Blood on the Keys

The Technicolor splatter of blood on the keys in the corny movie A Song to Remember (1945) is a vulgar incarnation of a romantic image of obsessed genius.  That image has perhaps more authenticity than a few might suppose, for in the shot, the hands on the keyboard actually do belong to an obsessed genius, but one who was not Cornell Wilde pretending to be Frédéric Chopin.  That same elusive figure “stands in” for Henry Daniell as Liszt in Song of Love (1947), and some shots of his left hand appear in The Beast With Five Fingers (1946), and the sounds of the Bach Chaconne emanate from him.  He did receive screen credit for The Soul of a Monster (1944), in which he plays parts of Liszt’s Spanish Rhapsody and his Mephisto Waltz No. 1.  This phantom of the keyboard did indeed leave blood on the keys as has been attested and even urged a friend, coaching his study of Liszt’s Sonata in B minor, to “ruin [his] hands” and leave “blood on the keys.”  This was the Ervin Nyir­egyházi (1903-87) who had lived in the Los Angeles of Arnold Schoenberg, Gloria Swanson, and Bela Lugosi, and who had once given a recital as “Mr. X” wearing a black silk hood; he of the mysterious and controversial reputation that was revived in 1977 by the approved release of a surreptitious live recording.  The...

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