Michelangeli, 100

Michelangeli, 100


norman lebrecht

January 07, 2020

The Italian pianist Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli was born in Brescia on January 5, 1920.

Ferociously meticulous, he generated unmatched electricity on the concert stage. Those of us who heard him live will not forget him.

He died quarter of a century ago, in June 1995.



  • Pianofortissimo says:

    January 5 should be called ‘World Pianist Day’: it is the birthday of Arturo Benedetti Michelangelo (b. 1920), Alfred Brendel (b. 1931), and Maurizio Pollini (b. 1942).

    • Hermann the German says:

      By the way, the three pianists ´birthday was the subject of Bavarian Radio Klassik´s Sunday music riddle, which is taking place every Sunday at 9.15 a.m. CET.

    • M2N2K says:

      In that case, World Violinists Day may be celebrated on Second of February which is birthday shared by at least two all-time greats: Kreisler and Heifetz, born in 1875 and 1901 respectively. This year that date looks particularly cute and is the same in US (mm/dd/yyyy) as in a more logical format used by most other countries (dd/mm/yyyy) – 02/02/2020.

  • Michel says:

    A genius for sure ! I think I have all his recordings, officials and non officials !

  • Y2K says:

    He is my very favorite for sure. Highlights for me include 1960 Prague Gaspard, Ravel/Rach 4 concerti disc, Emperor with Giulini on DG, 1966 Carnegie Hall recital that has the most electric Beethoven op111 and Chopin 2nd Scherzo. I’ve heard his Rach 4 more than any other concerto performance.

  • Mike says:

    So he is not 100 years old. He was just born 100 years ago…..

  • engineers_unite says:

    Authentic genius, real musician, racing driver, Ferrari owner, engineer.

    What’s not to like?


    I want to see today’s “artists” do better.

    When the flag drops the BS stops!

  • Dan oren says:

    Last Sunday, I hosted a 9 hours program on Strasbourg’s classical radio, celebrating the anniversary
    It included excerpts from a 1974 recital in Strasbourg (never released before).
    The entire program is available on the Following link. http://blog.accent4.com/2020/01/hommage-arturo-benedetti-michelangeli.html

    • engineers_unite says:

      Your radio owes me 15 000 QUID + interest and never paid, because it is corrupt and actively corrupted the French legal system with a known conflict of interest.

      Don’t come on here giving writing your crap and expect me to forget what you guys all did.
      Your ex-president was sent to court for diffamation, was heavily fined and has a criminal record.
      You and the organisation you presented here is a refuge for old white haired pensioners who believe they are above the law.

      SAD it is, and as representative of the kind of corrupt neoptistic and predatorial practices you are certainly not welcome to comment on anything cultural – the same parallel as the misbehaviours of various people working at Chethams and Menuhin school.

      It’s the same continuum and it never fails to disgust me over the years.

  • Delphine1962 says:

    I was lucky enough to see and hear Michaelangeli four times in recital. The first was in London in April,1982 (this recorded and released on the BBC Legends series) and I couldn’t speak afterwards. I have never heard such a wonderful piano sound, even after all these years and many wonderful performances by other great artists. No recording remotely does justice to the pure magic of hearing Michelangeli live; that evening has lived vividly in my memory.

    • Mr A N Matthews says:

      I was there as well. Saw him about 15 times. A dedicated musician who set the highest standards. His Chopin 2 and Gaspard were extraordinary. Heard him also in Bregenz playing 466 and 503 conducting from keyboard. Sublime.

    • Alexander Tarak says:

      Lucky you !!

  • Esther Cavett says:

    ==January 5 should be called ‘World Pianist Day’:

    I was also the day Pierre Boulez died

  • Edgar Self says:

    Who else plays Brahms’s Paganini variations with actual charm, often in a different order, adding some, leaving others out. Bach-Busoni Chaconne and Mozart oncertos first-rate.

