Leon Fleisher has considered music to be his whole life. At the age of four he began learning the piano. Four years later he made his first public appearance and at the age of sixteen he played with the New York Philharmonic under Pierre Monteux, who described him as “the pianistic find of the century”.
But by the age of 36, Leon could barely write his name. “I was preparing for the most important tour of my life when I had a minor accident. I cut my thumb on a piece of cheap garden furniture and required a couple of stitches. When I started practicing again, things didn’t feel quite right on my right side. My fourth and fifth fingers seemed to want to curl under. I practiced even harder, not listening to my body when, through pain, it warned me to stop. Things got progressively worse and in less than a year those two fingers were completely curved under, sticking into the palm of my hand. No way could I play the piano. I was desolate. My life fell apart.” It was as if his arm were a rope becoming unraveled, with creeping numbness in his fingers. Engagements were cancelled, recordings put on hold. The doctors were baffled and could do nothing to help Leon.
After a few years, Leon realized that his connection was with the music itself and not just with playing the piano with two hands. He began playing again – with one hand and became a left-handed concert pianist. From his half came the most beautiful music.
When we become a widow, we became the half of a whole. We flounder with our identity thinking that there is nothing about our half that is good without our other half. Yet, Leon’s story gives us encouragement that from our half can come beautiful music. It gives us hope that, in time, we can play the piano of life with one hand and create something that fills the air of our lives with sounds that we never dreamed could be created alone as a half of a whole.
Click on the link below to listen and watch Leon as he plays the Left-Handed Concerto Cadenza.