Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli
Italy, °1920 - 1995
PIANO 1938 : Seventh Prize
Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli began to study the violin at the age of three, taking lessons at the Venturi Musical Institute in Brescia at the age of four. Around the age of ten he began piano studies at the Milan Conservatory with Giovanni Anfossi and graduated with a diploma in piano at the age of thirteen. Apparently, he had no more teachers from that point, but the lack of certainty may be due to his tendency to shroud his life with an aura of mystery and confusion. During his teenage years he studied medicine to placate a father who did not want him to take music as a career, but he returned to music and by the age of nineteen was of a high enough standard to win the first International Piano Competition in Geneva. For the following few years he taught at the Martini Conservatory in Bologna and gave concerts. In 1940 he made a sensational debut in Rome where he displayed an extraordinary technique and musical insight.

The outbreak of World War II interrupted Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli’s career just as it had begun. He joined the Italian airforce, but as soon as the war was over, he returned to the concert platform. His first appearance in London was with the London Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall. He played Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat and César Franck’s Variations Symphoniques. Surprisingly, The Times critic was not enthusiastic and found the Franck to be a ‘rather ordinary and not always accurate performance’. However the critic wrote that Michelangeli was ‘…possessed of great power combined with an unusual clarity’ when reviewing the Liszt concerto. Clarity is something often referred to in Michelangeli performances, and this critic also noticed that his tone was ‘…consistently beautiful, and he commands an exceptional legato, which did something to give distinction to Franck’s Variations.’

Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli first toured the United States in 1948, making his orchestral debut at Carnegie Hall in November. He played Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor Op. 54 with the New York Philharmonic and Dimitri Mitropoulos and made his solo debut at Carnegie Hall in January 1949. He then had a career of teaching and performing, and during the 1950s spent more time teaching. By 1957, on his return to London, he was already being described as ‘the distinguished young pianist from Italy’.

Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli had built a reputation as much on the frequency of his cancellation of concerts as on his pianism. He never enjoyed performing and would only give a concert if everything was exactly to his liking, and this caused many concerts to be cancelled. Everything he did at the keyboard was weighed and calculated to the last detail, and it was this fear of taking risks that led one pianist to call him ‘the Great Mortician’.

After his London appearances in the late 1950s he toured South America and the Soviet Union, and in 1965 toured in Japan. The following year he toured extensively in America, his first visit in fifteen years. In 1973 he began teaching at a summer school at Villa Schifanoia near Florence, and in 1980 he visited Japan again but played only one of his five scheduled concerts. In 1988 he had a serious heart attack during a concert in Bordeaux, but continued his performing career until shortly before his death.
Final (29/05/1938)
Edvard Grieg Concerto in A minor op. 16
Giuseppe Martucci Thème avec variations
Fryderyk Chopin Scherzo n. 2 in B flat minor op. 31
Fryderyk Chopin Etude in C sharp minor op. 10/4
Claude Debussy Reflets dans l'eau (Images I)
Franz Liszt Polonaise n. 2 in E major
Charles Scharrès Scherzo Fantastique
Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli
Orchestre Symphonique de l'INR, dir. Franz André
Relive the performances of Voice 2023
H.M. Queen Mathilde
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