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

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Born in 1903, pianist Ervin Nyiregyházi 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. ...
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Lost Genius: The Curious and Tragic Story of an Extraordinary Musical Prodigy

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Overview


Born in 1903, pianist Ervin Nyiregyházi 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.
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Editorial Reviews

Michael Dirda
A few years back, Kevin Bazzana brought out Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould…[it] was everything a biography should be: In the words of one critic (me), the book was "expertly paced, admiring yet sensible, touched with wit and intensely readable." Every word of that sentence can be applied to Lost Genius, Bazzana's new book about yet another unorthodox musical genius, Ervin Nyiregyhazi (1903-1987)…Even if your interest in classical music is elementary or…merely perfunctory, Lost Genius offers much more than the elegance of the Vienna Philharmonic and the fun of the Boston Pops. Kevin Bazzana has resurrected Ervin Nyiregyhazi, not only as a strange musical might-have-been but also as a man who resolutely led his own stylishly dissolute life—and who did it with steely hauteur. Nyiregyhazi clearly belongs in that select pantheon of eccentric skid-row dandies, in the company of Baron Corvo, Julian MacLaren-Ross and Quentin Crisp. Though there will undoubtedly be some bigger biographies published this fall, it is hard to imagine a more delicious one than Lost Genius.
—The Washington Post
Washington Post Book World
Offers much more than the elegance of the Vienna Philharmonic and the fun of the Boston Pops. Kevin Bazzana has resurrected Ervin Nyiregyházi, not only as a strange musical might-have-been but also as a man who resolutely led his own stylishly dissolute life-and who did it with steely hauteur....Though there will undoubtedly be some bigger biographies published this fall, it is hard to imagine a more delicious one than Lost Genius.
Wall Street Journal
[Nyiregyházi's] life [is] unsparingly but empathetically recorded...Bazzana provides an extensively researched, nuanced account of a spectacularly dysfunctional life...May reignite interest in Nyiregyházi for a new generation.
New Yorker
[An] extraordinary story...Bazzana painstakingly re-creates a life lived mostly in obscurity and judiciously separates greatness from vainglory. The result is a balanced portrait that also often reads like a parable about the artistic temperament.)
New York Times Book Review
Kevin Bazzana, the author of an excellent, perceptive biography of another eccentric pianist, Glenn Gould, in this latest book fleshes out the details of Nyiregyházi's rise and fall, and rise and fall again.
New York Sun
[A] thorough and competent biography...[Bazzana] interprets the arc of Nyiregyházi's lifetime not as an unfolding catastrophe, but as a tragedy of a more sweeping and philosophical kind...The most engrossing aspects of the book are not the intimate details of Nyireghyazi's marriages and personal life but the careful and erudite descriptios of Nyireghyazi's playing-something of a feat in an account of a pianist long dead...[A] moving tale.
Publishers Weekly

Ervin Nyiregyházi (1903-1987) dazzled concert audiences in the early 20th century with his volcanic performances, playing so intensely that his fingers bled on the keys. Alas, his keyboard virtuosity was drowned out by a discordant symphony of neuroses. Unable even to tie his shoes properly, Nyiregyházi, who was born in Budapest, Hungary, and settled in L.A., wrestled with crippling stage fright; drank and womanized compulsively (his seventh wife was a prostitute he met six days before marrying her in Vegas); exhausted others with his neediness, paranoia and grandiose posturing; and sabotaged a potentially brilliant career in the name of artistic purity. Bazzana, biographer of eccentric pianist Glenn Gould, follows Nyiregyházi's life from early acclaim through decades of poverty, obscurity and debauchery to his brief, celebrated comeback in the 1970s as the "skid row pianist." Although Bazzana can be reductionist-he diagnoses Nyiregyházi with borderline personality disorder brought on by a domineering stage mother-he tells this lurid story sympathetically, without excusing Nyiregyházi's excesses. Even better, he writes about his subject's music in a lucid and evocative way. A tormented, self-destructive artist and the creator of thrilling, emotionally supercharged music, Nyiregyházi is, in Bazzana's compelling portrait, a study in the upside and downside of romanticism. Photos. (Sept. 17)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

