How A Great American Pianist Overcame A Devastating Physical Disability - Memoirs of Leon Fleisher
"My Nine Lives" , by the renowned American pianist Leon Fleisher, has just been published by Doubleday , and tells the extraordinarty story of the life of this remarkably gifted and versatile musician , who managed to succeed despite being struck as a young man by the worst thing that could possibly happen to a pianist - a neurological disorder called focal dystonia which adversely effected two fingers on his right hand , virtually ending a flourishing and brilliant career.
Fleisher was born in San Francisco in 1928 , the son of Russian Jewish parents , and showed enormous promise as a child. He went on to study with the legendary Austrian pianist Artur Schnabel (1882- 1951 ) and began his meteoric rise as one of the most gifted young pianists of the time. Fleisher came under the aegis of such great conductors as George Szell, with whom he developed a close relatonship and made classic recordings of among other things,the two Brahms piano concertos, and the French maestro Pierre Monteux.
But in his middle 30s, he began to have strange and distressing difficulties with two of the fingers on his right hand , and his playing suffered . It was a traumatic experience for the young keyboard lion , and all medical treatments proved ineffective . Fleisher struggled with severe depressionfor some time, but began to reinvent himself as a musician by playing concertos and other works written for the left hand alone by such composers as Ravel and Prokofiev among others.
These works had been commissioned by the Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, brother of the famous philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein , who had lost his right arm in combat during the first world war , and commissioned various composers to write works for one hand .
Fleisher also took up conducting orchestras , and became associate conductor of the Baltimore symphony orchestra . He was taught for many years at the Peabody Institute of music in Baltimore for many years .
But when he reached his sixties , Botox injections and physical therapy improved his ability to play , and he was finally able to return to playing with both hands , and made an acclaimed comeback. He is still going stong , and recently became one of the recipients of the prestigious Kennedy Center honors, broadcast every year on television .
Fleisher has made numerous acclaimed recordings ,mostly on what used to be called CBS or Columbia records ,now Sony Classical of works by Brahms, Beethoven, Schubert , Mozart, Schumann, Prokofiev, Ravel and other composers, many of which are still available. Written in collaboration with Washington Post music critic Anne Midgette , "My Nine Lives" is not only an absorbing read , but an inspiring story of triumph over adversity . Don't miss it.