Tuesday, May 31, 2005


This poem in the current issue of crazyhorse caught my attention, in part because I am classically trained in piano. When one watches an extraordinary painist, it does seem as if he has magic in his hands.

Schumann by Horowitz
translated by Alexis Levitin

They are a peasant legacy, the hands
These little hands, generation
after generation, come from far away:
they mixed mortar, opened trembling
furrows in the black earth, sowed seed
and harvested, milked goats,
grabbed hold of pitchforks to clean out
stalls: from sun to sun no
work was alien tho them.
Now this is how they are: fragile, delicate,
born to give body to sounds
which, in other epochs, other hands
perservered in writing as if
writing life itself.
Seeing them, no one would say
the earth flows in their blood.
They are aged hands, but on the keyboard
they are capable of the unbelievable: joining
in the same measure the murmur
of September woods and the laughter
of children on their way to the sea.

Eugenio de Andrade

(no. 67, Spring 2005: p. 17).

A little background:Vladimir Horowitz was born in the Ukraine and found success a concert pianist under communist rule. During a tour of the United States in 1928, he defected, and later became a citizen.

I don't know much about his ancestry, but I assume the poem refers to a family tree of hard-working peasants, and how their struggle and labor still flow through his hands, even as he plays.

1 comment:

Gilbert Koh said...

Horowitz was a famous chessplayer too, and this is saying something, because to be a famous chessplayer in the USSR of those days necessarily means that he would have attained world-class standards on the chessboard.

In the chess world, he is probably best-remembered today for writing an encyclopaedia on chess openings.

But even that is a fading memory, as nowadays, electronic chess databases on CD-ROMs make a mockery of the chess opening encyclopaedias of long ago.

By the way, there were more than a few Russians who were talented chessplayers as well as pianists. One other example is Mark Taimanov, most famous today for having been crushed 6-0 by American Bobby Fischer. After winning that qualifying match, Fischer went to the World Championship, beating Boris Spassky in 1972 to become the world champion.