Leon Fleisher, the patriarch of US pianists, has died at 92.
A pupil of Artur Schnabel, Fleisher seemed destined to inherit his teacher’s mantle as a master of Austro-German classical and romantic music. His recordings of Beethoven and Brahms concertos, made with conductor George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra, as well as a number of solo recordings, have been considered reference versions since they were released in the late 1950s and early ’60s.
In 1964, Fleisher contracted focal dystonia, a neurological condition that causes involuntary muscle contractions and loss of control over movement, and lost the ability to play with his right hand. He continued teaching – he had joined the faculty of Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory in 1959, and later taught at the Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts – and began performing the repertory for piano left-hand, much of it written for the Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who had lost his right arm in World War I. Fleisher also took up conducting.
After years of unsuccessful treatments for his disability, he found a regimen that worked and was able to resume performing with two hands in 1995. He often played as a duo pianist with his wife, Katherine Jacobson.
After restarting his two-handed career, Fleisher performed at the University of Richmond’s Modlin Arts Center in 2006 and with Jacobson inaugurated a new Steinway in a 2018 Rennolds Chamber Concerts program at Virginia Commonwealth University.
An obituary by Allan Kozinn for The New York Times:
An obituary and appreciation by Anne Midgette, former music critic of The Washington Post and co-author of Fleisher’s memoir, “My Nine Lives:”