Pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi was born in Turin on November 23rd 1955. Perhaps it was his mother, an amateur pianist, who gave him the first impulse to music, planting the seeds for what would become a fruitful, illustrious career. He began to study music at the Conservatory of Turin and graduated with a diploma in composition under Azio Corghi at the Conservatory of Milan. Immediately he began post-graduate studies with Luciano Berio, with whom he worked as assistant, and later with Karlheinz Stockhausen. In 1982 his talents would win him a scholarship to the Tanglewood Music Festival, where he first came into contact with the American minimalism. He spent the next several years composing for the ballet, the cinema and the theater, including “Sul filo d’Orfeo” (1984), “Time out” (1988), “The Wild Man” (1991), and “Salgari” (1995), as well as many pieces for orchestra and ensemble, which were performed at La Scala of Milan, the Paris Ircam and the Lincoln Center in New York. With the album “Stanze” (1992), a collection of sixteen compositions for harpist Cecilia Chailly, he set off on “a journey towards essentiality, trying to achieve the maximum expressive intensity using the minimum indispensable”. But it was with “Le Onde” (1996), his first solo album, inspired by Virginia Woolf’s novel, that he captured piano world’s attention, further enhanced by the following “Eden Roc” (1999), in which he played with a string quintet and duduk master Djavan Gasparyan, and “I giorni” (2001), a cycle of ballads for piano inspired by a trip into Mali. He returned to Africa two years later at the Festival au Desert. The new album “Diario Mali” with kora master Ballaké Sissoko blossomed from this experience. The score he wrote in 2002 for the remake of “Doctor Zhivago” triumphed at the New York Film Festival. The increasing prestige of his soundtracks would be confirmed by “Not of This World” (2000), “Light of My Eyes” (2001), “Strange Crime” (2004), “This is England”, film (2004) and TV series (2010), “The Untouchables” (2011), “Samba” (2014), “The water diviner” (2015) and “The third murder” (2017). The live recorded performance at La Scala of Milan as well as the special concerts at the Hangar Bicocca and the Royal Albert Hall, marked the achievement of full artistic expression. The more concentrated, introspective and meditative was the studio album “Una mattina” (2004), the more expanded, challenging, sumptuous was the following “Divenire” with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. Both records, which were already topping the classical charts, crashed into the pop charts too for the first time. He was the only classical musician to play at the first iTunes festival. During the extended world tour that followed, he never stopped writing new music. In 2009 he released “Cloudland”, with Robert and Ronald Lippok, and “Nightbook”, a nocturnal, interior work that “projects the piano in every direction, like a shadow”. The peak performance of his European and American tour was once again at the Royal Albert Hall, recorded live and released as a double CD and DVD. For two consecutive summers he conducted the Orchestra della Notte della Taranta, producing a visionary musical direction that left a mark in the “black land of the tarantola”. In 2013 he released “In a time lapse”, a reflection on time, recorded in a monastery and “conceived as a suite or as the chapters of a single novel”, in which his piano was accompanied by strings, percussion and electronic tracks. The world tour that followed scored many remarkable performances, such as the Sidney Opera House, the Arena of Verona and the acclaimed “Piano Africain”, for six pianos and six balafons and marimbas, which opened the Piano City Milano festival in 2014. The album, “Elements”, released in 2015, sprang “from the desire to start anew, following different paths to knowledge”. Recorded over a span of three months in his home studio in the Langhe countryside, “while spring was exploding”, the album became “a map of thoughts and feelings, points, lines, shapes and fragments of an ongoing interior flow through myth, Euclid, the periodic table and Kandinsky’s writings.” During the next three years, the “Elements” tour sold out either the world’s premier pop arenas and the greatest classical theaters. In 2016 he performed his “Elegy for the Arctic”, commissioned by Greenpeace, on a floating platform amidst the ice in the Arctic Ocean. The same year marked the debut of “Dieci Notti” at Teatro Dal Verme of Milano, which would become an annual concert series: ten consecutive days of performances, special guests and events, “to give back something to a city that has given me so much”.
The Ludovico Einaudi new album will be released on March 15, 2019.
Ludovico Einaudi: Seven Days Walking
Seven Days Walking could be Ludovico Einaudi’s masterwork. Seven albums released over seven months throughout 2019 – variation after variation on a theme, all of them inspired by a winter’s walk he repeated over a period of time in the Alps. It’s a complete world, dreamed up in seven days.
“I hope that you listen to one album one day, and another the next, and can’t figure out which is which,” Einaudi says playfully, which is a modest comment coming from the world’s most ubiquitous classical composer. This is music expressly designed for you to lose yourself in, a vast library of impressionistic pieces – pianistic reflections of moon on snow; an interlude of birdsong replicated in melody; the musical suggestion of fox tracks, recorded with such delicacy you can hear the pads on the keys of his grand piano.
