One day the great pianist Vladimir Horowitz goes to the racetrack and nearly loses his best friend.
The two pianists, Horowitz and Rubinstein, were the greatest of friends until that day. Vladimir Horowitz and Artur Rubinstein were at the height of their fame in the Paris of the 1930’s.
Rubinstein was already a huge international success when suddenly Horowitz took Europe by storm, wowing everyone who heard him.
Rubinstein was a little worried when he heard of the success of the new Russian master. There is a natural jealousy as well as camaraderie among pianists, and Horowitz’s reputation was building at an alarming rate to the established master Rubinstein.
Still, they became friends, close friends, in fact.
Often Horowitz would drop by Rubinstein’s Paris home, and Horowitz would play through new ideas for encores, a process which bored Rubinstein, who selected his encores spontaneously, not in advance like Horowitz.
Rubinstein began to detect a slight note of disdain as Horowitz’s fame grew to Biblical proportions. “Horowitz,” thought Rubinstein, “is the better pianist, but I am the better musician.”
And so a spirit of friendly but slightly tense rivalry sprang up between them.
Whenever Horowitz was in Paris, he would come to Rubinstein’s and enjoy his lavish hospitality. Rubinstein began to become annoyed that Horowitz never returned the favor by inviting him to dinner at his hotel, nor did Horowitz ever make more than a token gesture of reciprocal friendship.
But Rubinstein, ever the elegant aristocrat, never showed his displeasure, and continued to welcome Horowitz into his home both as a fellow artist and friend.
Finally the day came when Horowitz grandly invited Rubinstein and his wife to lunch at his hotel.
Rubinstein was flustered but happy, for here finally was the gesture of friendship and equality he had been looking for.
But the problem was that Rubinstein had a concert in Brussels the night before the lunch with Horowitz, and after the concert he had a dinner and ball.
Horowitz insisted that Rubinstein could make the lunch, if he left after the concert and didn’t go to the dinner and ball.
“You could take the night train and still make it. Please, Artur, you must come to lunch, please,” begged Horowitz.
Rubinstein, anxious not to offend the meteoric star, agreed, and so left Brussels right after the concert and rushed to take the night train to Paris.
Arriving exhausted at Paris at seven in the morning, Rubinstein and his wife rested for a few hours and then waited for Horowitz to call.
There was no call. Hours went by, and finally Rubinstein, very angry, called Horowitz.
Horowitz had forgotten about the lunch and had decided to go to the racetrack instead. Rubinstein was not amused when Horowitz refused to change his plans and offered them a snack of crackers and olives in his room.
Rubinstein wrote a nasty letter to Horowitz, slyly couched in the politest terms.
Later that day Rubinstein got a call from his manager, saying that Horowitz had called him to express his displeasure at the nasty note.
“Horowitz didn’t like your letter,” said Rubinstein’s manager.
And so the two great pianists became estranged, never to be friends as they had been in the golden days of Paris in the 1930’s.
And we’ll never know if Horowitz won at the track that day.
Copyright 2008 Walden Pond Press