The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music review: How good is Horowitz’ Mozart? | September 19, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

I was talking the other day with The Piano Teacher.

The subject was Mozart’s piano sonatas. I was trying to figure out which one I should learn to play. They’re good, most of them, but not as good or as appealing to me as the piano concertos.

They always feel treble heavy and bass light to me – except for the great C minor Sonata – and kind of tossed off by the supremely gifted and overly prolific Mozart (below).

We also talked about who plays the sonatas well.

Yes, of course there is Alfred Brendel, who adds improvisations and variations. Mitsuko Uchida and Andras Schiff also come to mind. I also like Ingrid Haebler, who recordings are unfortunately hard to find and should be reissued.

And then The Piano Teacher said: “And don’t forget Horowitz. People underestimate his Mozart.”

It gave me a start. After all, The Piano Teacher can be quite fussy about his likes and dislikes when it comes to interpretations of Classical repertoire.

A lot of critics have accused Vladimir Horowitz (below) of being much too Romantic and eccentric or uneven is his approach to Mozart. They say he used too much pedal, too much rubato, too much flexibility in his tempi, too many accents and too much loudness or variations in dynamics.

Always it’s too much of this or too much of that. But then Horowitz was like that. Too much.

“But,” continued The Piano Teacher, “I like Horowitz’ Mozart. He completely gets the opera thing.”

By which he meant that Horowitz knew how to make Mozart’s lines sing like an aria out of the opera, and he also knew how to play up the kind of drama you expect from a Mozart opera – and Mozart’s operas are the key to all his work.

You could even argue that the prominence Horowitz often gives the left hand makes his keyboard Mozart like a vocal duet.

So I listened to some of Horowitz’ Mozart again over the past few days.

Horowitz (below, at his last concert, in Hamburg) turned to Mozart late in his long life, after he spent most of his years exploring the great Romantic repertoire along with some “moderns” like Prokofiev.

He also played and recorded the Sonata in C Major, K. 330 at the famous Moscow recital. He also included the Sonata in B flat, K. 333, and the early Sonata in B-Flat major, K. 281. He also recorded two rondos, a late adagio and the Concerto in A major, K. 488.

It was, I believe, Horowitz who once quipped you should play Chopin like Mozart and Mozart like Chopin – by which I think he meant that Chopin needs to be clear, not overpedalled, and that Mozart needs some flesh and blood in order not to be pristine or brittle.

And to be fair, Horowitz doesn’t play what I call “music box Mozart. ”I tend to like his full-bodied approach, though I also think he at times overdoes it.

But all in all, Horowitz treats Mozart as an important and beautiful composer, not just a charming composer.

So in the end I find myself agreeing with The Piano Teacher.

Here’s an example — and there are plenty more on YouTube. See what you think:

Now, the only question is which sonata should I play?

Anyway, what do you think of Horowitz’ recordings of Mozart?

Do you like his approach?

Why or why not?

What are your favorite Horowitz performances or recordings of Mozart pieces?

And what is your favorite Mozart piano sonata to listen to?

To play?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music


  1. Im thankful for the post.Thanks Again. Much obliged.

    Comment by site here — October 23, 2020 @ 4:20 pm

  2. Let us not forget Glenn Gould. You have to listen with an open mind. A few are very oddd and hard to understand, but in many he penetrates and realizes Mozart’s intentions in a manner that makes Uchida’s efforts seem incredibly shallow and misconceived.

    Comment by World of Piano — February 9, 2015 @ 12:14 pm

  3. I enjoy Friedrich Gulda’s Mozart Sonatas.
    Coming from Jazz, I find this reasonable.
    Chopin and Mozart are my thing.
    This site is pure gold and precious.
    Trying to get Horowitz’s style now.

    Comment by ricardomenacuevas — January 13, 2015 @ 4:40 pm

  4. I have yet to find any other performer who can breathe life into a Mozart piano sonata in any way approaching what Horowitz was able to do. He found magic in every note. I try to reproduce his sound when I play them, but the magic is deeply elusive. (I have even played them on Horowitz’s own piano, but could still not approach the spectrum of color he brought out.) One thing I always notice about his playing: whereas most major pianists seem to find maybe 10-15 distinct levels of intensity in a piano, Horowitz seems to master 100 gradations, and we can hear them all. It’s like the difference between a grainy low-res photo and a crystal clear 18 megapixel musical portrait where we listeners are let in on the secret of every tiny nuance.

    Comment by Mark Ring — October 11, 2013 @ 10:18 am

  5. Horowitz’s recordings of Mozart’s sonatas are in a class of their own. Wonderful. Shame he recorded so few. I do not like many of Uchida’s recordings. She makes the melodic lines sound like collections of single notes.

    Comment by Tom — February 27, 2013 @ 9:45 am

    • I think I have found at least 8-9 of the Mozart sonatas recorded. This is an example of a record with many of them:

      (discovered it myself just a few weeks ago)

      Comment by Gunnar Cedersund — March 15, 2013 @ 3:13 pm

  6. I totally agree with what you write: Horowitz’ Mozart interpretations are often undervalued. I, personally, don’t really listen to any other interpreter of the Mozart sonatas (if not played with a really refined technique and a mezmerising personality the sonatas easily become dry and almost boring – in the right hands they are simply magical. I also make your intepretation of the Chopin/Mozart comment). Here is a blog post I wrote about this, including a ping-back.

    Comment by Gunnar Cedersund — February 17, 2013 @ 7:04 am

  7. Too bad Horowitz recorded one Concerto only.

    By the way, the mozart/chopin quote is from Pau Casals.
    In the break between first and second movement, during the recording session of the Concerto (you can find the marvelous footage on the net) Horowitz quoted Casals, answering all the questions on his interpretation of Mozart in few words.

    Comment by Egildo Tagliareni — March 26, 2012 @ 8:54 am

  8. I totally agree with your piano teacher re: Horowitz’s Mozart and how he made them sound like aria from an opera. He really gave Mozart’s sonatas character and life. I think that’s how Mozart would want his sonatas played (if he had pedals back then).
    It’s hard to pick one, but my favourite Mozart sonata is probably KV 332 in F major.

    Comment by isabelle — January 19, 2011 @ 3:08 am

  9. […] is the original: Classical music review: How good is Horowitz' Mozart? « The Well … Posted in 19, Classical Tags: Classical, classical music, facebook, horowitz, Keyboard, Mozart, […]

    Pingback by Classical music review: How good is Horowitz' Mozart? « The Well … | Download MP3 whit — September 19, 2010 @ 6:03 am

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