Friday, May 1, 2015

En récital: Ciccolini & Satie

No. 196 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at


This month's podcasts share a common pattern: they feature great pianists of today and yesterday "in recital", playing the works of a single composer.

Today's podcast unites a great Italian pianist and a unique piano voice of the 20th century: the late Aldo Ciccolini and Erik Satie.

The pianist Aldo Ciccolini, who died this past February at the age of 89, was famed for his pearly, translucent tone and nimble fingerwork. Though highly regarded by his pupils, who included Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Artur Pizarro and Nicholas Angelich, and by other musicians with whom he performed, notably the singers Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Nicolai Gedda and the violinist Jacques Thibaud, he never quite entered the big league of international soloists. That may have been in part because his tasteful, understated style of playing did not lend itself to barnstorming performances. Or it may have been the result of his fascination with neglected repertoire: Satie and Saint-Saëns were among the better-known composers he championed, but he also explored the piano works of Rossini, Salieri, Massenet, De Falla and the little-known French composer Déodat de Séverac.

Though born and brought up in Naples – he became in 1947 the youngest person to hold the post of piano professor at the city’s conservatory – he eventually made his home in France. His benchmark recordings of Satie were notable for their unaffected artlessness and thoughtful shaping of phrases; the hypnotic quality of the playing nevertheless managed to suggest something more complex under the limpid surface.

As for Satie himself, he was quite a character - something of a failed music student, he was devoted to what we would call to day "religious cults" (the PC term here being "orders") and live the life of a hermit - in today's terms, Satie would have been viewed as a "hoarder", living in a home that was bursting with items, in chaos and disorder, often wearing the same outfits. Many of his compositions were in fact discovered after his death, among his hoard, unpublished during his lifetime.

The Satie-Ciccolini recital I concocted avoids the overplayed works - like the Gymnopedies and Gnossiennes - and offers a cross-section of works from different momnts of Satie's career, including some titles intended for the stage.

I think you will love this music too.