In this well-documented biography of little-known Hungarian pianist and composer Ervin Nyiregyházi (1903-87), Bazzana (Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould) draws on Géza Révész's 1925 Psychology of a Musical Prodigybut expands the canvas to cover an entire lifetime. Through interviews and the examination of primary sources, Bazzana traces the pianist's formative years in Europe from his grade-school-age concertizing to his popular world tours, distressing relationships with managers and promoters, difficulties with alcohol and sex addiction, and encounters with contemporaries, including actors Béla Lugosi and Harold Lloyd and even gangsters Al Capone and John Dillinger. One empathizes with Nyiregyházi as he careens from superstar to penniless drudge to adored advocate of romanticism and back to homelessness, all within a few years. Nyiregyházi's ten wives and affairs with luminaries such as silent screen star Gloria Swanson make his relations with women prime territory, but it is unfortunate that Bazzana concentrates so much on this and chooses crude, off-putting language to describe the pianist's sexuality. The contemporary photographs and facsimiles of musical scores add interest, and the comprehensive index is useful. Recommended, with the above caveats, for all collections.
—Barry Zaslow

Kirkus Reviews
The swift rise to international celebrity and decades-long decline into profound obscurity of eccentric Hungarian pianist Ervin Nyiregyhazi. Bazzana (Wondrous Strange: the Life and Art of Glenn Gould, 2004, etc.) spent ten years investigating the bizarre life (1903-1987) of this quintessential flawed genius, who emigrated in 1920 to the United States, where he dazzled audiences and confounded critics for a few brilliant years before self-destructing at the end of the decade. The biographer's diligent, patient research paid off in abundant documentary evidence, and Bazzana gained the cooperation of Nyiregyhazi's tenth wife. Yes, the pianist also had a busy sex life. Likely a virgin until he was 20, Nyiregyhazi compensated in his final six decades with multiple marriages, multiple extramarital partners and a lifelong fondness for oral ministrations. His biographer is hard on Nyiregyhazi's mother, blaming her spoiling for retarding his social and psychological development. This seems harsh, but Bazzana's attitude is generally fair and balanced. He aptly describes Nyiregyhazi's mind-boggling abilities: Virtually all his life, the pianist could read a score, then play it flawlessly; he taught himself English in a week; he could play from memory a piece he'd not rehearsed for decades. Bazzana also has a very strong chapter on the architectonics of Nyiregyhazi's artistry and expertly analyzes his Romantic approach to the piano; he believed a score was a set of suggestions, a road map for artists to follow howsoever they chose. A prolific though undistinguished composer, Nyiregyhazi emerged briefly from near-invisibility and poverty in the late 1970s to make some highly hyped recordings.Unfortunately, the author notes, his technique had abandoned him by then. He was error-prone and even more erratic in temperament, and the critics, initially animated, finally saw ruin rather than splendor. Both compassionate and critical.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786720880
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/2007
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author


Kevin Bazzana is the author of Wondrous Strange, a biography of Glenn Gould, winner of the Toronto Book Award and an ASCAP Deems Taylor Award. He lives in Brentwood Bay, British Columbia.
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Table of Contents


Prelude: The Strange Case of Ervin Nyiregyhazi     1
Musical Wonder Child, 1903-1920     15
A Young Liszt of the Pianoforte, 1920-1928     81
A Soldier of Fortune, 1928-1972     147
The Pianist Who Came In from the Cold, 1972-1980     247
A Great Antithesis, 1980-1987     311
Postlude: The Nyiregyhazi Legacy     337
Notes on Sources and Acknowledgements     347
Index     369
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2008

    great biography

    Loved this book. Amazing biography. Great piece with history during an amazing time. So wonderful this book was written, therefore this story can live on.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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