From the door of the palace, hidden in a small alley in the center of Milan, you can hear the missing notes of a piano with which someone rehearses in the middle of the afternoon. The bell suddenly interrupts the sound that comes from the first floor, just at the end of some stone stairs. A small brown door opens and appears Maurizio Pollini (Milan, 1942) silently. The legendary pianist, somewhat stooped and extremely gentle, recovers from bronchitis these days. Time (and some ailment) has liquidated his passion for unfiltered cigarettes. It lasts, yes, its historical shyness.
The teacher speaks slowly, chooses the words and skips the conversation topics that interest him least. "About that I do not have an answer," he says when he prefers not to answer. The world of ideas, politics and the civil story have always been present in his way of understanding music. In the times of Silvio Berlusconi, Pollini was firm, planting a battle from a cultural and intellectual fabric that has nothing to do with today's. The level in Italy has reached such absurd levels, he jokes, that they will end up doing good to the Cayman.
In the next room his piano awaits him again to complete the day of study when the stranger who has come to draw him out leaves. Today touches something less. "About three or four hours a day," he says. And he also accepts fewer recitals, about twenty a year at the most. But next Monday will return to Spain to perform at the National Auditorium, in the cycle Great Performers, a program formed by Chopin and Debussy.
QUESTION. Both composers share this expertise by microforms. How do you relate them?
ANSWER. I would make a distinction between the two. The Debussy of the Preludes He is a microforms author, of course. But he also wrote Pelléas et Mélisande, which is a giant form. I often play one at concerts because I think there was great admiration for Chopin on behalf of Debussy. Moreover, I would say that he found in him and in Ravel his passionate elders. Debussy, in fact, cured a special edition of all Chopin's works.
Q. Many interpreters have tried to understand its essence. But almost nobody has done it with their fidelity. How do you consider establishing a more essential relationship with your work?
R. A very, very difficult question to answer. But one of the big problems is the rubato. Because, as Liszt said, who had listened to him a lot, rubatos of Chopin existed. But the pianists of the second half of the 19th century made them more sweetened, a bit exaggerated. Then the great interpreters of the twentieth century diminished it. Especially Arthur Rubinstein, who gave us a vision of Chopin rather modern and essential, where the character of the music arrives without distortions: it is simple, but of great intensity. He himself said at the beginning that he was considered too rigid and had to fight to impose it. I like that. But he is a very difficult composer. There is no secret to get to him. It is full of mysteries and complexities. Remember that he himself said that there is nothing more hateful than a music without a latent thought. And it exists in it, but it is never declared by the author.
P. Say an example.
R. The end of the sonata of the Funeral march. What is hidden in this mysterious modern outcome? Chopin said he had incredible strength to affirm himself in the listener. But at the same time, for Schumann that was not music. It is terrible because he had not understood modernity, although he also had it in large quantities in his work. What was in there? Who knows, maybe specters, because after that march they were all dead.
Q. The fact that he is the only great piano composer who only dedicated himself to that instrument makes it complex to interpret?
"It would be very stupid for an interpreter to want to be above the composer. That is impossible, none is. "
R. Yes, of course.
P. He talks about his predilection for Rubinstein. But many times he has praised Horowitz.
R. It was great. But you have to understand it in your style and your personality. I went to see him many years ago in New York and we stayed together for a couple of nights. He was very kind, he started playing Mazurkas of Chopin. He also told me about the music of Muzio Clementi and improvised a sonata. I did not touch. But if you ask me, I personally prefer the simplest interpretation of Rubinstein.
P. He was the president of the jury that gave him the Chopin Prize in 1960. You said he gave you one of the best advice he has received.
R. He drew a wonderful sound from the piano, but he said that he never tired because he played with the weight of his body. He placed the middle finger of my right hand on my back and made me feel all his weight. It was an impressive force. This way he avoided exhaustion at the piano.
Q. Has age or fatigue changed the way you play?
R. The truth is, no. It can be said that I have sought to perfect the technique. But starting from what I had found.
P. Alfred Brendel argues that the fullness of a pianist is between 40 and 60.
R. Well, I hope it's something else, because I've overcome that line long [suelta una carcajada].
Q. Do you think you are a better interpreter than a few years ago?
R. [Risas] At least you can say that I try.
Q. What do you think of the young pianists of today? I am also referring to the Asian generation.
R. I think they have a fantastic technique. I do not know if something is missing … But the truth is that I do not listen to them much beyond a recording or the radio. I'd like to do it live to be able to judge them, and that's something I do little. Look, if you ask me about pianists, Evgeny Kissin is not very young [tiene 47 años], but I find it formidable. I was impressed to see him play.
P. One of the risks perceived in the new generation, perhaps by the marketing, is to want to be above the composer.
R. It would be very stupid. That is impossible, neither is.
Q. Although you offer fewer concerts now, you have always had a relationship with the experience of the room and the very intimate audience. I ever heard him disagree with that Glenn Gould approach.
R. But it was very particular, personal. Incredible in the way he approached the instrument. Very good for the modern repertoire of Schoenberg … He dealt with music not cultivated by many pianists at that time. But still the modern music, that of Schoenberg and its school, the composers of the postwar like Pierre Boulez, Luigi Nono, Luciano Berio or Stockhausen are not treated as they deserve.
Q. Why do you think the proportion in the programs is still so uneven?
R. Because it is believed that it will communicate more easily. That's the reason. But it should change. I've done a lot of contemporary. This year I will do Nono in Salzburg and Lucerne, but we should try harder to increase their presence. I do not know if it will end up calando.
P. Mahler also cost him.
R. He was completely tonal, but he had a very modern spirit for the moment. And that was one reason why it was understood with such difficulty in those years. There was also the horrible opposition of fascists and Nazis, who did everything possible to damage it. But it was not just that, because even in the postwar period, the criticism of New York was very lukewarm with him for a period. And that despite everything Bruno Walter and Mitropoulos did to spread it. Then, with Bernstein, I think he got better understood. Or, at least, it became more popular.
Q. You are part of an Italian generation that is becoming extinct. Claudio Abbado was perhaps his greatest representative. Your great friend …
R. Well, he was kind enough to want to play with me many times. We saw half the world together.
Q. How did your loss live?
R. [Se queda callado 10 segundos] It was very sad, of course. I was sick for so long. He had gone through many operations and I do not know how he managed to hold on. It was admirable that he continued making music all those years even when he was sick. A miracle.
P. Abbado, like Nono, conceived music as a process of opening to the other. Do you think that this civil, almost political, process in art has been lost?
R. Unfortunately, it has decreased, yes. But I find it hard to say why.
Q. You played in factories with Abbado and Nono to take the music to other audiences in what they called Music / Reality.
R. Well, concerts were organized in places to look for other types of people. I do not think that communication is missing today, but perhaps the search for a new audience is lacking.
P. Bringing music to the workers had a political meaning.
R. Well, the factories are a little legend. The reality is that concerts were held in Reggio Emilia outside the theater, in small places explaining to the audience the music that would sound, bringing it closer. And it is true that I gave a concert for workers in Genoa, but my political training at that time was still to be done. I was not too committed then.
P. But then you embraced the political ideas of the left. How do you see it today?
R. I'm not happy at all. I am very pro-European and lack a deep sense of the importance of the strong and solid relationship between European nations. It could give formidable results, but unfortunately, look what we have.
P. In Italy?
R. Yes, Italy has a lousy government. But there are also in other European countries, and then we have Trump … We are witnessing a growth of horrible nationalism. And you can not understand. Nationalism caused so much terrible damage to the European nations that today it is absolutely absurd to go back and imitate those terrible forms. I do not get it.