    Other times he cncelled, but I saw him once in 1965 in Chicago with Previn and the CSO, Beethoven fifth concerto. I remember best his encore, Chopin mazurka in B-minor, Op. 39/3.

    One day at work in Tower Records I was re-stocking Michelangeli’s section when a vpice behind murmured his name. “A great pianist,” I said,turning. “The greatest,” the voice continued, “I have conducted him.” “Would I know your name, maetro” I ventured, not recognizing him. “Perhaps,” he said with a slight bow, “I am Bruno Bartoletti.”. Music director of Lyric Opera.

    Encouraged, he continued, “I look for “Lassinio nella catredale.” “Ah, “Murder in the Cathedral”, Ildebrando Pizzetti.” “Si. I even take Gavazzeni.” But he idn’t have to, and bought Karajan instead with Hans Hotter.

    • Y2K says:

      I agree that the Chaconne and Mozart are really outstanding but his Paganini Variations are unmatched IMO.

      • Petros Linardos says:

        For decades I have been thinking of Michelangeli’s Paganini Variations recording as one of the greatest piano recordings ever made. I still do.

        Amazingly, in this side by side comparison of excerpts , the legendary Vienna based pedagogue Dieter Weber (1931-1976) sounds a little more stylish to me.


        I suspect it is partly a Bösendorfer vs Steinway comparison. And partly due to different approaches. But all that is not the whole story.

        I don’t mean to underestimate Michelangeli. Only to share another supreme unknown recording.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      Great story, Edgar…. “Si. I even take Gavazzeni.” Hilarious.
      Michelangeli has been one of my 4 or 5 favorite pianists ever since I heard his famous record of the Ravel G Maj. concerto. His playing was, quite simply, sublime.
      So, you worked at Tower too? Which was your store?
      I worked at Stonestown for a few years, then later at the Classical Annex at Columbus and Bay, both in San Francisco.

  • Alexander Tarak says:

    His recording of the Chaconne is one of the greatest performances
    I have heard (and I have heard many).

  • Rgiarola says:

    I can still clear remenber his Vatican Recital. Superb!

  • Luigi Nonono says:

    He also ruined piano playing for everyone by never playing a wrong note, creating an obsession with accuracy among younger pianists, a damage to musicality that has never been repaired.

    • clarrieu says:

      Well, your post will probably bring you a lot of thumbs down, but I think you’ve got an interesting point I would tend to agree with…

    • M2N2K says:

      The video above (with Scarlatti) proves that he did play a wrong note at least once in his life. It is not his fault that some of those “younger pianists” heard his absolute precision and did not hear his supremely refined musicality. Rather than ruining anything for anyone, what he did was he actually raised the standards of piano playing to unprecedented level which can and should be admired and praised.

    • M2N2K says:

      By the way, precision and musicality are not mutually exclusive at all, and ABM showed that perhaps better than any other pianist.

    • M2N2K says:

      In fact, “musicality” without precision is nothing but cheap emoting.

  • M2N2K says:

    One of the greatest! Unfortunately for me, I never heard him live, but some of my favorite ABM recordings include: Bach-Busoni Chaconne, Scarlatti Sonatas, Brahms’ Paganini Variations, Chopin’s First Ballade and Mazurkas, Debussy’s Preludes. Superhumanly flawless and breathtakingly beautiful playing!

  • M2N2K says:

    Can hardly believe it: a wrong note (F instead of G) at about 3:36 of the bottom video in Scarlatti’s Sonata in C – by the great ABM in a recorded performance, no less!! Well, since this is his birthday, let’s forgive him such imperfection. Of course he more than redeems himself very soon after in a gorgeous rendition of Chopin’s B-minor Mazurka that starts at around 7:20.

  • jobim75 says:

    Documentary to watch on ARTE Channel with testimony of Cord Garben.

