Was Vladimir Horowitz gay

Vladimir Horowitz had a piano student who was also his lover

It is a love affair at a time when there was no room for such relationships. Lea Singer turns a true story into a novel.

The line between life and death is narrow, and in this case it is no wider than the groove on a vinyl record. Reto Donati returns to the living with the music of Robert Schumann's "Träumerei", while at the door of his villa the euthanasia association "Ars M." rings. It shouldn't die as long as there is something as beautiful as music. Nor should it die because it still needs this Reto Donati for a whole novel.

Lea Singer's “The Piano Student” is a book that tells of music and death with empathetic devotion. By famous and less famous. What begins in hell with depression gradually leads to the lofty heights of great minds. The lawyer and diplomat Reto Donati flees his posh villa on the right bank of Lake Zurich with a new zest for life. He throws himself into the nightlife and hears a pianist in a bar who is actually much too good to play here.

In fact, at this point the novel transcends fiction towards reality. It's the eighties and the pianist's name is Nico Kaufmann. Born in 1916 and died in 1996, this by no means invented Nico Kaufmann has lived through a dazzling biography. He was a composer and before that he was also a piano student and lover of Vladimir Horowitz. Most of the letters between the two are still unknown.

Lea Singer is particularly familiar with this correspondence. In her middle-class profession, she writes non-fiction books under the name Eva Gesine Bauer, preferably about musical celebrities. The fiction of “Der Klavierschüler” is just a kind of framework for a story that is novel-like enough. While Nico Kaufmann and the fictional Reto Donati become friends, stroll through Zurich or drive to Lucerne, Kaufmann tells the story of his love for Horowitz.

It is the story of a search for freedom under the most adverse circumstances. It is the thirties, Vladimir Horowitz is a family man and is married to Wanda, Arturo Toscanini's daughter. Nico Kaufmann comes from a strict family of doctors. In these impossibilities, the beautiful should become possible.

What has to be kept secret from the outside is a refuge of the greatest freedom between Horowitz and Kaufmann. Horowitz urges his younger lover to tell him about his numerous sexual adventures. Another circumstance that provides the novel with its material. With her novel, Lea Singer lifts the looming political catastrophe in Europe, Horowitz's artistic career and the contradictions in the relationship between two people into a present that now seems comparatively harmless.

Even if “Der Klavierschüler” does not refrain from describing the drama in a linguistic way, the novel tries to stay close to the facts. Between fiction and document, this book asks the big question of all relationship questions: What is true and what is a lie?

Lea Singer: The piano student. Novel. Kampa-Verlag, Zurich 2019. 224 pp., CHF 33.90.