The Music Column

Dance With the Devil in the Pale Moonlight

There was a notable convergence some decades ago, one that was noticed musically as two separate and distinct phenomena, but not as a convergence—or even as a conspiracy, or a rivalry.  I never heard or saw any acknowledgment that two of the foremost instrumentalists in the world were fiddling around pretty much at the same time, with the same piece—one of them literally, the other not.  But how could the convergence be coincidental, when the two had been friends for about 60 years?

The pianist, Vladimir Horowitz (1903-89), and the violinist, Nathan Milstein (1903-92), were both from what is now Ukraine, and they met when they were young—as the latter put it, in 1921, “I came for tea and stayed for three years.”  In those early days, they were close friends and musical collaborators as a duo and even as a trio with the then-young master cellist Gregor Piatigorsky.

There were, after the Great War and the Russian Revolution, many reasons to go West, and Horowitz and Milstein (and Piatigorsky) did; Milstein had homes in London and Paris, and Horowitz in New York and Connecticut, as the years went by.  The time was past for much collaboration except for a recording of the Brahms third sonata for violin and piano (Op. 108), but later on these two men wound up both fiddling with the same piece at pretty much the same time.  And it was some fiddling that they did!  But...

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