In 1965, twelve years after his last stage appearance, virtuoso pianist Vladimir Horowitz felt again the urge to “communicate directly” with the audience. He decided to perform at Carnegie Hall.

The sixty-one-year-old Horowitz worried about being physically up to resuming his concert career and feared that his memory would fail him during a performance. He selected a new Steinway, had it delivered to the hall, and practiced for a couple of months without committing himself to scheduling a concert. Finally he settled on Sunday, May 9.

He worried that not many young people would come to the recital, and he insisted that plenty of $3 student tickets be made available. He was astonished to hear that hundreds of people, many of them young music students, had waited four abreast through a cold rainy night to buy tickets. He arranged for the entire crowd to have coffee and received a grateful telegram from a hundred of them.

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Horowitz chose a tough program–Robert Schumann’s Fantasie in C and Alexander Scriabin’s Ninth Sonata, plus the Bach-BusoniToccata and Fugue in C, with short pieces by Chopin, Debussy, and Schumann for encores. In his bedroom he practiced bowing. As the day for the recital approached, he diverted himself with mundane details. He chose a formal cutaway jacket with handkerchief, black pants with faint white stripes, white shirt, gray vest, and silk tie.

He walked onstage to a standing ovation and shrugged with upturned hands as if to say, “I haven’t even played yet.” In an emotional whirlwind, he played the Bach-Busoni piece too fast and hit wrong notes. Sweat in his eye made him miss notes in the Schumann. During the Scriabin he aimed for grandeur and lyricism rather than speed, and by the end of the encores the response was deafening. The audience refused to leave until the stage lights were dimmed and the piano lid closed.

“I don’t know what to call it,” Vladimir Horowitz told a friend. “Resurrection, I think, is all right….”

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