Lost Genius: The Curious and Tragic Story of an Extraordinary Musical Prodigy

Lost Genius: The Curious and Tragic Story of an Extraordinary Musical Prodigy

Kevin Bazzana

Language: English

Pages: 384

ISBN: 0786720883

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Born in Budapest in 1903, Ervin Nyiregyházi (nyeer-edge-hah-zee) was composing at two, giving his first public recital at six, and performing all over Europe by eight. He was soon recognized as one of the most remarkable child prodigies in history and became the subject of a four-year study by a psychologist. By twenty-five, he had all but disappeared. Mismanaged, exploited, and insistent on an intensely Romantic style, his career foundered in adulthood and he was reduced to penury. In 1928, he settled in Los Angeles, where he performed sporadically and worked in Hollywood. Psychologically, he remained a child, and found the ordinary demands of daily life onerous — he struggled even to dress himself. He drank heavily, was insatiable sexually (he married ten times), and lived in abject poverty, yet such was his talent and charisma that he numbered among his friends and champions Rudolph Valentino, Harry Houdini, Theodore Dreiser, Bela Lugosi, and Gloria Swanson. Rediscovered in the 1970s, he enjoyed a sensational and controversial renaissance. Kevin Bazzana explores the brilliant but troubled mind of a geniune Romantic adrift in the modern age. The story he tells is one of the most fascinating - and bizarre - in the history of music.

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PART FIVE A GREAT ANTITHESIS 1980-1987 25 Teacher, Father By 1980, there was every reason to believe that Nyiregyházi’s career was finished. Asked in 1978 if he would ever give concerts again, he had said, “It is most unlikely unless some miraculous event takes place, which I doubt very much.” But the miraculous event did take place, in an unlikely location: Japan. His story, playing, and ideas deeply impressed a thirty-two-year-old musician named Tetsuji Koike, vice-president of the

These were comments he recalled reading in Adele’s diary, which she showed to him. She also wrote, “He should take care of his teeth.” (He didn’t.) 40 Other of his reassurances to Cleve make amusing reading in light of his later behaviour: “[I] never drink alcohol, never smoke, I behave honourably, like a true ‘gentleman’ . . . thanks to my colossal self-control: ‘sensuality’ has not yet gobbled me up.” 41 In one typical letter from 1961, he looks forward to when “I shall again see you -

offered an astonishingly ambitious program consisting of the same Schumann and Liszt works plus Beethoven’s C-minor concerto. (He was not yet fourteen.) “You really did something” was Dohnányi’s characteristically laconic comment on the concert, which Nyiregyházi recalled as “a rather glorious success.” He was ill with flu and a high fever at the time, but hid his illness so he would not have to cancel the concert. In fact, he was ill (with, among other things, pneumonia) throughout the early

. . . Kevin Bazzana’s enthralling biography conducts us through his life with compassion, insight, humor, humanity and a proper degree of amazement.” —RICHARD DYER, former music critic of the Boston Globe “A page-turner. . . . There was no modern pianist like him.” —MARK SWED, Los Angeles Times “The amazing thing about this story is the inextinguishable nature of this man’s genius, which kept flickering to life in recordings and odd performances, even incognito on occasion, long after

passion for philosophy that came to match his passions for music and chess, Liszt and Wilde. (He particularly admired recondite philosophies, like those of Kant and Hegel, that dealt with transcendental questions.) He also wrote music reviews occasionally for publications including the B’nai B’rith Messenger and Californiai Magyarság. He was always writing, in fact. His papers reveal a compulsion to set down ideas on subjects he was passionate about, even if only for private satisfaction. Killing

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