Horowitz, or the meaning of anticipation

For nearly two hours I watched Horowitz play on Arte Channel, in a documentary from 1985 (The Last Romantic) and then in a concert given in Vienna somewhat later. He played from memory, not a sheet in sight. All went well in the complex coordination between his 82-year-old brain and his magical hands, same age. The old man and the Steinway, catching Liszt, Schumann, Scriabin, a Mozart sonata, a Chopin mazurka.

Once again the maestro seemed to own sound as if it were his private property. What fascinated me most, though, were these smooth hands releasing the piano’s poetry and revealing every key’s colour. In the intimacy of his New York apartment I found the opportunity to observe the little finger of his right hand, closest to the camera. What I saw was anticipation. His entire body, his hands, his little finger, anticipated every note just about half a second before it was actually played. Look at the slight twitching in the little finger that already knows, up front, what next note it has to play. I could see it was a tiny bit nervous, in anticipation, or was it just eagerness?


The little finger, all alone, proved this was not an automaton playing: it had to prepare itself to perform its weighty task, again and again, and it knew it could fail, being human. Robots, surely able to play a piano as facile as any man – in the near future anyway – don’t have anticipating little fingers. Mr Horowitz said he detested perfection. I perfectly understood what he meant.