  • Eddgar Self says:

    Greg Bottini — I used to go to Classical Annex, Columbus and Bay,almost every day on my lunch hour. I was at Tower’s Wabash Avenue shop behind Orchestra Hall for 12 years, formerly Rose Records, intil it closed ln 2006. Now it’s a barber college with no change in personnel.

    It was surrounded by music schools,hotels, and concert halls, and so saw local and visiting musicians, recording artists, opera singers, and once about half the LSO and Vienna Philharmonic. I would have paid them to work there.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      “I would have paid them to work there.”
      Exactly, Edgar – that’s how (Tower founder and owner) Russ Solomon got away with paying his workers such low wages. We were all music lovers!

  • Edgar Self says:

    There are two wrong notes, a completely wrong left-hand octave, in the Beethoven fourth concerto attributed to him from Dubrovnik, but it has since been determined to be a misattribution, Pity, as there’s no other actually by him.

  • moonpavilion says:

    …but has anyone ever satisfactorily explained the great mystery of Michelangeli’s small repertoire? I appreciate the dedication of some contributors to this page who say they have all his recordings but to be frank that amounts to only a handful of compositions.And while it can be fascinating to compare performances of this pianist at various stages of his career, I’d rather have a few more Beethoven sonatas or Chopin’s 3rd.

    • M2N2K says:

      There is no mystery to explain. Maybe I want to have his recordings of the entire piano repertoire, so what? Great musicians have no obligation to perform and record everything ever written for their instrument. In ABM’s case, he certainly could and did play quite a lot of fine piano music, but he chose to perform and record only those pieces in which he was confident that he could live up to his uniquely lofty standards. As for us, we should simply be grateful for every recording that he did make.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Moonpavilion’s observation about Michelangeli’s limited repertoire is apt. Horowitz’s active concerto repertoire was even smaller, although he did play Liszt’s concertos and totentanz along with Brahms D-minor in the 1930s.

    • M2N2K says:

      Every performer’s repertoire has always been “limited”. There has never been anyone who played absolutely everything. Some perform more pieces than others, but it is the quality of their playing that really matters and sets great ones apart from the rest.

  • moonpavilion says:

    I wish we could get away from this (silly) idea that Michelangeli never played wrong notes. It’s physically impossible for any musician not to play wrong notes. I’ve just listened to his live in Paris Emperor concerto in 1974 and there are slips, as is to be expected. It doesn’t diminish the performance but it’s nonsense to claim he didn’t make them.This kind of idolatry does a great disservice.

    • M2N2K says:

      This impression of his infallibility and absolute precision is probably fueled by the fact that not just technically but, perhaps more importantly, interpretively (in terms of expressing and communicating musical content) his piano playing sounds closer to perfection than anyone else’s.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Even so there are some unexpected things in Michelangelis discography, such as Franck’s Variations symphoniques”, a piece by Marescotti, and an old Italian master recorded in the 1940s. I wish he had recorded Beethoven’s triple concerto when he played it at the Edinburgh Festival. Rachmaninoff’s fourth concerto was a surprise.

  • Jeremy says:

    I saw him live 4 or 5 times in London in the late 80″s/ early 90″s . It was extraordinary each time. Every pianist with a night off and within 500 miles of London would be there. Pogorelich, Kissin, Brendel just to name the more prominent ones. The electricity he generated that you felt you could touch it was so palpable, the anticipation of the audience, his magisterial aura and charisma was, and is, totally unmatched in history, Liszt doubtles excepted. Once, in le Gibet, there was a huge off stage noise coming from the bar where clearly someone had dropped about 100 glasses or bits of crockery. The audience froze as one expecting the master to stop and leave, but such was the intensity of his concentration, he did not even blink. The problem is, that with those recitals, and with a few at the same time by Richter, it has been almost impossible for me to go to recitals anymore. Those evenings linger and feel like only yesterday. I was lucky, I witnessed the 2 greatest pianists of the C20th in their latter years, and I can at least content myself with that.

  • Edgar Self says:

    You can indeed, Jeremy. Well said.