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My Nine Lives: A Memoir of Many Careers in…
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My Nine Lives: A Memoir of Many Careers in Music

by Leon Fleisher

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I knew who Fleisher was before this was released. I think I even have some of his recordings somewhere in my large music collection. What I didn't know was how he struggled with the pain in his hand that kept him from playing as much as he loved. I certainly appreciate his journey all the more now, as well as appreciating his gift of music to the world. The pain affected all aspects of his life. I enjoyed his tales of training and meeting and working with many great talents in the classical music world, many names I recognized all too well. His strength to find ways to work WITH the pain, with the disability, is admirable and makes me want to start playing again. His perseverance makes me want to get back into it, even if it leads nowhere.

A well written, welcoming book. He doesn't talk over anyone. Thank you, Leon Fleisher, for telling your story.
1 vote thegreatpenguini | Jul 21, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I once thought I would pursue a career in music. I once thought all paths as an adult were clearly marked. I do not know if this well written and interwoven memoir would have been appreciated by a 17 year old me, but reading it in my 30s enabled me to find comfort and understanding. While not perfect (who is?), Fleisher's strength and ability to adapt is inspiring. ( )
  pennyshima | May 1, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
As a former musician currently struggling with a hand/arm/shoulder injury and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I found much to relate to in this memoir: the endless search for "cures;" the denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and (limited) acceptance of one's "new" body/life. (Unlike me) Fleisher was a child piano prodigy, student of Schnabel, and Outstanding Young American Pianist who later morphed into "the Bohemian" and "the young lion," until "Catastrophe" (inability to use two fingers of his right hand) and its aftermath as conductor, teacher, left-handed pianist, and finally "renaissance man." And yes, those ten chapter titles capture the essence of Leon Fleisher's story. The joy and inspiration in what could have been a "woe is me" memoir come from the details and anecdotes that make up that arc of an 80-plus-year life. Most of the stories are about music-making, but the personal stories (of famous musicians, of wives, children, god-children, students) reveal the truth of how one makes it through to the other side of a devastating "catastrophe" in life . . . "with a little [or a lot of] help from your friends."

The writing style is very accessible (most musical concepts are clarified in everyday language so even non-musicians can follow along). I particularly appreciated Fleisher's ability to look back on some of his less-than-admirable times/behaviors with both wisdom and wit. The photos at the beginning of each chapter and in a separate center section provide the reader with a glance into the full span of the author's life. My only criticism would be that there is some repetition of points and stories, which seemed unnecessary as I was reading the book cover-to-cover, but in this age of reading excerpts and single chapters, I suppose they will be helpful to some readers.

I would recommend this book to anyone struggling with a career ending/changing injury as well as to any up-and-coming young musicians out there. The five "Master Class" sections inserted amongst the ten chapters are also helpful and interesting. Each is a brief (almost too brief) but insightful commentary revealing one musician's way of thinking about a particular piece: Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor; Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58; Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D Major; Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503; Schubert's Sonata in B-flat Major.

I only wish I had read the book before Fleisher came to town a few weeks ago. I would have made sure to get a ticket. Instead I will have to make due with listening to some of his many recordings (a selected Discography is included at the back of the book). ( )
1 vote LucindaLibri | Aug 8, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Leon Fleisher was a child prodigy at the piano. By the time he was nine years old, he was dreaming of studying with Artur Schnabel, who never took on a student so young. Through the subterfuge of a friend, Schnabel was more or less compelled by courtesy to listen to little Leon play, and was so impressed that he did agree to admit the boy to his famous Italian summer session. So began a 10 year period of study for Fleisher with the intimidating, brilliant Schnabel. At the age of 16, Fleisher made his solo debut with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall. From there forward, his career had its ups and downs, but during the 1950’s and early 1960’s the combination of Leon Fleisher at the piano with the Cleveland Orchestra, George Szell conducting, was an international phenomenon. He was a wonder, and he knew it. But he was so often in the company of other wunderkind and great masters that it seemed normal to him. Fleisher tells his own story with remarkably little egotistical overlay in this memoir. He comes across as an ordinary man who happens to have an extraordinary gift. He isn’t the sort of socially crippled genius that Glenn Gould was, for instance. But he did face a professional crisis at the age of 36, when he began having difficulty controlling two fingers on his right hand. Following years of mis-diagnoses and attempts at treatment – some of them outlandish—Fleisher accepted the descriptive, but not definitive, diagnosis of “focal dystonia”, a condition he found not terribly uncommon among musicians. His friend Gary Graffman suffered from it, as did Robert Schumann. He continued to perform some one-handed pieces, included some that were written specifically for him, but his later career triumphs were in the field of conducting, teaching and in working with Leonard Bernstein, Seiji Ozawa and other greats at the Tanglewood Music Center.

My Nine Lives is absorbing and well-written (with the help of Ann Midgette, a classical music and theater critic). Its greatest strength is the inclusion of sections titled “Master Class”, in which particular pieces of music are discussed in some detail. There is also a useful discography of Fleisher’s recordings, a listing of musical works composed for Fleisher, and a nice selection of photographs. Highly recommended if you enjoy classical music, whether you’re familiar with Fleisher or not, and even if you are relatively ignorant of music, but “know what you like”. ( )
1 vote laytonwoman3rd | Jul 20, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I generally like reading memoirs about people who are anything other than musicians. As a professional musician, I have difficulty reading books like this, but I slogged through it and found things to which I related and other things that were casually interesting. The book is accessible and well-organized. As a teacher, I appreciated the master class section the most. I noted Fleisher's comments on left-handed playing with personal interest and shared the book with my left-hand only pianist friend. She suffered a stroke at age 28 and has gone on to a successful teaching and performing career, mastering the left-handed repertoire and adapting two-handed pieces into one. All in all, I am glad to have read this book. ( )
  Jeanomario | Jun 22, 2011 |
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To the memory of my father, Isidor Fleisher, and my brother, Raymond Fleisher, who made so many sacrifices so I could live these lives; and my mother, Bertha Fleisher, who dreamed of them first.
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Introduction: "My twelfth birthday present from my mother and father was a recording of Brahms's first piano concerto in D minor."

Main text: "For Mr. Short, it wasn't a good lesson until he made me cry."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 038552918X, Hardcover)

The stirring memoir of one of the greatest pianists of the postwar era—an inspiring tale of triumph over crippling incapacity that rivals Shine.

The pianist Leon  Fleisher—whose student–teacher lineage linked him to Beethoven by way of his instructor, Artur Schnabel—displayed an exceptional gift from his earliest years. And then, like the hero of a Greek tragedy, he was struck down in his prime: at thirty-six years old, he suddenly and mysteri­ously became unable to use two fingers of his right hand.

It is not just Fleisher’s thirty-year search for a cure that drives this remarkable memoir. With his coauthor, celebrated music critic Anne Midgette, the pianist explores the depression that engulfed him as his condition worsened and, perhaps most powerfully of all, the sheer love of music that rescued him from complete self-destruction.

Miraculously, at the age of sixty-six, Fleisher was diagnosed with focal dystonia, and cured by experimental Botox injections. In 2003, he returned to Carnegie Hall to give his first two-handed recital in over three decades, bringing down the house.

Sad, reflective, but ultimately triumphant, My Nine Lives com­bines the glamour, pathos, and courage of Fleisher’s life with real musical and intellectual substance. Fleisher embodies the resilience of the human spirit, and his memoir proves that true passion always finds a way.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:22:01 -0400)

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