“I can’t even begin to tell you the amount of tears being shed over this thing,” said Justin Levitt, the manager of the Walnut Creek Steinway store.
He was referring to the Steinway Grand piano that sat in the center of the showroom floor, its gloss long gone in contrast to the gleaming new models that surrounded it. But this particular piano had bona fides the others will never have—it belonged to one of the last century’s greatest pianists, Vladimir Horowitz.
Born in Russia in 1903, he became a U.S. citizen in 1944. By the time of his death in 1989, Horowitz had achieved a level of adoration afforded very few classical musicians of any era. Thanks to radio and television, his talents reached far more audiences than they would have in previous eras.
So when the president of Steinway sent an email to Levitt, telling him that the Horowitz Steinway was going on tour, Levitt arranged for a concert and lecture on the instrument at the Lafayette Library. The piano was also made available for the public to play. After that, it found its way onto the showroom of the Walnut Creek Steinway store. It was there Horowitz fans came to pay their respects, to stand in awe of a combination of wood, metal and ivory from which a genius had teased the musings of immortality.
“It’s crazy how much this piano moves and means to so many people,” Levitt said last week, during the final days of its Walnut Creek visit. “We had 100 people in here in the past 10 days.”
Horowitz did a lot of his 1970s and 1980s recordings with that particular Steinway, and he also toured with it. That was quite a feat, and unusual, because the mechanics of moving a piano of that size, weight and precision can be daunting. But the pianist toured with a technician, Franz Mohr, who was charged with keeping the instrument in top form at all times.
Love and emotion
“A lot of love and emotion got put into that piano,” Levitt said. “It was maintained at the highest level, and it was kept and loved by the greatest pianist of the Twentieth Century.”
And the love was returned; people came from near and far to pay their respects, and to play the beloved instrument.
“We had to go to Costco to buy Kleenex,” Levitt said. “People just wept when they saw it. One woman remembered seeing him as a young girl. She said it was the best concert she had ever seen, and went home, closed the lid of her piano, and told her mother she was never going to play again.”
This reporter, a meager, self-taught, stumble-fingered piano player by any standard, was invited to play the mighty instrument. I was initially appalled at the thought of diluting the majesty those keys had hosted. Levitt kindly insisted. I sat gazing at a landscape of white and black ivory that had once invited genius to roam there. I tentatively tinkled out a few chords, and was awed at the sound of the instrument, the depth of its voice and the ease of its action. It was indeed a special instrument, a piano for the ages, alive with the voice of its former owner, extending his brilliance into generations to come, holding his precious voice deep within its wood and wires.