Maurizio Pollini dies at 82

25 March 2024
By Ellie Palmer
The Italian pianist and conductor was considered one of the greats of the 20th century

Maurizio Pollini has passed away at the age of 82. The pianist died in his home city of Milan on 23 March.

Pollini was highly regarded as one of the greats of the 20th century, specialising in works by Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy and the Second Viennese School of composers. He was also a big supporter of contemporary composers including Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, George Benjamin, Roberto Carnevale and others.

The Italian made his name known in the piano world when he won the 1960 Chopin Competition in Warsaw at the age of just 19. Arthur Rubinstein, who was on the jury, commented, "That boy can play the piano better than any of us". He signed for EMI shortly after.

However, his time at EMI wasn't without controversy. He suffered a crisis of confidence and, after recording two of Chopin's Etudes, Opp. 10 and 25, he refused to give the label permission to release them. The label sent him off to study with the great Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. Pollini retracted himself from the spotlight to focus on said studies.

Many had mixed opinions on the influence Michelangeli had on Pollini's playing. It was argued that Pollini's interpretations became cold and emotionally conserved. In an obituary of Pollini's life, The Guardian comments, "Particularly in his later years, Pollini’s breathless, impatient delivery of Beethoven’s sonatas often seemed to deny their rhetoric, as though he was embarrassed by large romantic gestures or overt emotionalism."

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The pianist switched to Deutsche Grammophon in 1968, where he remained an artist until his death. He released his first recordings on the label in 1971. This included Stravinsky's Trois mouvements de Petrouchka and Prokofiev's Seventh Sonata. They are considered landmarks of 20th century piano discography. He also recorded Schoenberg's solo piano œuvre (1974) as well as fresh recordings of the Chopin Etudes, Opp. 10 and 25  - the same pieces he had refused to release on EMI. He also recorded the entire Beethoven piano sonatas cycle in 2014.

The original EMI Chopin recordings were eventually released in 2011 much to critical acclaim.

You can find some extraordinary footage below of Maurizio Pollini at the 1960 VI Chopin Piano Competition. He performs Chopin's Prelude Op 28 No 24 in D minor and Impromptu Op 51 in G flat major.