilot), Putin and Lenin. Poor Horowitz didn’t come up at all.

But classical music fans will remember him as one of the towering pianists of the 20th century, one whose technique outstripped virtually every rival’s. I have never been a huge fan, except when he explored neglected corners of the repertory (Clementi, Scriabin), or, in old age, rethought his takes on Mozart, Schumann and other masters.

My favorite collection of his is the set titled Horowitz: Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon. These come from the last decade of his life, when he mellowed and thought more deeply than before about beloved pieces. (A newer version, including his final public recital in Germany in 1987, has come out, but I haven’t heard it.)

He famously insisted that a piano tuned to produce exactly the sound he wanted go with him throughout his career. The CD-503, which has come to this region for a while, accompanied him through much of his performing life – and you can play it.

Steinway & Sons gave Horowitz and his wife, Wanda, a Steinway Model D as a wedding present in 1934. About a decade later, that piano was supplanted by CD 503 in their New York townhouse.

He used it in recitals and recordings in the 1970s and ’80s and insisted this piano go on tours – and be craned out of his Manhattan apartment and delivered to concert venues, regardless of distance or cost. (Hey, when you’re the man ....)

The 9-foot concert grand comes here under the auspices of Steinway Piano Gallery-Charlotte. Its tour ends with the 30th anniversary of Horowitz’s triumphant 1986 return to Moscow, where he had not played for six decades. (That concert’s in both DG boxes mentioned above.)

The piano has already gone to WDAV-FM for a three-day stop and WCCB-TV for a “perform-a-thon” by local music students to benefit Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte. Here’s the rest of its itinerary:

It lands at Queens University Thursday for a free faculty recital at 7 p.m., then stays for a Ronald McDonald House “perform-a-thon” through Sunday.

On Oct. 1, Duke Mansion will showcase the piano as part of a private celebration welcoming the new president of Wingate University. David Books will perform a piece from Vladimir Horowitz’s historic 1986 Moscow concert.

The piano will move on Oct. 3-4 to Winthrop University, which is also welcoming a new president. On Oct. 3, the public will be offered the opportunity to play the piano. (Donations to Ronald McDonald House Charlotte are requested but not required). On Oct. 4, Matthew Manwarren will play a free public concert at 4 p.m. in Byrnes Auditorium.

On Oct. 5, the Horowitz piano will return to Steinway Piano Gallery-Charlotte. The public is again invited to schedule time to play; a donation to Charlotte’s Ronald McDonald House is requested but not required.

To learn more about the Horowitz piano’s Charlotte tour or to schedule playing time, call (704) 817-2877 or visit And try to dust off a little Beethoven or Chopin before then; unless you’re Jerry Lee Lewis, “Great Balls of Fire” is inappropriate.

Toppman: 704-358-5232