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Lost Genius: The Curious and Tragic Story of an Extraordinary Musical Prodigy (Anglais) Broché – 5 août 2008

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The historian John Lukacs has written of the “national character fault” of the Hungarians, “excoriated often by great Magyar thinkers and writers: the brilliance of short-run effort at the expense of prudence and foresight. Their word for it is ‘straw-fire nature,’ since straw burns brilliantly but rapidly, leaving only a heap of black ashes.” In Nyiregyházi’s case, the straw burned brilliantly but rapidly twice, at the beginning and end of his life. As a prodigy, he enjoyed a sometimes sensational international career and was admitted into the highest artistic and social circles, first in his native Budapest, later in other European capitals, finally in America. (This, in fact, is the second book to have been written about him. The first, by the psychologist Géza Révész, was published in 1916, when Nyiregyházi was thirteen.) But not long after he entered adulthood, his career foundered; by the mid-1920s, he was broke, living where he could, and subsisting on musical odd jobs. For almost half a century, he only rarely re-emerged into the spotlight and invariably slipped back into obscurity. (He composed all the while, however, producing hundreds of works in a defiantly old-fashioned idiom.) As the decades drifted by, his life became increasingly messy and restless, because of his childlike psychology, because of the vicissitudes of a life of poverty, because a sheltered upbringing had left him ill-equipped to cope with either a domestic or a professional life, because he developed ruinous appetites for alcohol and sex — though he often wore his dissolution as a badge of honour, evidence of his refusal to compromise art to commerce. In 1972, at the age of sixty-nine, he was rediscovered by chance in California, and he was later, for several years, the subject of noisy international celebrity (and controversy). But by the time he died, in 1987, he had been forgotten — again. He still is.

In some ways, the straw fires that bound his life were as damaging to his reputation as the half-century of obscurity in between. His childhood career is most often cited as a cautionary tale: he has become the classic case of the failed prodigy, crushed by the pressure of great expectations and unable, in adulthood, to fulfill his promise as an artist. And his renaissance in his seventies, while it fostered some genuine appreciation of his gifts and yielded a body of work that gives posterity a taste of his art, bore the unmistakable stamp of a fad. Remembered, if at all, as a failed prodigy or aged novelty, he has left many people wondering (like Klemperer) whether he could really have been “sincere.”

As a man, moreover, he could be both attractive and repellent, and was always difficult. He once called himself “a fortissimo bastard,” and he did indeed, for good and ill, live his life fortissimo. Hypersensitive, he experienced every emotion in Technicolor. “I am master of my passions to some extent,” he wrote to a former lover in 1929, “and yet I am torn by desires, aspirations, conflicts, memories, all playing the melody of life on the strings of my heart.” This was a man for whom sentimentality and bombast were never dirty words, in life or art, and the turmoil in his life was a by-product of a tumultuous personality. He resisted all categories, rejected conventional notions of morality and sexuality, good taste and responsibility, and was a morass of contradictions. “Sometimes he’s a celestial saint, and sometimes he’s a wonderful old grandfather, and sometimes he’s a rotten bastard,” one acquaintance said; another called him “a dictionary of adjectives.” He had a great capacity for adoration and devotion, yet he invariably exhausted and injured those closest to him. He was an idealistic philosopher who championed the loftiest spiritual goals, yet he demanded the satisfaction of his basest urges. He lived most of his life in poverty and anonymity, yet he always thought of himself as an aristocrat by virtue of his genius, his talent, his soul. He was convinced of his greatness as a pianist and composer, yet he was so insecure that he could be felled by a mere breath of criticism or some slight assault on his dignity. For every person who found him pitiable and cruel, another found him generous and noble. On the back of a chequebook that is among his papers, he scrawled, “I am a rotten S[on] of a b[itch] pianist, but God does speak throu[gh] me.”

It is hardly surprising that posterity has not known what to do with this man and his art, and so has done (mostly) nothing. Admittedly, Nyiregyházi left only frustrating glimpses of his art in its prime, and a case for him can be made only by teasing often shy evidence out from a tangle of obscure sources. What emerges is one of the greatest and most individual pianists of the twentieth century, and something less lofty but no less interesting, too: one of the most singular characters, with one of the most bizarre stories, in the history of music.

From the Hardcover edition. --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .

Revue de presse

“Bazzana [displays] considerable psychological understanding, not to mention the fine prose style already obvious from his Glenn Gould biography….Few works of Canadian non-fiction are as well written as this one.”
— George Fetherling, Vancouver Sun

“Splendidly researched….Nyiregyházi’s story is fascinating, bizarre, and well told….Bazzana has fashioned a highly readable yarn.”
— Anton Kuerti, Globe and Mail

“Bazzana, who wrote the best biography of Gould yet to appear, has again produced a superb book — fascinating, elegantly written, thoroughly researched, and meticulously documented.”

“When Nyiregyházi was on he was extraordinary, and off-stage his life provided more than enough colour to make Lost Genius genuinely entertaining -- as well as a cautionary tale for prodigies of any genre.”
Georgia Straight

Praise for Wondrous Strange:

“A study worthy of its subject — expertly paced, admiring yet sensible, touched with wit and intensely readable.” — Michael Dirda, Washington Post

“It wasn’t until Kevin Bazzana began 20 years of research that Gould found. . . his true biographer.”
— William Littler, Gramophone

From the Hardcover edition. --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .

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Détails sur le produit

  • Broché: 400 pages
  • Editeur : Da Capo Press Inc (5 août 2008)
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ISBN-10: 0306817489
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306817489
  • Dimensions du produit: 14 x 2,3 x 21,1 cm
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 2.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (1 commentaire client)
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: 745.851 en Livres anglais et étrangers (Voir les 100 premiers en Livres anglais et étrangers)
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Par Jamsandwich le 15 novembre 2013
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
This is a rather dull read. What a pity. Hard to believe given the man it describes. His life was certainly anything but dull.
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Amazon.com: 9 commentaires
18 internautes sur 19 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
The Undoing of a Genius 24 décembre 2007
Par Hank Drake - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
In 1924, Geza Revesh published The Psychology of a Musical Prodigy, a scholarly study which focused on Ervin Nyiregyhazi's childhood and early gifts. Over 80 years later, Revesh's book remains a reference work. But what happened to the subject of that book?

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.
10 internautes sur 10 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
"Lying in the Gutter, But Looking at the Stars" 12 juin 2008
Par J Scott Morrison - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
This book is a triumph of the biographer's art. But the subject of the biography is sad beyond words. Ervin Nyiregyházi (pronounced, approximately NEER-edge-hawzy) was a profoundly gifted musical child prodigy, born in 1903 in Budapest and compared with Mozart in his youth. His first biography, written by Hungarian psychologist Géza Révész in 1910-1914 when the child was only 7-11, is one of the most detailed studies of a child genius ever written. Kevin Bazzana, a Canadian whose previous biography of Glenn Gould was acclaimed, pursued his subject's life story for more than ten years and looked under virtually every stone in search of material about his subject. Other reviewers here have detailed his sad descent from feted prodigy to sex-obsessed skidrow bum with his odd autumn in the sun when he was 'rediscovered' in the 1970s and a few recordings put on the market. Those recordings revealed the wreck of a great pianist, one with an obsession for emotional expression perhaps at the expense of technical finesse. Those records sold rather well and pianistic cognoscenti debated their worth, and still do.

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.

Scott Morrison
11 internautes sur 13 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
How can we approach to a genius of the keyboard? 19 janvier 2008
Par Hiram Gòmez Pardo Venezuela - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
There's always something to discover around the figure of a sheer pianist. Specially of we are talking about the most eccentric pianist the world knew about. You may cite Mr. Gould, but in the case of Erwin Nyiregyhazi we are talking about a sheer artist, a thinker musician, that never gave a affected sound, although he was a Romantic per excellence.

When I had the chance to listen in 1976 his double album "Nyiregyhazi plays Liszt" and listened his performance about The Hungarian Rhapsody No. 3, I could not believe such high caliber pianism, his sound was indeed profound, revealing and sumptuously expressive: His octaves, tremolos, arpeggios and fortes were really amazing. But when I listened Mosonyi' s Funeral Procession I understood why he was so highly acclaimed. He really played the piano as it was an orchestra, a full rounded sound with an astonishing sense of the span.

Of course you may argue he played some wrong bars here and there, but what does it matter ? , when you know about his main target was to capture the essence of the work.

Kevin Bazzana gives a very detailed account about his personality, his obsessive way of living (after all, the excesses have always been a trademark in the spirit of all Romantic don' t you?).

What we really regret was his personal decision to exile himself for so long. Certainly his reappearance in 1973 was motive of jubilee all over the world.

To get close this artist of the piano demands a total obliteration of all our mental map and to assist to a true artistic experience with all its in and outs.

A penetrating and passionate biography about the most eccentric pianist of the XX Century.

Here you have a brave opinion of Mr. Nyiregyhazi: "My approach is a combination of instinct and conscious morality. It is not sin to change a score, but you can' t do it in a frivolous way. An artist has to impose a sense of responsibility on the music. He must never violate the faith of the composer. That is a matter of artistic honor."
1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Interesting story about a tragic talented musician 17 mars 2009
Par Frederick D. Fiene - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Well researched but the author goes overboard on details in some cases and jumps back and forth in time too much. Sad tale, Nyiregyházi was extremely talented. Knowledgeable musicians who had seen both musicians compared his talent to Liszt. But his terrible character flaws prevented him from reaching his potential. After awhile the sad story that boiled down to the fact that he was spoiled, selfish and undisciplined got a little old. But it goes from fame to shame and back to fame (in his later years), so it is somewhat intriguing. I would even rate it a recommended read for music lovers.
2 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
"One of the great musical biographies" 15 septembre 2009
Par Erik Ketzan - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
There are already a bunch of comprehensive reviews of Bazzana's excellent book here at Amazon and around the web, but I'll add my five-stars, along with a whole-hearted recommendation of this impeccably researched, beautifully written biography of a one-of-a-kind tragic genius, Ervin Nyiregyházi.

Nyiregyházi is a fascinating figure because he represents a "road not taken" in classical music of the last century. Unlike almost every major pianist of the last hundred years, Nyiregyházi had no qualms about playing fast and loose with musical scores-- he altered, chopped, reconfigured, and judiciously adapted the works of the great composers, and, just as importantly, created entirely new interpretations of the works of Liszt, Grieg, and many others. Although such performance practice makes up the essence of jazz, rock, and other popular forms of music, this behavior is still considered not only unusual, but UNTHINKABLY RADICAL in classical music performance. Even now, in 2009.

In an age where classical musicians keep putting out recording after recording (after recording) of the same tired old warhorses, distinguished only by the most minor, fussy variations in tempo and dynamics, Nyiregyházi's rip-roaring approach to classical music comes as a breath of fresh air. Would that we had ten more Nyiregyházis today.
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