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Lost Genius: The Story of a Forgotten Musical Maverick

by Kevin Bazzana

B.C. writer Kevin Bazzana follows up Wondrous Strange, his sterling and very nearly definitive biography of Glenn Gould, with a winning account of the strange life and times of one Ervin Nyiregyhazi. Nyiregyhazi, for those not well-versed in obscure Hungarian pianists, was a Budapest-born child prodigy who fled the rising tide of European anti-Semitism following the First World War to go to the U.S., where, following a brief period of renown, he disappeared into obscurity. His work was rediscovered in the late 1970s, but after this brief renaissance he disappeared again. He died in 1987.

Blending scrupulous historical research with an accessible prose style, Bazzana brings this “spectacularly gifted but psychologically cursed” pianist to life in all his contradictory glory and squalor.

Nyiregyhazi is a compelling figure: driven by music and the purity of his vision for both his performances and, more importantly to him, his compositions, but equally driven by raging alcoholism and sexual obsession (married 10 times, Nyiregyhazi had dozens of mistresses, and a penchant for prostitutes and very rough massage). He was his own worst enemy, suffering from stage fright and an egotism that alienated those who could have helped his career. Ultimately, however, it seems not to have mattered: he was happier living in flophouses and skid-row hotels than appearing at Carnegie Hall and performing for royalty.

Bazzana neatly balances keen musical analysis, biographical detail, and psychological insight. (Freud would have had a field day with Nyiregyhazi’s relationship with his mother – Bazzana certainly does.) The result is a compelling read that throbs with life, threaded with scholarly footnotes and photographs.