Lost Genius

Lost Genius

The Curious and Tragic Story of An Extraordinary Musical Prodigy

Book - 2008
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Born in 1903, pianist Ervin Nyiregyh#65533;zi was the subject of the first book devoted to the scientific study of a single prodigy. By twenty-five he had all but disappeared. Mismanaged, exploited, and unfashionably romantic, his career floundered in adulthood. He drank heavily, married ten times, and was reduced to penury, sometimes living on the subway. He settled in Los Angeles where he performed sporadically, counting many of Holly-wood's elite among his friends, including Gloria Swanson, a likely lover. Rediscovered in the 1970s, he enjoyed a sensational and controversial renaissance, before slipping back into obscurity.
Publisher: Cambridge, MA : Da Capo Press, 2008.
Edition: 1st Da Capo pbk. ed.
ISBN: 9780306817489
Characteristics: 383 p. : ill., music ; 22 cm.


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Jan 26, 2010

The year 1903 was one of those years in music history when 3 great musicians were born: Rudolf Serkin, Claudio Arrau and Vladimir Horowitz. A fourth pianist of note was also born in that special year - Ervin Nyiregyhazy, the subject of the book.

The first three named went on to enjoy acclaim and long careers before the public. Ervin Nyiregyhazy, perhaps more gifted and creative as an artist than those giants of the keyboard, lived and worked in relative obscurity.

Well known in Europe as a child prodigy, his adult career foundered. After his American debut he gradually slipped into oblivion. His American management was poor and failed to secure him good venues to display his gifts. Also Ervin preferred composition to performance.

Composing music before he could write he was known as the new Mozart. And certainly he displayed many of the gifts Mozart possessed had yet his career was limited because of his choice of music to champion – that of Franz Liszt, the great Hungarian composer and pianist who founded the music of the future movement. Nyiregyhazy championed the music of Liszt and like Liszt was a Hungarian. He once said of himself: “I am first a human being, second a philosopher and composer, thirdly a pianist”.

Possessor of outstanding Ervin’s musical gifts – perfect pitch, the ability to sight read any piece of music put before him and technique that most pianists would die for, most of the teachers were unable to teach him anything except to focus his genius in some sort of organized way.

On the death of his beloved father, his mother took charge of his career doting on him so much that when he reached adulthood he couldn’t tie his shoes, shave himself and apparently was unable to cut his own food. At 17 he was still decked out in short pants as his mother did not want him to grow up. As a youth he had a large repertoire that included Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven and of course his beloved Liszt.

In America he wanted to compose and his championing of the music of Liszt and obscure compositions stalled his career. For the most part he drifted.
He picked up work as a pianist in smaller communities and because he was rather good looking he attracted the attentions of many women. Some he married others he simply had numerous intense liaisons with He married 10 times more often than not to replicas of his mother with names similar to hers – Maria.

He eventually wound up in Los Angeles and found work in the movie business and appeared in a couple of films. He lived frugally and more often than not acquired money left to him by his wives. He managed to return to Europe before the war and saw his mother for the last time in the late 1930s. She died in the holocaust.
As a child prodigy he played with many orchestras, was the centre of attention in a moderately musical family both his father and grandfather were singers in opera. He was well known in Europe and came to America in 1920. Photographs of him at the time show him with shoulder length hair a la Liszt. Later this was shorn off and he sported a more stylish hair cut. Those taking care of his needs in New York were utterly flabbergasted to learn that he could not shave himself, tie his shoes or cut his own food.

This is one of those books that I could not put down. It is well written and well researched and Mr Bazzana’s style is easy to read and informative. He brings Mr Nyiregyhazy to life and treats the subject with respect and dignity – something Ervin would have appreciated. For anyone who studies music or enjoys a good biography this is one to read.

One of the short comings I noted was that the illustrations were not always well captioned and perhaps there could have been more. However, this defect it may be due to space considerations and the design decisions of the publisher.


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