Wednesday, March 1, 2017

"Triumph of the Will" - Pianists and a Mysterious Disorder...

In my two most recent blogs, I had cited examples of the human will that prevailed over physical  or  emotional accidents altering  the lives of great musicians. This entry will, I think, be the final of this particular issue...
Schumann, Scriabin, Horowitz, Wittgenstein have already been discussed. How about more recent examples of  personal travail affecting musicians?
Two American pianists come to mind; namely, Gary Graffman and Leon Fleischer.
Both  were,  in their youth, headed for fame by way of their performances in  live recitals, concerts and recordings. I recall, as a high school student,. having in my possession a recording of Graffman playing the 3rd Beethoven Concerto. I was absolutely riveted to and by his engrossing understanding of the text by one in his early twenties. And the recordings made by Fleischer of Brahms were considered by many experts in the field of criticism to be at the the top of the heap, performed by a young man barely out of his teen years.
Then, while pursuing fruition of their careers, tragedy struck while in their youth; both strangely in similar fashion:
The right hands of both Graffman and Fleischer rather suddenly lost the sense of power and articulation to a point where these two  could no longer pursue their performance careers.
I will not go into detail(you can pursue the minutiae, of course). Fingers curled up in spams;  there was pain involved at times, etc., etc.
Both were deeply involved, to be sure, with the medical profession, through various actions having been  taken. In short, Graffman did not return primarily as a performer, but as a distinguished pedagogue and administrator. Fleischer, after over a generation of struggle, has  returned as a virtuoso with only slight diminution in his playing  - the chemical Botox, seemingly, was a factor in his recovery.
The mysterious neurological disorder Dystonia, has appeared as a possible cause of  these pianists' experiences.
Other theories also exist; however, Dystonia, which has no cure that I am aware of,  keeps popping up whenever  these pianists are discussed . It also seems, just as mysteriously, that an aspect called Focal Dystonia and pianists ARE connected - do not ask me why...
About a dozen years  ago, while at home, I suddenly experienced a stabbing, sharp pain coursing up and down my right arm. Although my family has never had  any major problems dealing with the heart, I was rushed to hospital and went through an exhaustive coronary examination which took two days. No trace of a heart condition appeared, and while being examined, the arm pain disappeared in the flash of a  second .After a period of head-scratching, I was sent off to Neurology, whereupon a neurologist, after scratching HIS head, sent me off to a fellow neurologist, who, after much examination, called it  "a form of  plexitis". She said that the tingling in my right hand, which had appeared, would disappear, but could not tell me when.
After returning home, the articulation in my right hand, along with general strength,  slowly but surely exited my physical factory - I could no longer play anything above middle difficulty with that hand - no one could give me an answer...Was it, after all, Focal Dystonia?
Shall I? (After a week or two of absolute torment - will I be able to play again??) -  Shall I pull out the Philipp exercises I had done in Europe? They are so very stringent! Shall I give it a try?
And so, in a mode of desperation, I chose some of the genius teacher's most logical(I thought) exercises.
About six months later, I was able to perform publicly  once again.
I do not recall, during that period, thinking of the word 'will'.
What else could it have been?
Believe me; this happened...



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