Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

A Child Prodigy Torn Between Classical and Pop Music


In these two film excerpts from Marvin Hamlisch: What He Did For Love, Marvin Hamlisch and his peers discuss his early musical talent and his childhood classical training. He loved popular music and decided to keep studying classical piano so he could put the composition and performance skills to his own uses in the future.

“Marvin was declared a child prodigy basically at age four,” notes his wife, Terre Blair Hamlisch. “When they saw the way that he could play, Juilliard was determined to make him the next Horowitz — that’s what he was supposed to be.” Vladmir Horowitz (1903 — 1989) is considered one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century.

Hamlisch entered the prestigious music conservatory of Juilliard at the age of six, but the child prodigy was enamored with popular music. Hamlisch’s classmate and friend at Juilliard, pianist Lorin Hollandar, describes Marvin’s innate creative drive to do more than interpret the classics.

“Classical music is awesome and it touches the highest reaches of the human soul,” says Hollandar, “but I can’t see Marvin being contained by that. I can’t see Marvin playing anything the way it should go for 30 seconds! Some creative stuff is going to come out, some wildly funny thing. Some juxtaposition bringing another whole piece of music, he’ll do everything to make it Marvin, without trying to make it Marvin.”

Performing classical music made Hamlisch nervous. He explains, “at a very early age it became very clear that that would drive me crazy because every time I would go to the concert to play something I would get so nervous,” adding that it even gave him an ulcer.

Watch Film Excerpt: “I Want to be Cole Porter”

“By eight or nine, you know, rather early, I said to my father one day ‘I don’t know why I’m doing all this because the truth of the matter is I’m not going to be Horowitz,'” says Marvin Hamlisch. “I wanted to be like Cole Porter.”

Hamlisch decided to keep his dream a secret. “I won’t tell my teachers I don’t want to be Horowitz, I’ll just learn all this stuff and later on apply it to what I really want to do,” says Hamlisch, whose compositions have earned him many awards including three Academy Awards, a Tony Award, a Pulitzer and more.

Marvin Hamlisch: What He Did For Love premieres nationally Friday, December 27, 2013 at 9 p.m. on PBS
(check local listings)


PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.