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My Nine Lives: A Memoir of Many Careers in Music Hardcover – November 30, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Pianist Fleisher played the Brahms D Minor concerto at his debut with the New York Philharmonic when he was 16 years old. A brilliant career seemed assured. But at the age of 36, Fleisher lost the use of two fingers on his right hand (due to a neurological condition called focal dystonia), which ended his performing career. This heartfelt memoir chronicles Fleisher's remarkable musical life, beginning as a child prodigy playing Beethoven in San Francisco to his acceptance of Kennedy Center Honors in 2007. Writing chronologically, Fleisher recalls his early training with the master teacher Artur Schnabel, his early performance success followed by career disappointments. He recounts his foray into conducting, his love of teaching, and his years of contentment as the director of Tanglewood. In each of the five interludes interspersed within the narrative, Fleisher provides a learned and lively synopsis of a single composer and a seminal composition. Aptly titled as a master class, these worthy asides will delight serious students of classical music or anyone interested in musical theory. Fleisher intimately chronicles his years of despair during his search for a cure to his mysterious malady, and the ultimate understanding of how his disease opened up new careers within his beloved world of classical music. (Dec.)
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From Booklist

For many, Leon Fleisher may be more famous for the injury to his right hand that curtailed his piano concertizing for 30 years than for the sublime playing that made him one of the world’s foremost pianists. He details the near-madness the injury caused him and, subsequently, after endless therapies, the successful cure through Botox and rolfing. More important, though, he shares a life led near the epicenter of the musical world for more than six decades, starting with his Carnegie Hall debut in 1944 at age 16 and including lessons with piano eminence Artur Schnabel, a fruitful musical relationship with conductor George Szell, associations with the great pianists of the day, conducting, teaching, and his performance approaches to signal works in the canon, which are thoughtfully handled in “Master Class” subsections. A winning volume for musicians and music fans both. --Alan Moores

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (November 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038552918X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385529181
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #426,569 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Anne Midgette is the classical music critic of The Washington Post. Long a regular contributor of classical music and theater reviews to The New York Times, she has also written frequently for The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, Town & Country, Opera News, and many other publications. She is co-author of The King and I, a candid and controversial book about Luciano Pavarotti told from the perspective of his long-time manager, Herbert Breslin (2004), and of My Nine Lives, the memoir of the pianist Leon Fleisher, published by the Knopf Doubleday Group on November 30, 2010. She is currently working on a novel.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By jsa on December 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Pianist Leon Fleisher's story is a lesson in adaptation. After a mysterious condition robbed him of the use of several fingers in his right hand, Fleisher's promising career temporarily ground to a halt. His memoir naturally focuses a great deal of attention on his life-changing condition, from the suicidal feelings he experienced early on, to the struggle to get an accurate diagnosis and cure, all the while never giving up hope that he would regain the use of his hand. We feel some of the anguish and frustration Fleisher experienced as he trudged from one doctor to the next and seemed to have tried every conceivable treatment in his search for relief - and added to this was the question of whether or not he had brought this malady on himself. Did he depart from his teacher Schnabel's advice and take on too rigorous of a practice regimin a la Rudolf Serkin, or, perhaps worse yet, was he a victim of his own psychological processes, subconsciously programming himself to fail? All of this is played out in this absorbing memoir by the 82 year old pianist.

