We’ve had a wealth of great pianists to experience in our time – Alfred Brendel, Sir Andras Schiff, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Martha Argerich, Evgeny Kissin, Daniel Barenboim, Leif Ove Andsnes, just to name a few.  The respected Italian pianist Maurizio Pollini deserved and attained status within that lofty group, a pianist who took an intellectual approach to interpretation and was unrivaled in his extraordinary technique, considered to be "modernist" in the way he played the piano.  Pollini died on March 23, 2024 in his native Milan at the age of 82 after several years of failing health.  We pay tribute to this great piano titan, whom The New York Times called "a modernist master."

This "thinker" of the piano was born into an artistic family in Milan in 1942.  His father was a violinist and noted architect, known for introducing the "rationalist" movement of architecture to Italy in the 1930s.  His mother was a pianist and sister of the acclaimed sculptor, Fausto Melotti.  Raised in that environment, it's no wonder that Maurizio sought a musical career with an analytical bent.    

Pollini studied piano, composition and conducting in Italy, and after achieving high standings in international competitions in his late teens, become the first Western winner of the prestigious International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw in 1960, at the age of 18.  During this time, Pollini was influenced by the enigmatic Italian pianist, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, with whom Pollini studied in the 1960s.  Michelangeli was known for elegance, restraint and a self-possessed style of playing.


A major concert career started in the 1960s, one that continued on international stages for more than 50 years.  For Pollini, performing wasn’t the full extent of a musical career; he persistently sought a greater comprehension of the of the ideas behind the music for a heightened musical experience.  

Like many of his generation, Pollini mastered the Romantic era classics and composers -- Chopin, Schumann, Brahms -- but was equally renowned for his thoughtful interpretations of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Debussy, Stravinsky and Prokofiev.  He advocated throughout his life for the music of modernist composers, such as Karlheinz Stockhausen and Luigi Nono.  During his long career, he collaborated with the who's who of musicians such as Karl  Böhm, Claudio Abbado  and Pierre Boulez.  Pollini also conducted, particularly during his performance of Mozart piano concertos, received a Grammy Award in 2007 for his recording of Chopin's Nocturnes and was invited into the Grammophone Hall of Fame in 2012.  Social activism, particularly in support of workers’ rights and educational opportunities for students, was an important aspect of his life.  And he maintained a devout interest in the literature of William Shakespeare, which he read repeatedly in English.

Pollini’s performances were often characterized as direct and cerebral, with a sense of objectivity and "emotional restraint" that stood in contrast to the more overtly emotional, expressive performance style of many pianists.  Yet it was exactly these characteristics – his piercing depth of the score, a forceful command of technique, non-superficial artistry, an intense focus on the intrinsic value of each piece rather than on the performer – that made him one of the most respected pianists of our time.   "I want the music to speak for itself,” he said. “It is true that I look for and try to uncover what seems to me the essence of a work, its truth. . . . And I suppose in that sense I am a pianist of my time.”

The New York Times wrote of Pollini in its recent obituary: "[He} was that rare pianist who compelled listeners to think deeply. He was an artist of rigor and reserve whose self-assurance, uncompromising directness and steadfast dedication to his ideals were evidence of what his colleague Daniel Barenboim called 'a very high ethical regard of music'."

Maurizio Pollini’s legacy will be his extraordinary intelligent approach to music in the mission of artistry and understanding.  We are quite fortunate to have his recordings to witness these ideals.  

Filed under: Maurizio Pollini, Piano

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