Friday, December 25, 2009

Some Devastating Mishaps Which Have Altered Music History

Having suffered from a form of neurological trauma in my right hand some six years ago, which resulted in my having to re-learn how to play the piano, I thought today that I would relate to you some rather epic mishaps among great musicians of the past:
When the Russian mystic composer Alexander Scriabin heard Josef Lhevinne perform the daunting Don Juan Fantasy of Liszt, he was so overwhelmed by the playing of this marvelous French pianist that he decided to practice several additional hours per day in order to be able to reach world-class levels in performance; however, the relatively small hands that Scriabin possessed in addition to his work on the Liszt piano pieces resulted in his severely damaging his right hand, and for about two years Scriabin became a one-handed performer, during which he wrote some masterful short pieces for the left hand.
Going back a bit further, the fabled composer Robert Schumann designed a device with spring action which he thought would facilitate greater technique in his playing, as his first goal was to become a concert pianist. A disaster ensued, consisting of instilling permanent damage to one of his hands, forever destroying any hope of his becoming a first-class performer. The world has been the beneficiary of this accident, as Schumann turned to composition - we all know the results.
In our time, the American pianist Leon Fleischer was on his way to a brilliant career, when a neurological disorder crippled his right hand, which recovered after a thirty year period. He now is rediscovered through his defining performances and recordings - a great personal victory, to be sure.
Another American pianist, Gary Graffman, pretty much the same age as Fleischer, was on his way to becoming one of the world's more important pianists, when the same kind of disorder befell him - in his case, one of his fingers was injured, and Graffman found other ways to re-finger much music without the use of that injured finger, which exacerbated his condition, rendering that hand useless, in his case, forever - I believe that he has taught and continues to teach at the Curtis Institute. Later examination seems to imply that his personal disaster was created by the same kind of neurological disorder as that of Fleischer.
Beethoven was not the only distinguished entity in music to have suffered from personal disaster.



Blogger Yana from SF said...

An interesting aspect of the right-hand problems (focal dystonia) suffered by Gary Graffman and Leon Fleisher is that they are close friends. Fleisher underwent therapy, including massage (rolfing) and played quite well when I heard him in San Francisco shortly after his 80th birthday.

December 26, 2009 at 12:11 AM  

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