Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Vladimir Horowitz

UPDATED POST (original version published on Nov. 12, 2011):

Ukranian-born pianist Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989) was a twentieth-century pianist who embodied the grand piano style of the late nineteenth century. His legendary technique and artistry remain a source of inspiration for generations of pianists and listeners.

His solo career began in the Soviet Union, where he quickly established himself as a bravura performer possessed of an astonishing technique. He was allowed to leave Russia in 1925 as part of a mission to propagate Soviet culture abroad. However, he decided not to return and accepted the honorary citizenship of Haiti in 1929, in order to facilitate international travel. In 1945 he became a citizen of the United States.

During his early performing years Horowitz developed a reputation as an eccentric who dressed in lurid, extravagant clothing (mostly in pink and red) and hung out in sailors' bars in port cities, often seen wearing make-up. His homosexual activities fed the gossip and rumor mills.

Kenneth Leedom, who still lives in lower Manhattan, relates that long ago he answered Horowitz’s newspaper ad for a personal assistant and became his lover for five years, although Horowitz was married at the time. Leedom recalls that Horowitz had an uncontrollable temper, often yanking a corner of a tablecloth so that everything on the table crashed to the floor. Emphasis on OFTEN. In spite of frequent tantrums, Leedham said that Horowitz also had a sweet, lovable side. “He really adored me.”

Horowitz's same-sex interests at this time were no secret to his friends. In Berlin, he hired the first of these live-in “personal assistants”, who would accompany him in all his travels, both business and personal. He kept up this practice after his marriage, and his wife tolerated it. In 1933, Horowitz had performed for the first time with legendary conductor Arturo Toscanini, and he soon thereafter married Toscanini's daughter, Wanda. Because of his strong sexual interest in men, friends expected the marriage to last no more than a month. The couple went on to have a daughter, but Horowitz found himself temperamentally unsuited for the role of father.

In 1940, Horowitz began psychoanalytic treatment with Dr. Lawrence Kubie, a psychiatrist who specialized in "curing" homosexuals, especially celebrities. Among Kubie’s other patients were Moss Hart and Tennessee Williams. Horowitz separated from his wife in 1949 after failing to change his sexual orientation and underwent electroshock therapy to cure depression.

Later in life Horowitz was seen in New York City's gay bars and discotheques, where he displayed a more relaxed attitude toward his homosexuality. Eventually reunited with her husband, Wanda learned to tolerate and accept his eccentricities, including his sexual attraction to men.

Horowitz's legacy is preserved through his outstanding recordings. Although Horowitz was a leading interpreter of Liszt, Schumann, and Rachmaninov, he was an insecure performer who often suffered debilitating episodes of stage fright. On many occasions he had to be literally pushed onto the stage. He was a major promoter of music by composers relatively unknown in the United States at the time: Prokofiev, Szymanowski, Scriabin, Kabalevski, Scarlatti and Clementi (example below). As well, he championed American gay composer Samuel Barber.

In 1986, Ronald Reagan awarded Horowitz the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the United States. Three years later he died of a heart attack.

Note: I remember stumbling upon his grave quite by accident in Milan, Italy, about ten years ago. I was looking for the family crypt of Arturo Toscanini in the enormous Cimitero Monumentale. When peering through the metal gates of the crypt, I noticed the gilded carved letters that indicated Horowitz was buried in the tomb of his father in law, alongside wife Wanda and daughter Sonia.

Horowitz was a great promoter of the piano sonatas of Muzio Clementi (1752-1832), at a time when Clementi was considered passé. Here Horowitz performs a movement from Clementi’s Op. 25, No. 5:


  1. I was writing about Toscanini and knew he had a daughter Wanda, but it didn't occur to me to ask who Wanda married. So now I am noting two new facts. a] In 1933, Horowitz had performed for the first time with the legendary Arturo Toscanini, and b] they were all buried in the one Cimitero Monumentale crypt. Perfect!

    Thanks for the link

  2. Horowitz turned me on to classical music in a new way..I think he was/is great

  3. Horowitz earned his reputation as a bravura performer, but his touch on the keyboard was like no one else's. I enjoy his more introspective recordings most -- they truly are extraordinary. They called him the last romantic -- the last in a long line of great pianists with a line of instruction tracing back to Liszt, Brahms, and Beethoven. We'll not see the likes of him again.

  4. I first saw Horowitz live in New York City playing the Tchaikovsky piano concerto #1. It was 1968. I was 19 years old and a few days from entering the army. I was probably the only non-hippie teenager in NYC!

  5. Horowitz was the greatest! I grew up listening to the recording of his 1965 concert at Carnegie Hall, then heard him live twice in New York while I was a graduate student at Juilliard. He was sitting in the box next to mine at an Alicia de Larrocha concert at Fisher Hall, and I was able to shake his hand. It was one of the highlights of my life.

  6. So interesting to read all these comments about such a wonderful pianist.