Maurizio Pollini (credit: Mathias Bothor / Deutsche Grammophon)

Remembering pianist Maurizio Pollini (1942 – 2024)

Giorgio Koukl | 25 MAR 2024

When the Teatro alla Scala of Milan, Italy, announced the death of the great pianist Maurizio Pollini on the morning of March 23, only a few people who had followed the Maestro’s personal story were really surprised.

In the last two years, Pollini has canceled many concerts, some at the last minute before his presence was due on stage. The reason is mostly the same: some coronary problems or general heart symptoms. Despite all these limitations, Pollini played with his proverbial clarity and formal rigor, never allowing himself any shortcuts until his last concert. Perhaps his muscular strength was not the same as in his youth, but he compensated this well with a capacity for musical vision well above the usual.


Maurizio was born in 1942 in a war-torn Italy, son of a well-known Milan architect. Soon, his mother, a pianist, and the general atmosphere of his family, highly pro-positive in all cultural fields, attracted the young Maurizio towards piano study. And what would be more logical than entering the most prestigious conservatory, that of Giuseppe Verdi of Milan? His two well-known piano teachers were Lonati and Vidusso, who helped from the very beginning to develop his fabulous pianistic technique, analytic approach to the score, and well-known precision and attention to detail.

It was at 18 years old that he became the first Westerner to win the International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, and his international career was supposed to start. Yet he disappeared for some years, partly due to a horrible accident cutting his hand, which was ill-treated and finally restored to full operability in Switzerland years later, and partly because he did not want to be categorized as a Chopin pianist only.

Maurizio Pollini (credit: Mathias Bothor / Deutsche Grammophon)

Maurizio Pollini (credit: Mathias Bothor / Deutsche Grammophon)

He developed a series of collaborations with living composers of his time, like Sciarrino, Nono, and Boulez, playing first-world executions of many pianistic works that are today an important part of the international repertoire. Initially, the public, too accustomed to classical and romantic composers only, saw this activity skeptically.

The choice of works he decided to play was quite restricted; for example, he never played Ravel, Scriabin, or Moussorgsky and only rarely Mozart. On the other hand, he insisted on playing Bach even when this was considered out of the question without using a harpsichord. He never taught, explaining this choice with a lack of time. His participation in chamber music ensembles was very limited. On the other hand, he was widely interested in conducting and has done so extensively.

Through the years, he developed a very refined agogical understanding of the phrasing and maintained this in every recording and recital. He found fervent admirers but also fierce critics who accused him of intellectual coldness.


His continuous collaboration with a handful of chosen conductors guaranteed him a “house style” with which he was familiar. A special bond with his fellow Milan musician, conductor Claudio Abbado, must be underlined. They had much in common in terms of introspection, maniacal perspective of shading, and enormous cure of detail.

After nearly sixty years of active recording, an impressive set of CDs remains a marvelous occasion for today’s listeners to discover this musician, even if listening to a live recital is no longer possible.

Teatro alla Scala has organized the possibility for everybody who wants to say goodbye to this outstanding musician until the funeral. This is only the second time in history that they have done such special deference, after the dancer Carla Fracci.

We will certainly all remember with gratitude all the beauty his hands have created over his lifetime.


About the author:
Giorgio Koukl is a Czech-born pianist/harpsichordist and composer who resides in Lugano, Switzerland. Among his many recordings are the complete solo piano works and complete piano concertos of Bohuslav Martinů on the Naxos label. He has also recorded the piano music of Tansman, Lutosławski, Kapralova, and A. Tcherepnin, amongst others, for the Grand Piano label. (photo: Chiara Solari)

Read more by Giorgio Koukl.
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