Fleisher's story is interesting from several perspectives. First, he recounts his youth in San Francisco, the child of parents who were willing to make huge sacrifices to get their son the musical training they believed his nascent talent merited. His mother in particular seems to have been the catalyst for much of this, while his father, who we hear little about other than the business he was in, closed his millinery stores in San Francisco and relocated the family to New York and went to work in a factory so that Leon could be close to his teacher, Artur Schnabel. On the one hand, Fleisher was aware that he was responsible for the upheaval in his family and says "it was a heavy burden for a ten-year old.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By martbar on December 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Fleisher's inspirational story is beautifully told here. Full disclosure--I studied with Fleisher in monthly masterclasses for five years, so I was predisposed, perhaps, to finding this book interesting. But I believe the combination of his self-deprecating wit and Ann Midgette's presentation skills has resulted in a work of literary art that will be interesting to musician and non-musician alike. The Fleisher family's sacrifices for the young artist, the excitement of his early career, the frustration of a crippling hand condition that baffled the medical community, the ways Fleisher found to keep expressing the music inside him--all are compelling. His honesty in the story of three marriages and his sometimes lacking parenting skills is laudable. His anecdotes about interactions with famous people both musical and otherwise are plentiful and entertaining. While there is no false modesty here, his extraordinary intelligence and talent are obvious, and Midgette allows for the same intimate but pithy conversational style I remember from Fleisher in person. Of special interest to musicians are the brief "masterclasses" Fleisher writes on some of his favorite keyboard compositions. These are colorfully presented and not at all pedantic so nonmusicians might find their insight enjoyable--or can easily skip them as they wish. This book is a skillfully crafted true story of triumph over adversity and deserves a wide audience.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By B. Flinchbaugh on January 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover
First two disclosures: I know and have worked with Leon Fleisher while a student at Peabody. He conducted the Peabody Symphony in a very fine performance of Rach Symphony No. 1 that I played, and also I played on the Ravel Left Hand Concerto and Lucas Foss Concerto with Mr. Fleisher as soloist.

As a conductor, LF is the first person to downplay his baton technique, but whatever lack of finessed movement is made up 100 fold with his ability to communicate with musicians, especially about rhythm. Also, unlike the director of the Peabody Symphony Orchestra, Teri Murai, Mr. Fleisher respects each musician in the ensemble and cultivates a team from the first minute of the first rehearsal. While playing the Foss Concerto, the orchestra was having difficulty counting the complex rhythms and Mr. Murai put his infamous "clam can" on the podium, where he explained, "section players pay 25 cents per mistake and principals 50 cents." Mr. Fleisher immediately interjected, "um, excuse me Maestro, how much is it for the soloist or conductor when they make mistakes?"

The other memory I have of LF is that before performing Rach 1, the principal hornist and I were sitting backstage talking, and LF came out of his dressing room, baton in hand. He came over and sat with us, waiting for the concert to begin, and told story after story about Szell, New York Philharmonic premiere, etc. About 8:05 the stage manager ran down the steps and said, "Maestro, we've been looking for you. We need to start the concert!!" and he gradually got up, and conducted the concert.

Mr. Leon Fleisher is a truly humble world class talent, which is a rare combination. Throughout this book, his sense of self effacing humor shines throughout each and every story.
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Format: Hardcover
In Hemingway's "Death in the Afternoon" there is a conversation between the author and a woman who begins as a fan of his. After they talk for a while and she gets to know a new story of his she declares, "You know I like you less and less the more I know you." And Hemingway replies, "Madame, it is always a mistake to know an author." I felt this way after reading this autobiography by Leon Fleisher. He is a great pianist. Some would declare him a genius, and I would not resist that judgment. However, there is a level of openness and frankness about his life and very human frailties that I think make it unsuitable fare for children and even adolescents who might be interested in finding out about the life and musical views of this historically important pianist. Not that he is graphic, but what parent would want their child reading about Mr. Fleisher's multiple failed marriages, multiple girlfriends, crushes on female colleagues and even some of his female students (his present marriage has been long lasting and seems to have had its beginnings when she was a student of his). He also speaks of drug use positively and helpful in "finding things" in that other state. For me, this is all hogwash and human frailty.

I am understanding of human frailty, since I am human myself. I bring this up not to condemn Mr. Fleisher or to make excuses for him. He wrote the book with his co-author, he wanted to be truthful and frank about who he is, warts and all. Fine. I think the book is worth reading for people interested in his life and his thoughts on music. But I would not encourage a young music student to read it. I wouldn't want an impressionable teenager to read it who might think all this poor behavior to be exotic and worth emulating as an experiment with their own life.
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