Writings about Music

Phantom Puppet Poetry: Vladimir's Vicissitudes

Vladimir Horowitz performing Sonata in B Minor K. 87 for harpsichord by Domenico Scarlatti

Watching him play conjures an Indonesian puppet master choreographing masterful mazes of adventure or a phenomenal ventriloquist controlling an ingeniously designed "dummy". Other comparisons sprung to mind are a prodigious, benevolent warlock mixing and stirring magical potions in a golden pot or Bobby Fischer visualizing kaleidoscopically animated chess variations in his head. Regardless, what poetry! The musical tone colors melt and metamorphosize into splinterings and joint cohesions in tune with his percolating gatra (human body) chemistry. Under his watchful gaze, Vladimir Horowitz's ten fingers till the pianistic soil, plant seeds, and expertly water and tend while yielding superior produce for potent sensory and intellectual nourishment.

Learning of his Ukrainian Russian Jewish bloodline like myself, I recognized immediately how the thunderous and subtle sides of Vladimir’s playing are equally matched. One without the other wouldn't do. How refreshing and inspiring Horowitz (originally Gorowitz, which is a more accurate name suggesting his earthiness) possessing a technique allowing for total abandonment and uninhibited unleashing of sound when called for. (I'm lucky to be here after riding a bicycle over fifty miles an hour down winding Canadian Rockies highways while a teenager.)

How fortunate I was to catch Vladimir playing the Sonata in B Minor K. 87 originally for harpsichord by Domenico Scarlatti on the radio while driving up Haleakala in Maui! The music sounded much like Ludwig van Beethoven, yet I was unable to place the specific sonata.

After learning it was Scarlatti rendered by Horowitz from the announcer, and exiting my car back home, I went online to learn about this magical pairing. What a revelation to read how Beethoven idolized and emulated Scarlatti's keyboard music, furthering the Italian composer's innovations within the expanding prism of his own evolving inclinations.

And Scarlatti lived much of his life in Spain, absorbing influences from that musical culture including elements of Spain's Muslim history. More specifically, one hears charged rhythmic figures derived from nature and dance presented with an infectious humor and storming percussive blasts alternated with mercurial filigree first appearing in Scarlatti and assimilated and expanded upon conceptually by Beethoven.

Up to now, I wrongfully thought these characteristics were invented by the bacchus from Bonn. Thank you, Vladimir, for your arching musical vision illuminating this historically central combination of Italian, Spanish and German cultures with agelessly ever-powerful resonation.

Even more, given how I also learned recently of Johann Sebastian Bach's devotion to Antonio Vivaldi, going so far as to copy entire scores by hand, the influence of Italian composers on the Germanic tradition of classical music presents itself as more indispensable than ever.

Not only that, I find myself taking at least equal pleasure in listening to Vivaldi and Scarlatti compared to German composers. There exists in those Italian composers' music the thrill of discovery and a certain airy purity emanating from this more southern region fed by a superior cuisine.

- Michael Robinson, June 2016, Kula, Maui


© 2016 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer, programmer, pianist and musicologist. His 199 albums include 152 albums for meruvina and 47 albums of piano improvisations. Robinson has been a lecturer at UCLA, Bard College and California State University Long Beach and Dominguez Hills.