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The Screws for Horowitz’s Piano

Consistent Genius

Among the more unusual items in Carnegie Hall’s Archives is one related to pianist Vladimir Horowitz’s performances. Gino Francesconi, director of the Hall’s Archives and Rose Museum, 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 drive three screws into the stage to mark where the three different legs of the piano would go. Horowitz would arrive, and he would say the same thing: ‘No, I’m not happy with it there,’ and the stagehands would move the piano around the stage until he said, ‘Yes, I’m happy with it here.’ It always ended up positioned directly alongside the three screws.

“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 screws!’ So I yelled, ‘Save those screws!’ And they did. One of the screws 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 those nails.”

Longevity

Over a period of almost six decades, Horowitz appeared at Carnegie Hall nearly 100 times. He made his Hall debut on January 12, 1928—a mere 40 years after the Hall opened—with Sir Thomas Beecham and the New York Philharmonic (one of three concerts in four days), and appeared here for the final time on December 15, 1986, as part of the Hall’s gala reopening following an extensive renovation. (Other artists who performed at the gala included Leonard Bernstein, Yo-Yo Ma, Marilyn Horne, and Frank Sinatra.)

Brief archival clip of Vladimir Horowitz performing at the reopening of Carnegie Hall in December 1986.

The Comeback

On February 25, 1953, Horowitz performed a recital that included works by Brahms, Liszt, Scriabin, and Debussy. After he left the stage, he began an unannounced retirement from live performance. While he continued to release recordings, he did not perform again in public for 12 years. His return took place at Carnegie Hall on May 9, 1965; the news made the front page of The New York Times. As these were the days before telephone and online booking, people lined up around the block, from the Box Office on 57th Street around the corner 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.

Listen to a live recording of Horowitz’s Carnegie Hall concert on May 9, 1965.

Photography: Screw on the stage of Carnegie Hall by Richard Termine; all other images courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.