A great pianist has died, aged 89

We regret to share news of the death of Aldo Ciccolini, the French-Italian pianist who commanded classical repertoire on EMI in the 1960s and 70s. A Neapolitan of aristocratic family, he was reduced to playing in bars after the War until a 1949 Long-Thibaud competition win in Paris turned his life around.

He specialised first in the romantic repertoire of Saint-Saens, before covering most other French composers. Satie was a personal favourite.

Walter Legge engaged him as accompanist to Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and he went on to record the complete sonatas of Beethoven and Mozart for EMI. An excellent teacher, his students included Thibaudet, Angelich, Pizarro and Libetta.

He was a byword for elegance, a pianist of the golden age.

ciccolini EMI

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  • He was a great yet undervalued pianist, it seems to me. He was a thinker as well as a virtuoso as is evident in his boxed set of Liszt (EMI) – as fine as any, and finer than most, in my collection. His sound is immediately recognizable. Perhaps Louis Kentner at his best was close in style to Ciccolini.

  • He was a major influence here in France, especially as the very fine, unorthodox teacher of many accomplished pianists. Rest in peace

  • What a wonderful video link to commemorate this great artist; as you you say, Norman, a consummate example of an age of elegance. To bring a lifetime of pianism to a work of such elusive simplicity (Satie) – which everyone thinks they know – and to invest it with that strange purity which comes only either from pure innocence or wise recollection, is very precious.

  • Great pianist as we all know. Had the opportunity working with him 10 years ago as he performed Rachmaninoff 2 at the Brussels Philharmonic with the very young Yannick Nezet-Seguin conducting. An experience I’ll never forget… Rest in Peace Aldo.

  • He was a wonderful pianist. He was the first pianist to record all five St. Saens Piano Concertos and I still value that old vinyl set which has been in my possession since the 1960s!.

    Above all, I loved his big, bell-like and unfailingly musical cantabile which he could produce seemingly without effort — and what powerful technique! I remember we were all amazed that he could still be heard above the orchestra (LPO, Nezet-Seguin, RFH 2009) in the big climaxes of the Rachmaninov Second Piano Concerto.

  • I will never forget this: Maestro Ciccolini should perform in Muziekcentrum Vredenburg in Utrecht, The Netherlands a.o. César Franck’s demanding Prélude, Choral et Fugue.
    And so he did, and by heart of course.
    However, during the development of this most pianisticly written fugue I heard for minutes long – authentic-Franck, logicaly and in all its specific brilliant counterpoint-nature – passages completely unknown to me (and to everyone else).
    An unknown version of this romantic masterpiece?

    After the concert he explained this riddle to me: ‘I had a black-out. Stopping was no option so I did what everyone else should do under these circumstances: I improvised on, hoping for the best, to regain the point where I slipped away. Did I succeed?

    Yes Maestro, you did. And fantasticly.

    Thanks for all the joy and inspiration you have given to lots of people in so very many years.

    R.I.P.

  • Although not being a music family, we had Aldo Ciccolini’s Liszt vinyl at home in my early childhood, in a small town in Finland.
    Once being ill alone at home, I put this vinyl with Liszt Funerailles on. I was totally shaken and listened to it over and over again.
    The story goes, of course, that I became a pianist with a great love to Liszt’s music.
    After all these years, whenever playing the Funerailles, I still remember my first impression with Aldo Ciccolini.
    Thank you, Maestro Ciccolini, for showing the way!

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