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Horowitz’s Nails

Consistent Genius

One of the most unusual items in Carnegie Hall's Archives is related to Vladimir Horowitz's performances. Gino Francesconi—Archives and Rose Museum Director—recalls, "When Horowitz would come, he would bring his own Steinway piano from home. Every time, he would have the stagehands move the piano around the stage to achieve the best sound. The stagehands noticed that every time he said, 'I'm happy where it is,' it was pretty much in the same spot. So one of the stagehands decided to put three nails into the stage to mark where the three different legs of the piano would be. Horowitz would arrive, and he would do the same thing: 'No, I'm not happy with it here,' and have the stagehands move the piano around the stage until he said, 'Yes, I'm happy with it here.' It was always over the nails."

"Periodically at Carnegie Hall, we have the stage floor redone, and I was watching them removing the stage floor one particular time when I realized, 'Oh my goodness, they're taking up the Horowitz nails!' So I yelled, 'Save those nails!' And they did. One of the nails is in the museum on display. It just shows how remarkably precise he was. Every time he was satisfied with the movement of the piano, it was almost always over these nails."


Horowitz made his Carnegie Hall debut on January 12, 1928 (one of three concerts in four days), with Sir Thomas Beecham and the New York Philharmonic—less than 40 years after the Hall opened—and appeared here for the final time on December 15, 1986, as part of the gala reopening of Carnegie Hall after its extensive renovation. The bill for that gala included Leonard Bernstein, Yo-Yo Ma, Marilyn Horne, and Frank Sinatra. Over the period of almost six decades, Horowitz appeared at the Hall almost 100 times.

The Comeback

On February 25, 1953, Horowitz performed a program that included Brahms, Liszt, Scriabin, and Debussy. When he left the stage, it was to begin a previously unannounced retirement from live performance. While he continued to release recordings, he stayed off the stage for 12 years.

His return to live performance took place on May 9, 1965, at Carnegie Hall, and the news made the front page of The New York Times. In the days before telephone and online booking, people lined up around the block from the Box Office on 57th Street right up to the stage door on 56th Street. Horowitz was back!

The great pianist went on to perform more than a dozen more concerts at Carnegie Hall through 1978, before returning once more after an eight-year hiatus to help celebrate the successful renovation of the Hall he had graced for nearly 60 years.