"Explosively passionate, this story of forbidden love and unmet potential is ... for anyone who’s ever felt the ineffable power of music."
—Aja Gabel, author of The Ensemble
The Piano Student is a novel about regret, secrecy, and music, involving an affair between one of the 20th 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 Based on unpublished letters by Horowitz to Kaufmann that author Lea Singer discovered in Switzerland, the novel portrays the anguish that the acclaimed musician felt about his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.
"Based on correspondence between virtuoso pianist Vladimir Horowitz and a young Swiss student, Nico Kaufmann, Singer’s astute, elegiac English-language debut reconstructs the pair’s amorous liaison in the lead-up to WWII ... Singer effectively conveys Horowitz’s genius ... This nostalgic tale of repressed desire is as affecting as Schumann’s haunting tune."
"Gripping in its newness and historical import ... The Piano Student contains a lovely air of mystery ... Members of music's royalty people the pages."
—Washington Independent Review of Books
"Paints a startling picture of Horowitz as a complicated man torn between his desire to be with men and his duty to his wife, Arturo Toscanini’s daughter. This is an engrossing, beautifully written novel that brings into focus an inimitable artist who ascended to great heights as a pianist despite his hidden life as a gay man."
—VAN Classical Music Magazine
"The illicit love affair of world-famous piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz and the less successful pianist Nico Kaufmann is recreated vividly in Lea Singer’s The Piano Student ... Singer has written a compelling story, interweaving history, music, and psychological intrigues that accompany purposely hidden romantic involvements."
—The Gay & Lesbian Review
"German cultural historian Singer draws on unpublished letters she unearthed in Switzerland to reimagine the tumultuous love affair between phenomenal pianist Vladimir Horowitz and his young student Nico Kaufmann ... What emerges is a portrait of gay life and limitations in the mid-1900s, the era's painful political upheavals, and a great pianist on edge ... An intriguing look at passion, history, and culture, for more than classical music fans."
"With the complexity of a Russian piano concerto, Lea Singer has evoked the passionate love between the maestro Horowitz and the young man who became his student. She has richly imagined their forbidden relationship, which was marked by the same push-pull phrasing in the Chopin Nocturnes Horowitz often played, and that haunted them both for the rest of their lives."
—Chris Cander, author of The Weight of a Piano
"This intriguing, quirky novel, based on unpublished letters of Horowitz to a Swiss student, explores his hidden European years between living in Russia and the United States, and his hidden homosexual life outside his marriage with Wanda Toscanini."
—Stephen Hough, concert pianist and author of Rough Ideas: Reflections on Music and More and The Final Retreat: A Novel
"Reads like a dark detective novel of the sort Swiss writer Friedrich Dürrenmatt might have written ... This is a moving book, filled with tension and tragedy. We see Horowitz, warts and all ... a fascinating read."
"Throughout its telling, Singer maintains an elegance and depth that will leave the reader pondering the nature of personal courage and how—or whether—life and maturity can ever bring into harmony art, ambition, and love."
—Historical Novels Review
"The novel draws out many themes that resonate in today’s world on the nature of sexual identity and art, especially the relationship between passion and art and suffering and creativity ... Presents its themes with sensitivity and restraint ... The Piano Student illuminates the sacrifices artists make for their art."
—Jewish Book Council
"One of the greatest pianists of the last century, an illicit love affair with a young man, and a story using the genuine correspondence that passed between them—it makes for an utterly compelling read."
—Jeremy Nicholas, author of The Great Composers and Chopin: His Life and Music
"Lea Singer’s newly translated novel is historical fiction done right ... The book [has] a cinematic quality, like an old German movie ... There are also many beautiful passages about music."
—The Provincetown Independent
"Carefully researched and explosively passionate, this story of forbidden love and unmet potential is not just for fans of Vladimir Horowitz or the piano, but for anyone who’s ever felt the ineffable power of music."
—Aja Gabel, author of The Ensemble
"Intensely satisfying ... A haunting and at times heartbreaking read."
"A tender psychological depiction of an impossible love—and between the lines a good deal of veneration for the pianist Horowitz and for the persuasive power of music."
"Lea Singer’s novel combines narrative imagination and accurate research … recounting vividly as well as exemplarily the multi-faceted history of a forbidden love between men and thereby captivating the reader."
"A book that tells with empathic devotion of music and death … the story of a search for freedom in the most adverse circumstances … The book poses the biggest question of all about relationships, What is true and what is a lie?"
—Neue Zürcher Zeitung