Maurizio Pollini, the poet of the piano, has died: an icon who enchanted the world


By John

Maurizio Pollini, who turned 82 on 5 January, won his first international competition at the age of 15 and when, three years later, in 1960, having recently graduated from the Milan conservatory, he won the prestigious Chopin Competition in Warsaw, Arthur Rubinstein, who was among the jurors, he exclaimed: «This young man already plays technically better than all of us». His fame soon became absolutely international and he entered the legend of the history of great pianists. This meant very hard and continuous discipline and only in recent years did he admit to «feeling a certain fatigue. Pollini died this morning, he had been ill for some time and for health reasons he had canceled the last scheduled concerts.

The funeral home, as already happened for Carla Fracci, will be held at La Scala, a theater to which Pollini was very attached. His studies, after the success in Warsaw, continued and had a high moment in the improvement with Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli who also helped him to work further on the technique which, together with a profound musical culture and skill, always allowed him to highlight the structural construction of a piece approached with a rational spirit, but in which the feeling, the melancholic or passionate vein, slowly emerges as the very substance of the details and form of the composition, with a lesser rigidity that has also arrived over time: «I believe today my interpretation is freer in rhythm and that there are more elements of 'rubato' – he confessed five years ago – but always remaining far from the exaggerations of the late nineteenth century”.

His has always been an interpretation based on total respect for the written text, but always remaining very modern, without lyrical abandon or virtuosic elegance, with an expressive force entirely internal to the work. A modernity that was in his cultural education which, due to his family environment (his father was a well-known rationalist architect and his mother a musician and sister of the painter and sculptor Fausto Melotti) and acquaintances in the 60s, starting from that with Nono, he did not experience art and music as something detached from life and therefore made him an intellectual artist who has always publicly expressed his ideas and his civil and political commitment, as when in the 70s he played in schools and factories, or when expressed his opinions, critical of the Berlusconi governments since the Vietnam War.

Thus his musical interests and his repertoire did not remain limited in continuous study, but rather gradually opened up to new tests and explorations that ranged from Bach (for Pollini, as Piero Balloi wrote, ''Bach is almost a romantic », noting «the rather generous use of the pedal, the impetuous and fluent phrasing, the often warm and enveloping sound, in other cases drier and meticulously finished, the always vast range of dynamic colors'), and Mozart, of whom he brought to new light all the subtle harmonic and timbral facets, the beauty of the melodic lines, the playfulness and wit. Passing through the beloved Chopin, of whom, starting from the new, less rigid readings of Rubinstein, he profoundly renewed the understanding, and Beethoven, up to the moderns, among whom Schonberg stands out, and also Italian contemporaries, such as Berio and Nono. His concerts, when they did not involve complete performances of an author, were often organized in cycles that also involved other musicians.

The «Pollini Projects» were programs without boundaries between classical and contemporary, in his attempt not to educate, but to involve the public in the music of his time, explaining: «We must learn to understand silence, pauses, as an essential part of music , if we want to understand our contemporaries. What's new, after all, has always been frightening and took a certain time to establish itself: when Beethoven wrote the Eroica, many said 'let's hope he goes back to composing gentler music. But in the meantime creation goes on.”

The artistic life of Maurizio Pollini, born in 1942 and raised in Milan, has always been closely linked to the Teatro alla Scala, where he made his debut at the age of sixteen in 1958 performing the world premiere of Ghedini's Fantasia for piano and string instruments directed by Thomas Schippers and where he returned two years later, fresh from his victory in Warsaw, with Chopin's First Concerto conducted by Celibidache, and then constantly for over 150 recitals and concerts as a soloist or with the most important conductors, starting with his friend Abbado.

He himself also measured himself as a conductor, even in opera. It is impossible to say where and with whom Pollini has played in over 60 years of activity; it would be a very long list that includes all the major concert halls in the world, the orchestras and the conductors. He has recorded dozens of CDs and won internationally prestigious awards as well as received numerous honours.