The Spellbinding Pianist, Leon Fleisher’s Death Cause at 92

3 min readAug 3, 2020


One of America’s most beloved and resourceful pianists has died. Leon Fleisher’s death cause was announced cancer in Baltimore Sunday morning. He was 92 years old according to his son, Julian.

Leon Fleisher’s death cause was announced cancer in Baltimore Sunday morning.
The New York Times

Leon Fleisher (1928–2020) belonged to a rollicking age of Yank keyboard heroes, some of whom died young, like William Kapell and Julius Katchen.

Fleisher himself grappled with a medical condition that limited him to the left-hand repertoire for decades until an experiential treatment regime allowed his partial return to two-handed playing.

In his diary, Fleisher said he couldn’t recall a time when he wasn’t playing the piano. He gave his first public performance at age eight and was just 16 when he debuted at Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic.

Unable to use his right hand, he played pieces written for left hand only, conducted, and trained. Years later, he made a successful two-handed comeback.

Leon Fleisher’s death cause: Cancer

His death, in a hospice, was established by his son, who said that Mr. Fleisher had been teaching and conducting master classes online as recently as last week.

Conductor Pierre Monteux described Fleisher as the “pianistic find of the century.” At 25, he recorded his first album for Columbia Records, a deep dive into music by Franz Schubert that Tim Page, writing for the Washington Post in 1996, named “transcendent.”

“He was a nice guy. He was a very nice guy,” his son said. “He never had a mean word to say about anybody.”

“Leon’s remarkable gifts as a musician, pianist, and teacher, were matched only by his charm, wit, intelligence, and warmth as a human being,” Mr. Bronstein stated. “It seems simplistic to say that there was no one else like Leon. But that is the essence of it.”

The early life of Leon Fleisher

Thus 4-year-old Leon began studying piano, and his progress was fast. At 8, he gave his first public performance, at the San Francisco Community Playhouse.

a year later, the famous Austrian teacher Artur Schnabel broke his vow to never accept any student under 16. For the next 10 years, Mr. Fleisher would study under Mr. Schnabel in Lake Como, Italy, and in New York City.

“The gods know how they hurl their thunderbolts,” Fleisher said. “Having spent 36, 37 years of playing two hands and then to have it denied was a tremendous blow.”

Fleisher considered suicide. But he also risked everything to repair his hand, from hypnosis and EST seminars to acupuncture and carpal tunnel surgery.

“I suddenly came to the realization that my connection with music was greater than just as a two-handed piano player,” he said.


At 23, Fleisher became the first American to win the Queen Elisabeth Piano Competition in Brussels. His mastery of the instrument led to a golden career, but it all came to a surprising halt when he was only 36.


Fleisher was born in San Francisco on July 23, 1928. He took over the family piano at age four when it became obvious to his parents that he possessed significant talent. By nine, he was off to Europe to study with the legendary pianist Artur Schnabel, whose teacher’s teacher was Beethoven.

Leon’s career

Fleisher’s memoir, My Nine Lives, co-written with music critic Anne Midgette, was released in November 2010, the same year he was nominated Instrumentalist of the Year by London’s Royal Philharmonic Society.

Throughout his career, Fleisher tutored students at the Peabody Conservatory and around the world, having an international schedule of masterclasses, performances, and orchestral guest conducting into his early 90s, reportedly teaching and conducting master classes as late as last week.

Generations of his students have stated that his leadership and mentorship has informed not only their playing although their relationship to the world.





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