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Monday, July 9, 2012

Summer Reading Suggestion

A Memoir of Many Careers in Music
Leon Fleisher & Anne Midgette

I inhaled this book over the weekend!  Fleisher was an "infant phenomenon" of the early 1900s, and his life in music reads like a who's who of the famous musicians of his day, most of whom were in the first generation of classical musicians to become household names 'overnight" due to radio and television being established in American homes.

Published in 2010, this book is fascinating, informative, and has very thought provoking things to say about making music, and the way a muscian creates and thinks about music.

It is also engagingly written (probably thanks greatly to co-author Anne Midgette) - the pacing of it is very brisk.  It's a page-turner.   In between sections of biography of the life and career of Fleisher (who may be best known for the period of his life when he lost the use of his right hand and continued his career for almost 15 years playing left-hand-only works), are "masterclass" sections that focus in depth on the works that he became known for, and his insights on the works.  These sections would enough to sell it to the serious pianist who would be working on these concertos.

An inevitable by-product of reading this book are thoughts about the life of these young prodigies, the rarified (but financially insecure) world they inhabit, and ( much like child movie stars) the way it may -or may not- hobble their emotional lives and their ability to form relationships.   The ego and focus required to say "everything else must be subservient to my music" is one thing when used as a self-directive, quite another when extended families are involved.  One looks at the inability of these music greats to maintain relationships and one has to wonder:  is it  the stresses and temptations of the career?  or is it being raised with the self-absorbtion required to maintain a world-class career?  (One can not help noticing his repeated protestation of regret for not being there for his children, but not one regret for leaving the woman who bore them and raised them.)  In an interesting turn-about, after dishing this out in his personal life, Fleisher is on the receiving end of this in his professional life (from another world class musician) when he is unceremoniously terminated from one long-held position. 

But - that is what's good:  we get to see the warts, not an air-brushed autobiography, and that gives us a full portrait, and that, in turn, imparts some larger things to think about beyond just this one person's life.  That's what makes it more than just a tell-all tittle-tattle, it's actually good writing.

My biggest take-away, and the reason I recommend it highly to any musician:  I have been having interesting discussions the past year with several musician friends about the teacher-student relationship, and this book fits into that discussion nicely, with both Fleisher's reverence and perpetuation of his teacher's (Arthur Schnabel) thoughts, but also the abrupt termination of the relationship, and Fleisher's on-going thoughts about the method, the musical approach and insights, and the teaching relationship itself.

Engaging enough for a summer read, with enough meat to keep you thinking this fall.  Enjoy!
Kara Dahl Russell

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