Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks on Presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Vladimir Horowitz

July 28, 1986

The President. Mr. and Mrs. Horowitz, it's good to have you back with us in the United States. You know the meetings between artists and politicians are fraught with peril. There's the story of Ulysses S. Grant who said, "I know only two tunes. One of them is 'Yankee Doodle,' and the other isn't." [Laughter]

Well, not all politicians are like that—not all. I think next time I have a distinguished gathering here in this room I'm going to have to paraphrase Jack Kennedy's line and say that this is the greatest accumulation of talent in this one room since the time I greeted Vladimir Horowitz alone. [Laughter] I must say it's an honor to play host to the man who, as one British critic put it, is simply the greatest pianist dead or alive. I also like the story of Sir Thomas Beecham, who jokingly criticized your performance at a concerto saying, "Really, Mr. Horowitz, you can't play like that." [Laughter] He said, "It shows the orchestra up." [Laughter] Well, considered by piano connoisseurs the most dazzling virtuoso since Liszt set the standard in the 19th century, you have influenced countless young pianists and inspired multitudes of listeners.

Mr. Horowitz. I hope so. [Laughter]

The President. And I'm glad that this is such a small, intimate gathering, because what I really wanted was the chance to thank you personally for being our emissary of good will to the people of the Soviet Union.

Mr. Horowitz. Thank you very much.

The President. It's appropriate that we're together in the Roosevelt Room, because behind us, here on the mantel, is the first Nobel Peace Prize ever awarded to an American. It was given to Teddy Roosevelt for his part in negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War—a little known fact, but significant today because your recent journey to the Soviet Union was also a pilgrimage of peace.

You said in an interview that your hope was to set out the good, to make the good better; and you did just that. Your music spoke to the heart of the land where you were born, and it spoke to all of our hearts. And in the beautiful moments, you reminded all of us of our common humanity. You brought us closer as people to people, as the American people and people who live in the Soviet Union. You were our ambassador of the heart, and for that I want to thank you both for myself and for all of America.

And now, I'd like to read your citation for the Medal of Freedom:

He has said that it remains the purpose of his life to bring meaning to music each time he plays. With masterful technique, consummate musicianship, and profound humanity, Vladimir Horowitz brings not only meaning to music, but joy and beauty and meaning to all our lives. This adopted son of America, the last of the great romantics as he is sometimes called, is more than a national treasure, he is a treasure to people the world over.

Note: The President spoke at 1:35 p.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. Following the ceremony, the President hosted a reception for Mr. Horowitz in the Residence at the White House.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks on Presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Vladimir Horowitz Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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