Ok, maybe none of you bastards care about this, but you may find it interesting anyway.  Leon Fleisher died of cancer two days ago at age 83.  By age 30, maybe earlier, he was arguably the best pianist the U.S. has ever produced if you consider overall musicianship as well as technical perfection (he had both, but others have equaled or come close in the latter).  As a pupil of Artur Schnabel, he was in a direct student/teacher line to Beethoven.

Unfortunately the 1950’s, when he came of age, was a real pressure cooker for a group of young American pianists who were given the acronym, OYAPS (Outstaning Young American Pianists).  This was the height of the cold war, and there was huge pressure on them to be cultural ambassadors.  They were expected to be powerful and precise,  like Vladimir Horowitz, and to show uppity Europeans and especially Russia, a land of super-human pianists, that the U.S. was artistically on par with anyone (never mind we’d already proved that with jazz and emerging rock & roll, but those were treated as an embarrassent).  As a result,  Fleisher and the other OYAPS pushed themselves to the point of serious physical injury or emotional distress.  By his mid-thirties, Fleisher’s right hand was useless for the piano due to an insane practice and performance schedule.   After recovering from serious depression, he had a second career as a conductor, a much idolized teacher and an occasional performer of the limited one-handed repertoire.  Miraculously, in the 90’s he underwent experimental botox injections which returned his hand to service.  By the early 2000’s he was back in action, maybe not as much of a techincal powerhouse, but as good or maybe better artistically.

I was lucky to see him in a stunning recital in ’09.  I also got to meet him briefly and get an autograph.  For someone so lionized, he was very approachable and seemed down-to-earth.  Resquiescat in pace.

4 Replies to “Shit”

  1. The NYT obit was fascinating.

    ”The initial problem was a very stupid kind of overwork,” Mr. Fleisher said in 1996, cautioning young pianists against following his path. “I see kids still falling into this, and there are many reasons for it. The perfection that they’re bombarded with from recordings. The kind of sound a [Vladimir] Horowitz produced, which is wonderful, but people don’t realize that he had his technician work very hard on the piano, so the piano itself helped. So when kids go to an acoustically dead hall, and get a dead piano, and try to make these Horowitz kinds of sounds, they end up brutalizing themselves.”

  2. The comment about the perfection of recordings reminded me of a story about a pianist (I forget who) recording a concerto with the NY Phil., then under Artur Rodzinski. They had a “clean up” session to fix some mistakes. During the playback, the pianist marvelled at the perfection. Rodzinski, a notorious asshole, said “yes, don’t you wish you could do that?”

    AR was also a paranoiac who always carried a gun in his jacket, even when conducting. Ah, the classics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *