Death of David Debrizzi: Paul Micou

I’ve just enjoyed reading this book, for the second time. I first read it in the 1990s. I had a strong memory of having enjoyed it back then, but I couldn’t really remember much of the premise or the detail apart from the ‘Death spiral’.

It’s a novel. A british pianist and conductor Sir Geoffrey Flynch has written a biography ‘The Life of David Debrizzi’ – a child prodigy French concert pianist. The biography (of which we read short extracts) describes Debrizzi’s early life but attempts to glorify Sir Geoffrey’s role in his development and success. Simultaneously, it is very critical of the influence and tutelage of another French concert pianist Pierre Marie La Valoise who’s own career ended in burn-out. Paul Micou’s book is a 271 page letter from La Valoise to Sir Geoffrey taking him to task over his version of events.

I have a feeling that it helps if you have a knowledge of music, so that you appreciate some of the subtleties e.g. a list of well known composers which includes (I think) one made up one. It had me laughing out loud at times.

One of the most enjoyable passages describes David Debrizzi aged 21 making his first recording. Apart from having won the famous Gaston-Robert Piano Competition when he was 15 years old, he still has to give his first public recital – La Valoise’s own career ended when he suffered memory loss in a recital and he has been fighting off Sir Geoffrey’s attempts to push Debrizzi onto the recital circuit. He is to record the famously virtuosic ‘Death Spiral’ by Chanat – don’t look it up, neither Chanat or the Death Spiral exist. Everyone agrees that this piece is musically dreadful, written by a madman/frustrated virtuoso who wrecked his own playing career using machines to increase his finger span (aka Schumann). The Death Spiral is the pinnacle of virtuosity and no-one has attempted to play it let alone record it. Paul Micou’s description of the London recording studio is wonderful. They’ve booked the studio for 10 afternoons. Debrizzi and La Valoise arrive to find the studio has been trashed by a pop group the Mental Blocks who ‘had managed to record and mix one song before deciding they’d had enough and needed to destroy the studio for publicity purposes’. While the piano was being rolled into place, Debrizzi listened to their recording and declares ‘I love this. It’s just like………’ (La Valoise suggests) ‘Like Chanat?’ ‘Exactly’ Debrizzi responds. Needless to say, Debrizzi does a couple of takes on the first afternoon and is finished by the time Sir Geoffrey turns up to supervise the recording.

I won’t say what happens next just in case you decide to read this book. However, I believe it’s out of print – I bought mine online from SkoobBooks and was delighted when I opened it to find it in pristine condition with a Review Slip from the publisher dated 1991 ‘We have pleasure in sending you this book for review……’ I’ve a good mind to send Patsy Irwin, Press and PR Manager, Bantam Press this blog!


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