The death of Vladimir Horowitz in November at the age of eighty-five was more than the passing of one of the greatest pianists the world has yet known. In a way that can only become clearer as the years pass, it also seems the end of the era of the piano. For if Horowitz in his maturity was the king of the pianists, the piano for close on two centuries was the king of the instruments. We have known for some years that we no longer can say, with Walter Pater, that “all art aspires to the condition of music.” Horowitz’s death tells us that, with the collapse of a living musical tradition, the piano, too, as the prime medium for the communication of that tradition, is now yet another candidate for the museum of civilization.

As long as Horowitz lived, it was possible for many to be beguiled by the idea that the piano still lived. It was his gift to seem to occupy fully every musical...


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