On his studio desk in Milan, there’s a collection of Polaroid photos the Turin-born composer took on the wintery mountain road in January 2018. There are countless “identical” scenes, rendered unique with the tiniest differences – the smallest sign of a snow-melt; a windsock changing direction, on a slightly darker sky. The natural variations he saw every day fascinated him, inspiring the eleven tracks on the first album, Day One, and the countless versions to be released throughout the year.
Many will recall the sight of Einaudi playing his grand piano in the Arctic in 2016 to raise awareness for a Greenpeace campaign. Blinding white space, and white landscape, is a rich creative source for the composer, who studied under the musical visionaries Luciano Berio and Karlheinz Stockhausen.
“This is the state that my mind was in when I wrote the music,” he says, leafing through the Polaroids. “In the mountains of Switzerland, I had time to focus. In one sense I had a clear direction, but I was searching for a direction too. Your mind starts to wander. Where is the final point? It became a kind of meditation. My thinking was thinking completely free.”
While Einaudi developed an interest in the minimalism of Philip Glass and Steve Reich in the 1970s, his own compositions have always been more linear, more questing, and sweeter on the ear. He was inspired, though, by the tight, repetitive structure of the mountain concept he’d created: the walk became a journey of the mind, into which numerous musical movements could burst into bud.
“Some people prefer to change location all the time,” he says. “But even as a child, I did the same walk to school, with little differences, and I enjoyed the repetition. Within the familiarity you notice the changes – the weather, the light, the people.”
What makes Seven Days Walking unique is the scale and complexity of its variations: dozens of pieces as subtly distinct as those photographs. After his first, three-day recording session, he had six versions of one theme and decided he loved them all. “And from that point on,” he says, “I decided that I wanted to make seven albums, and transform this doubt of choosing into a project.”
It’s almost a surprise to hear that the composer – who still writes manuscript by hand, in pencil – records his spontaneous musical ideas on his phone like anyone else. Returning from Switzerland last winter, he settled in to various recording sessions in Italy, Germany and London’s Air Studios (the church for reverb, and Studio One for it intimacy) with a stripped down band. His six-strong touring group was reduced to Redi Hasa (Cello) and Frederico Mecozzi (violin and viola). On an early demo for the delicate, hopeful Matches, strings slip and slide around his central piano melody, rapidly finding the harmonics. The two musicians respond to his playing, Einaudi explains, with something like telepathy, preserving the spontaneity of the moment of composition.
The first session produced the steadily-intensifying Gravity, in which a fluttering keyboard figure, sounding like snow-fall, deepens into a rich serenade. It was followed by The Path Of The Fossils, a melody of deep, dramatic resonance which recalled another important walk in Einaudi’s life – a trail he used to take with his father, as a boy in Piedmont, where together they found fossils plugged into a wall of earth, a remainder from the time that part of Italy was under the sea.
So how do the variations work? There are three versions of Low Mist on the first album alone. On Variation 1, its heart-plucking theme is contained in four soft, falling chords. On the second album, Day Two, the character of the piece is totally different, the melody transposed and arpeggiated. The theme crops up again on the fifth album, Day 5, announced by a ghostly violin which scratches like wind. It’s like a colossal musical jigsaw.
“I like the idea that you get lost,” Einaudi says. “Like when you return to a place after six months and there is something familiar, but something has changed. This is a project about memory. Everyone creates their own images – you probably have your own walk, your own background, in mind.”
As such, Seven Days Walking is a metaphor for the way Einaudi’s music works on the mind, going someway to explaining its endless adaptability across the worlds of film and visual arts, and his broad worldwide fanbase, which includes such famous names as Nicky Minaj and Iggy Pop.
Increasingly popular with new, young audiences living in a highly connected and technology-focused world, Einaudi’s music and live shows offer something meditative, a private space away from distraction.
“Listening to live music, everyone can be connected to one sound, but everyone is also able to be alone in the experience, and wander in their thoughts,” he says. “Listening to this album is a matter of perception. It offers possibility of thinking about the same ideas with a different perspective. For me, it’s a work about how we change, and how we come to see our lives in a different way, over time.
He hasn’t written the seventh record yet – he’s giving the ideas some more space to mature. “I didn’t want to create a product,” he explains. “I wanted the music to have the vibe of a sketch, drawn for the first time.” That’s certainly true of A Sense Of Symmetry, whose light melody works like rain on snow, and Fox Tracks, as painterly as a 21st-century Debussy prelude.
With its multiple versions, the project recalls an earlier age in rock and classical recording, when music had a greater freedom of form, with long instrumental interludes, and live albums.
Einaudi will play – appropriately – seven nights at the Barbican in August. In its live incarnation, the piece will be performed as he originally conceived it – one continual work, without breaks and movements. It’s another realisation of a long-held dream, for a composer who is currently writing an opera with the Irish novelist Colm Toibin.
“In live performance, we won’t be stopping,” Einaudi smiles: unless, as so often happens at classical concerts, people start clapping between songs…