In 1964, while preparing for a tour of the USSR, Leon Fleisher experienced the first signs of a problem. Two of the fingers of his right hand began to curl uncontrollably; within 10 months they were clenched in a fist. He was not in pain, and medical experts were baffled.
“I guess my fantasy was that with the same mystery with which it had appeared, it would disappear,” he said in a 2007 interview. His attempts to regain control of his fingers ran the gamut from A to Z, he said, “from aromatherapy to Zen Buddhism.” Meanwhile, he redirected his musical energies to performing the left-hand repertory, teaching, and conducting.
Finally, some 30 years later, a diagnosis of focal dystonia, a neurological disorder linked to repetitive tasks, led to an experimental treatment involving Botox injections.
His comeback catapulted him as a symbol of the human spirit and an inspiration to a broader public. Egon Petri’s transcription of Bach’s Schafe können sicher weiden (Sheep may safely graze) has become something of a signature piece, a staple of Fleisher’s solo programs. It is to his mind “the antiterror piece of our time.”
This according to “The pianist Leon Fleisher: A life-altering debility, reconsidered” by Holly Brubach (The New York times, 12 June 2007).
Today is Fleisher’s 90th birthday! Below, the sublime Bach work.