History and Mystery The piano spheres of Ludovico Einaudi
LUDOVICO EINAUDI / Nightbook (Harmonia Mundi)
On the subject
of what back in the day was quaintly referred to as “new age” music, I once
made a snarky but I thought acute observation to Can bassist/“acoustical
landscape painter” Holger Czukay that this type of music
seemed to lack intellectual content. His response was a definitive
squashing of my thinnish wisdom. He said, “Music is a stupid way of art,
usually for stupid people. If you are writing literature or poetry, then you
should be an intellectual; as a really good musician, that’s not a must.”
by way of discussing the case of Italian pianist-composer Ludovico Einaudi,
whose music is by no means stupid or empty, but does explore a gorgeous, lyrical
sonic system that spins perilously close to the spiritually ornamental
world of new age music –– so close, interestingly, that one finds one’s
self reconsidering the undeniable power of merely beautiful music. (This is
very tricky terrain.)
is a delicate sensibility, Einaudi’s is better seen as
a passionate curiosity about the infinite possibilities inferred
in music itself. The Turin-born, conservatoire-trained Einaudi (who also
happens to be the grandson of Luigi Einaudi, the first post-war president
of Italy), has pursued that fascination in numerous scores of a broad
variety of creative modes, for ballets, operas and film and television
scores (the NBA, This Is England,
the British TV series Doctor Zhivago, among many others), and has collaborated with a wide-ranging
assortment of the new music’s more progressive proponents, from Malian harp
chief Ballake Sissoko to the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.
Einaudi’s latest album, Nightbook, was conceived and recorded as a response to the work of Anselm
Kiefer, the German painter and sculptor, and was also inspired by the drums
and electronics of the Whitetree project, a performing trio that Einaudi
has formed with Robert and Ronald Lippok of German electronic group To
Rococo Rot; brother Robert supplies extraordinarily evocative shadings to
this strings-and-percussion-laced album framing Einaudi’s dramatically
minimal solo piano compositions.
The point about this post-post-post Nightbook and Einaudi himself is that his music is both
uncategorizable and very, very powerful –– and that that is a very good
thing. He talks about it over the phone from his home in
called Nightbook a record about the transition between light
and dark, between the known and unknown.
LUDOVICO EINAUDI: For me this project is to go toward new perspectives in my music.
I enjoy changing, and opening new doors in my activities. And this time, I
was a couple of years ago playing in Milano in a very strange place, a big
industrial space called the Bicocca Hangar, and this space was renewed as
an art gallery. I played the piano between an installation called The
Seven Heavenly Palaces by Anselm Kiefer. And the sound of my
piano in this space, it was like playing in a very strange cathedral; there
was incredible reverb, and with the character of those immense towers
around me, it was a sort of apocalyptic experience. There was a spiritual
so when I was rehearsing there, I was trying out the sound, and I realized
that I couldn’t play music that I had already composed, I had to do
something specific for this event. So I went back home without the time
really to think too much, and I decided on some sketches that I put down on
the piano and then I went to the performance space and did the concert
improvising around these sketches.
I was listening to the concert afterward, I heard that it was new. And I
saw this new, obscure light; there was a mysterious feeling in that music
that I really liked. I found that there was a color of this light around
this music, and there was both a sort of bleak inspiration and a kind of
conscious inspiration that you find inside yourself.
it was a different idea for me of going into this darkness, into these
particular adventures, and I knew that these were going to be for my new
album. Of course, I had decided to fill these darkened caverns with moments
of light, because if you make some concerts you understand that the darkest
themes are juxtaposed with lighter themes, so that you understand all the
So the ambience of the live setting –– the things
that you saw and the sound of the space itself –– informed your musical
ideas in performance.
But I also realized that sound by experimenting in
the studio by, for example, using electronics on the piano; I’ve been
working in my live shows with Robert Lippok, who was on the album, too.
Sometimes we went on completely unknown sound adventures, different worlds
around the piano where one sound begins to play the other.
How does the interaction with Robert Lippok’s
We were working in various ways, sometimes it was
music where we had experimented with sequencers, where the piano was miked
out via separate channels to his sequencer, reordered and altered with
digital effects, and I was playing off the output back to me from the
sequencer. Then the piano is becoming fantastical, partly because the sound
coming back to me is different from the piano, so what I play is then
influenced by the sound that I hear with the sequencer. Sometimes we use a
delay, or ways to project sound in a very long delay sound, and so with
this idea came the actual composition of the music, as some pieces came out
in improvising around these sounds with electronic effects.
electronics you don’t know where you’re going, so it’s a very difficult way
of doing the music. But I really enjoy hitting a balance between my piano
and this other special energy. And when you add other instruments, it
becomes organic and complete.
This music has a warmth, a romanticism, that marks
a break from the heavily theoretical contemporary classical path on which
you originally started, beginning with your studies with Luciano Berio. Was there a point when you decided you
wanted to get away from music for the head?
Really, my musical background was partly in classical
music and partly in contemporary music. Since the beginning I was very much
interested in popular music, but also music that is coming from old, ancient
times. My interest has been in looking for the roots of music and trying to
find connections, causes, to see where different aspects of our culture are
coming from. So I was interested in modern music, like club music, and old
music, from Armenia and Africa or different parts of the world, because I
found very interesting the idea that there is a language of our time that
we musicians can use, and you can build stories basing what you want to say
on a language that is comprehensible by everyone, in the sense that you can
use some harmonic, melodic or rhythmic feel that is not actually of our
idea is not something I invented; there’ve been many composers going back
into the roots. It’s just that from the ’60s or ’70s there was the idea
that music should be invented from zero. Then composers like
Glass and Reich, the minimalists, they
started to work on this, to use the rhythms and harmonies of other times.
Much of what you do concerns itself with saying more
by saying less. We can draw a line between you and the minimalists,
obviously, but there is a connection with Satie, as well.
Yes, Satie, or the piano music of Chopin or Schumann,
there are things that I can relate to, the idea of sounds without words.
The influence is very strong from popular music, harmonically, and the way
of building the structural lines of the song. There are some pieces,
however, where it doesn’t necessarily refer to a song in the normal sense,
pieces in which it builds like a bolero, and in terms of dynamics, there is
a melodic structure that is repeating and building through different layers
from the piano, and you have the big climax with a lot of additional instruments
at the end.
my music is a combination of different musical forms, and in a way that I
feel is not completely harmonious –– but is what I was looking for. I
didn’t want to set myself on one level; I wanted to experiment in different
possibilities and take the listeners to different travels, adventures, new
heights. You have to go for the adventure.