- Paperback: 400 pages
- Publisher: Da Capo Press (August 26, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0306817489
- ISBN-13: 978-0306817489
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 9 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,139,654 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Lost Genius: The Curious and Tragic Story of an Extraordinary Musical Prodigy Paperback – August 26, 2008
"Augusta Metro Spirit," 9/10/08"A wonderful look at Romanticism in practice and a fascinating vision of the rise and fall and rise and fall of a man of incredible talent, "Lost Genius" is truly a magical story sure to inspire a wide range of emotion, intellectual curiosity, and depth in the lives of readers everywhere."
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There is no thought or theme in this book that is worth remembering. If I had listened to Nyiregyházi's bombastic music on YouTube, I never would have bought this book. Glenn Gould was a fascinating character for Bazzana to write about, but I do not know why he wrote about the mad and mean Nyiregyházi.
Nyiregyházi considered himself more a composer than a pianist, but frankly little is known of his works. They were apparently typically slow, lugubrious and cryptic; many of them had bizarre autobiographical titles. For instance, toward the end of his life he wrote pieces with titles such as 'Hopeless Vista', 'The Grim Reaper Approaches', 'Time is Running Out', 'With Slow Footsteps Death Approaches'. From the reproduction of one of his pieces, the aforementioned 'Hopeless Vista', one gathers that his style was to write brief, harmonically odd works that attempt to convey a single emotional state. I could make little of 'Hopeless Vista' except that it would certainly not be a crowd-pleaser. Which brings us to the crux of Nyiregyházi's life -- his refusal to make compromises with the public appetite, his profoundly idiosyncratic style of making music, his incredibly inept psychological coping mechanisms and his dependence of a series of ten wives and many other women and men who at least briefly attempted to help him. A psychiatrist/pianist who knew him offered the likelihood of a diagnosis of 'borderline personality disorder', and as a psychiatrist myself I would tend to agree with this diagnosis, dangerous though it be to diagnose without ever having personally examined him. Certainly his tendency to have wildly fluctuating moods over a matter of minutes or hours, his intense interpersonal sensitivity that became outright paranoia at times, his inflated sense of his own importance coupled nonetheless with intense self-doubts, his furious reaction to what he considered insulting behavior of others and his alcoholism and sexual compulsions all point to this severe diagnosis. In short, he couldn't help himself, couldn't stop his inexorable path toward self-destruction. A sad, sad case.
Kevin Bazzana has written a riveting book, not sparing us either the outré details of Nyiregyházi's life nor his brief and soaring triumphs. I found myself unable to put the book down.
Strongly recommended both as a work of art and as a fascinating story.
Kevin Bazzana's book is the first to document the rest of Nyiregyhazi's life in detail, from his spectacular 1920 Carnegie Hall debut, to his early flameout a few years later, and his bizarre resurrection in the 1970s.
During the middle period of his life, previously undocumented, Nyiregyhazi relentlessly indulged dual addictions for alcohol and sex. Aside from composing doggedly old fashioned works with silly titles, Nyiregyhazi's activity in the musical community ground to a halt. He did not practice, nor did he even own a piano. The last was understandable because he did not have a stable residence. Bazzana has chronicled these winter years (roughly 1925-1972, although the pianist did some rewarding work with the WPA in the 1930s) in great detail. Nyiregyhazi married ten times. Although Bazzana mentions all his wives, it's not easy keeping the chronology in sequence because Bazzana goes back and forth between time periods. Perhaps a chart would have been helpful!
While much been has made of Nyiregyhazi's treatment by the music industry (in 1925, he was compelled to sue his manager), it becomes apparent reading Bazzana's book that the main reason for the collapse of Nyiregyhazi's career was the pianist himself. He was loathe to play standard repertoire, especially in later years, because he feared comparison with other pianists. The fact that he refused to practice, even when provided with a piano, did not help his playing.
Bazzana does not pretend to be objective. He believes that Nyiregyhazi belongs in the pantheon of great pianists, and complains that the Hungarian, also a "great pianist," was not afforded the 1903 centennial celebration that was given to Claudio Arrau, Vladimir Horowitz, and Rudolf Serkin. Bazzana seems to be particularly obsessed with Horowitz, taking trouble to note that Nyiregyhazi was "not very much impressed" with his Russian contemporary and seeming perturbed that Nyiregyhazi perished with a mere $2,000 to his name while Horowitz's estate was valued at between $6 and $8 million. Horowitz's opinion of Nyiregyhazi is unknown. Other musicians' opinions of Nyiregyhazi ranged from to "pure expression" (Arnold Schoenberg), to "an amateur" (Vladimir Ashkenazy) and "the biggest piece of baloney" (Earl Wild). Nyiregyhazi seldom garnered a neutral response, and Bazzana can be forgiven the occasional hyperbole in his recounting of the pianist's extraordinary and tragic story.