When The Independent recently described Ludovico Einaudi as “one of the world’s most successful living classical composers”, it put neatly into words what others have struggled to say about this shadowy, solitary figure.
When The Independent recently described Ludovico Einaudi as “one of the world’s most successful living classical composers”, it put neatly into words what others have struggled to say about this shadowy, solitary figure. It extolled him “as much the inheritor of Chopin and Satie as minimalists such as Glass and Reich”. That might make one puzzled as to what his music sounds like, except that we’ve all heard it: Einaudi’s music is more pervasive and familiar than many probably realise. His film credits include the Doctor Zhivago 2002 remake (starring Keira Knightley), the coming-of-age British drama This Is England that chronicles British immigrant culture in the Midlands, and Acquario, which won a Grolla d’oro for best soundtrack in 1996. He has issued 11 studio albums that include the solo piano collection Le Onde (The Waves) and In a Time Lapse for piano and orchestra, which became a top-seller in Australian and overseas classical charts in 2013. The Turin-born composer is also a prolific writer of music for TV commercials, from airlines to energy companies – all of which bear his same personal signature of gently rolling piano chords entwined with wistfully poignant melodies. `Atmospherica’ is what some have dubbed it. Einaudi seems to find a unique meeting ground between classical and new age, one where the minimalism of Philip Glass et alia fuses with a pop sensibility and absorbs a range of influences spanning folk, world and electronica. Its reminds one especially of Michael Nyman’s music for The Piano, the nostalgia-tinged nature music of John Luther Adams, or perhaps even Brian Eno. Dreamyism, another cute name for it, is of course now all the rage – every new age shop has rows of CDs of slow, repetitive meditation music, sitting next to aromatherapy bottles and incense sticks, that turns these ideas into a cheap banality. But while Einaudi helped spawn all this way back in 1992, with his album Stanze for electric harp (played by Cecilia Chailly, who also worked with John Cage), nothing about his music sounds empty. He arrived at his distinctive introspective style – call it alt-classical if it must be labelled – through a progressive distillation of ideas and a desire to come to emotional truth in his music. Luciano Berio, his first teacher, took him through the 12-tone hoops, after which he has pursued his own journey of exploration. “Every year my music gets deeper, like old wine,” Einaudi says. “It is the result of work and a lot of thinking. At the beginning I was coming from Luciano Berio, composing more for orchestra and chamber music. But at a certain point things changed and I became involved in several projects in theatre. These helped me to focus on expressing freely my desires in music. Then I started to compose my own albums, first with Le Onde [in 1996]. This was the turning point in the development of my career. In it I found facility and tension; music started to be connected with feelings. Then filmmakers asked me to do films, so I started at that.” Unlike many other classical composers of his generation, Einaudi has also taken an equally strong interest in pop and folk music. He explains: “Since I was a child, my mother played classical music [on the piano] and folk tunes and songs. I started to focus on the beautiful melodies in these songs. Meanwhile my sisters listened to pop music like the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, and since then I kept listening to a lot of different kinds of music. Even now, from folk to pop or classical, it doesn’t matter where it comes from. It’s just what I like.” In 2003 he travelled to Mali and played with musicians there, culminating in the album Diario Mali, in which he duets with Malian kora player Ballaké Sissoko. Around the same time, an interest in Russian music led to creating the soundtrack for Doctor Zhivago, which so memorably sets the haunting voice of Lyudmila Georgievna Zykina. “She sings a traditional Russian song for the solo voice,” says Einaudi. “When I heard it, I was looking for traditional melodic material to go into the soundtrack, so when I found this beautiful song I recorded it but rearranged it completely differently harmonically.” Then came the 2006 album Divenire, whose track Primavera – perhaps Einaudi’s best- known piece – recalls Vivaldi’s Spring in The Four Seasons. “Yes,” he says, “it is an homage to Vivaldi. I always love strong writing and techniques. I was trying to find how to involve those ways into a new score; I was definitely thinking of Vivaldi.” He later reworked Divenire into the electronica-inspired Live in Berlin album, before initiating a large project based on folk music from South Italy that recreates the traditional, frenetic taranta dance. “So there are lots of different experiences, musicians and opportunities I’ve had to explore different approaches to music,” says Einaudi. “They’ve all stayed with me like each brick that makes up a wall. For me, music must help me think, reflect and elevate my spirit to some different level. I also want music to feel the joy of life, like when a child feels pure passion. Sometimes we forget about that.” Ludovico Einaudi in a Time lapse Festival Theatre Tuesday, February 11 ludovicoeinaudi.com