Pianist Aldo Ciccolini has died at the age of 89
Piano player Aldo Ciccolini (1925-2015) was an immense artist who pursued an international performing career alongside considerable teaching responsibilities, without compromising his commitment to both. Aldo Ciccolini was born in Naples. His father, who bore the title of Marquis of Macerara, worked as a typographer. He took his first lessons with Maria Vigliarolo d’Ovidio, and entered Naples Conservatory in 1934 at the age of 9, by special permission of the director, Francesco Cilea. There he studied piano with Paolo Denza, a pupil of Ferruccio Busoni, and harmony and counterpoint with Achille Longo.
He began his performing career playing at the Teatro San Carlo at the age of 16. However, by 1946 he was reduced to playing in bars to support his family. In 1949, he won, ex-aequo (tied) with Ventsislav Yankov, the Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud Competition in Paris (among the other prizewinners were Paul Badura-Skoda and Pierre Barbizet). He became a French citizen in 1969 and taught at the Conservatoire de Paris from 1970 to 1988, where his students included Akiko Ebi, Géry Moutier, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Artur Pizarro, Nicholas Angelich, André Sayasov and Jean-Luc Kandyoti. Among his students were also Roberto Cominati, Andrea Padova, Filippo Faes, Francesco Libetta,Domenico Piccichè and Jean-Marc Savelli.
Until the late 1980s, Ciccolini remained the doyen of teachers at the Paris Conservatoire; students travelled from every corner of the globe to be part of ‘chez Ciccolini’ and both Jean Yves-Thibaudet and Nicholas Angelich readily testify to the special alchemy that informed his teaching during this period.
By the late 90’s he had established his own teaching Academy outside Milan and his blend of innate musical instinct, personal philosophy and understated charm to be revelatory. His own pianistic pedigree via Alfred Cortot and Marguerite Long placed emphasis on finger articulation and clarity, but music was infinitely more than this to him. For him, the act of performing and teaching became a quasi-religious rite and his selfless pursuit of the ‘message’ or ‘soul’ within the music was the centrepiece of his teaching.
Despite his early success in the 1949 Marguerite Long/Jacques Thibaud competition in Paris, Ciccolini was anything but an admirer of today’s international piano competition circuit. He could be a candid but disquieting jury member – on one occasion, frustrated that an erratic, but genuinely gifted pianist had been eliminated from the contest at the expense of a more mundane, but consistent player, he chilled the blood of the Organising Committee with the words: ‘I shall speak to the press…’
Although of an infinitely courteous and amenable disposition, he was subject to melancholic lows exacerbated by recurring bouts of insomnia. At times when life threatened to overwhelm him he seemed to slip into a character from one of the magical realism novels by Marquez that he so admired; only very recently I expressed concerns for his wellbeing as he maintained his predilection for practising at his Paris home during the dead of night. ‘Mon petit’, he replied, ‘at night I hear the counsels of the moon.’
Enigmatic, artistically original and with an unimpeachable musical and moral integrity, Ciccolini was the most discreet of virtuoso pianists. For his public who continued to flock to his sold-out recitals and orchestral concerts, his loss is great. But for his family of pupils it is incalculable; no teacher can have been so greatly loved.