"Carefully researched and 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, the 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 Based on unpublished letters by Horowitz to Kaufmann that author Lea Singer discovered in Switzerland, the novel portrays the anguish that the acclaimed musician felt about his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.
"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
"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."
"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
"This intriguing, quirky novel, based on unpublished letters of Horowitz to a Swiss student, explores his hidden European years between living in Russia and the United States, and his hidden homosexual life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
"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
"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
"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