Horowitz, Octaves, and the case of Chopin's Scherzo in B Minor
Owing to his extraordinary technique and magical use of tone colour, Vladimir Horowitz is widely considered one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century. If there was one thing he could do better than any other, it was octaves - he had a kind of mastery over the them. He would practise long passages of octaves extremely fast, to such an extant that biographer Henry Sachs suggested he may have been "the beneficiary - and perhaps also the victim - of an extraordinary central nervous system". Oscar Levant wrote that his octaves were "brilliant, accurate and etched out like bullets", eventually asking the pianist "whether he shipped them ahead or carried them with him on tour"!
Unlike the majority of modern pianists, Horowitz chose not to tie himself strictly to the notes on the page (most performers held the composer's text to be sacrosanct). Yet, spurred on by the praise of living composers with whose works he took liberties in performance, Horowitz found his own way to interpet and alter scores from the past.
And so, with an octave technique as flamboyantly brilliant as his own, how could he not be tempted to showcase it? Thus, in Chopin's Scherzo in B Minor it's not chromatic scales we hear in Horowitz's rendering, but a series of interlocking octaves. Listen for yourself on this superb recording of the man himself, aptly named Horowitz Interprets Chopin, playing a series of Chopin's great works from Mazurkas to Ballades.
Find out more about 20th century music here, or discover more keyboard works you might enjoy here. Alternatively, you might want to read all about Bach's love of a similar instrument, the organ, in our special article.