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The Piano Student

A 2019 novel about pianist Vladimir Horowitz is published in the United States and United Kingdom this month in an English translation


The Piano Student is a novel about regret, secrecy, and music, involving an affair between one of the twentieth century's most celebrated pianists, Vladimir Horowitz, and his young male student, Nico Kaufmann, in the late 1930s. As Europe hurtles toward political catastrophe and Horowitz ascends to the pinnacle of artistic achievement, the great pianist hides his illicit passion from his wife Wanda, daughter of the renowned conductor Arturo Toscanini.

The affair is narrated by Kaufmann in the 1980s to another music devotee, who comes to him enchanted by Schumann's composition Träumerei and awakens memories of the thwarted relationship. Based on unpublished letters by Horowitz to Kaufmann that author Lea Singer herself discovered in Switzerland, the novel portrays the anguish that the acclaimed musician felt about his never publicly acknowledged homosexuality and the attendant duplicity of his personal life. It's a riveting and sensitive tale of musical perfection, love, and longing denied, with multiple historical layers and insights into artistic creativity.

Vladimir Horowitz and Nico Kaufmann. Credit: Schweizerisches Sozialarchiv
Vladimir Horowitz and Nico Kaufmann. Credit: Schweizerisches Sozialarchiv

The novel was first published in German in 2019 by Kampa Verlag AG, Zurich, Switzerland. It has been translated into English by Elisabeth Lauffer, and the 230-page translation is published by New Vessel Press in paperback (ISBN: 9781939931863) and ebook (ISBN: 9781939931870) formats. The novel is acccompanied by a Spotify playlist of music featured, plus a collection of YouTube videos showing Horowitz in his most triumphal performances.

'The Piano Student' by Lea Singer. © 2020 New Vessel Press
The Piano Student by Lea Singer. © 2020 New Vessel Press

Lea Singer is a German cultural historian and a novelist who uses a pseudonym for her fictional works. Under her legal name of Eva Gesine Baur, she has authored biographies of Frédéric Chopin and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. She has also written novels inspired by the lives of pianist Paul Wittgenstein and painter Caspar David Friedrich.

Elisabeth Lauffer is the recipient of the 2014 Gutekunst Translation Prize. After graduating from Wesleyan University she lived in Berlin where she worked as a commercial translator and then obtained a master's in education from Harvard.

Posted 13 October 2020 by Michael Z Wise





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