My Nine Lives: A Memoir of Many Careers in Music (Hardcover)

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The stirring memoir of one of the greatest pianists of the postwar era—an inspiring tale of triumph over crippling incapacity that rivals Shine.

The pianist Leon  Fleisher—whose student–teacher lineage linked him to Beethoven by way of his instructor, Artur Schnabel—displayed an exceptional gift from his earliest years. And then, like the hero of a Greek tragedy, he was struck down in his prime: at thirty-six years old, he suddenly and mysteri­ously became unable to use two fingers of his right hand.

It is not just Fleisher’s thirty-year search for a cure that drives this remarkable memoir. With his coauthor, celebrated music critic Anne Midgette, the pianist explores the depression that engulfed him as his condition worsened and, perhaps most powerfully of all, the sheer love of music that rescued him from complete self-destruction.

Miraculously, at the age of sixty-six, Fleisher was diagnosed with focal dystonia, and cured by experimental Botox injections. In 2003, he returned to Carnegie Hall to give his first two-handed recital in over three decades, bringing down the house.

Sad, reflective, but ultimately triumphant, My Nine Lives com­bines the glamour, pathos, and courage of Fleisher’s life with real musical and intellectual substance. Fleisher embodies the resilience of the human spirit, and his memoir proves that true passion always finds a way.

About the Author

Born in San Francisco, LEON FLEISHER made his Carnegie Hall debut at sixteen. He was "Musical America"'s Instrumentalist of the Year in 1994; the sub-ject of the 2006 Oscar-nominated short documentary "Two Hands: The Leon Fleisher Story"; and a 2007 Kennedy Center Honoree. He continues to tour the world on an ambitious performance schedule.

A Yale graduate, ANNE MIDGETTE reviewed classical music for the "New York Times "before becoming chief classical music critic for the "Washington Post."

Praise For…


"[A] book that is thrilling as much for its narrative suspense as for its psychological sensitivity and intellectual insights."—Mindy Aloff, The Washington Post 

Kirkus Reviews (starred)

The legendary American pianist recounts the many stages of his storied career.

With its soaring highs and sweeping lows, the story of Fleisher’s life, deftly unveiled here with the help of Washington Post classical music critic Midgette, is as grand as any symphony. Now in his 80s, the author began playing piano in San Francisco at age four, gave his first public recital at eight, debuted with the New York Philharmonic at 16, won the prestigious Queen Elisabeth competition in Brussels in 1952 and made seminal recordings of Brahms and Beethoven with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra in the ’50s and early ’60s. However, his meteoric rise as a world-class musician was abruptly halted in 1964, at age 36, when he lost the use of his fourth and fifth fingers on his right hand. What gives this tale a heroic edge is not just Fleisher’s triumphant return to the performance stage at age 66, but the fact that, during the 30-year interval while he grappled with “two fingers that wanted to make a fist all the time,” he refashioned himself, channeling his gargantuan interpretive gifts into becoming an accomplished conductor, arts administrator and teacher. He also gained renown as a specialist in left-handed repertoire, performing Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand so often and well that Musical America named him 1994 Instrumentalist of the Year, two years before his right hand regained most of its former form. Though Fleisher provides an undoubtedly feel-good account, he also cautions readers. “If my story is about anything, it’s about being very careful when your dreams come true,” he writes, and he isn’t afraid to plumb darker moments, nor lightly gloss wayward attempts to overcome the emotional trauma resulting from sudden handicap. Fleisher’s humility and copious anecdotes involving many 20th-century musical lions, such as Schnabel, Klemperer, Szell and Bernstein, combine for a truly winning read.

Inspirational, enlightening and, above all, enjoyable—a revealing window into the private world of consummate music making.


For many, Leon Fleisher may be more famous for the injury to his right hand that curtailed his piano
concertizing for 30 years than for the sublime playing that made him one of the world’s foremost pianists.
He details the near-madness the injury caused him and, subsequently, after endless therapies, the
successful cure through Botox and rolfing. More important, though, he shares a life led near the epicenter
of the musical world for more than six decades, starting with his Carnegie Hall debut in 1944 at age 16 and
including lessons with piano eminence Artur Schnabel, a fruitful musical relationship with conductor
George Szell, associations with the great pianists of the day, conducting, teaching, and his performance
approaches to signal works in the canon, which are thoughtfully handled in “Master Class” subsections. A
winning volume for musicians and music fans both.— Alan Moores


"Leon Fleisher, one of our most prodigiously talented musicians, has lived a very rich human life—many lives—reinventing himself, after a career-ending injury, as a teacher and conductor, before ultimately returning to performance. His book, like the man himself, is warm, witty, honest, and wise—and full of vivid portraits of the world of professional musicians. A bravura performance."Oliver Sacks, M.D.

“Most musicians’ skills lie in their ability to be expressive in this non-verbal medium; Leon has the additional gifts of communicating ideas and concepts tactilely, viscerally, emotionally, spiritually and verbally.  Generations of musicians, including this one, have been truly blessed to hear him perform and receive his teaching.  In this candid memoir, Leon describes the many lives he has led and conveys one of the most significant of lessons: transforming adversity into triumph - and into wisdom.” —Yo-Yo Ma 

"Leon Fleisher's My Nine Lives is a modern-day musical ‘Odyssey’. His recounting of a fascinating life is told with great candor and philosophical wit. Musicians, of course, will gobble up this memoir from a legendary pianist; non-musicians will be enthralled by these adventures in both the outer and inner worlds of a great man. In short: a wonderful retelling of a truly epic life."
André Watts

"Leon Fleisher is a giant among musicians. His memoir recounts the joys and sorrows of a most eventful life with the same characteristics as his playing – unflinching honesty, a probing intellect, and a very great generosity of spirit. This is a book to cherish, offering much wisdom to the reader. Read it and listen."
Ara Guzelimian, Provost and Dean of The Juilliard School

"A remarkable story, beautifully told. I think it will fascinate anyone interested in a life (or nine) lived to the hilt, from the highest peaks to the deepest valleys and – hallelujah! – back up again. It’s a great read: inspirational, cliff-hanging, informative, funny, horrific. (And furthermore, most of it is true.)"
Gary Graffman

"[Leon Fleisher's] comeback has catapulted him up next to Lance Armstrong as a symbol of the indomitable human spirit and inspiration to the broader public"

Holly Brubach in The New York Times

Product Details
ISBN: 9780385529181
ISBN-10: 038552918X
Publisher: Doubleday Books
Publication Date: November 30th, 2010
Pages: 325
Language: English