Principe del pianoforte: Italian pianist Ludovico Troncanetti [Photo © by the artist; used with permission]
The acclaimed American thespian Kelsey Grammer, not only television’s beloved Dr. Frasier Crane but also a lauded interpreter of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, is quoted as having said that ‘praying is when you talk to God. Meditation is when you’re listening. Playing piano allows you to do both at the same time.’ Whether or not one prays or meditates, it cannot be denied that both playing and hearing the piano can be exercises in purest spirituality. Indeed, to hear Arthur Schnabel play Beethoven or Ivan Moravec play Chopin can be akin to a spiritual experience, one with potential both to calm and to excite. Since the development of the instrument in the Eighteenth Century, the piano has occupied positions of particular prominence in all genres of Classical Music. At virtually any given time in the past quarter-millennium, there have been enough Classically-trained pianists in the world to fill Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, but there are hardly ever enough truly good ones to man a proper football match. The second decade of the Twenty-First Century is an age in which passion and proficiency are often subservient to promotion, and it is sobering to contemplate how many extraordinary artists, how many Schnabels and Moravecs, are unappreciated because some money-hungry agent or record label executive has not instructed music lovers to notice them. Solely being one of the world’s most accomplished pianists is no longer enough to sustain a successful career: one must perform, not merely play. In the esteem of those for whom music is still primarily defined by exchanges among composers and artists, there will always be room for pianists who play because they love playing, pianists for whom constant study and drive for improvement of technique and interpretation is at the service of music, not fame. Italian pianist Ludovico Troncanetti is an artist who personifies Kelsey Grammer’s insightful elucidation of the dual nature of the piano. He is a consummate performer whose endeavors at the keyboard exude theatricality, but he is first and foremost an introspective artist whose intensity is the offspring of an omnipresent commitment to refining not just his technique but also his ability to communicate with composers and audiences. His music-making listens as palpably as it speaks.
Unlike many musicians (or many musicians’ claims), Troncanetti was not an acknowledged prodigy from an early age. ‘I don’t think we can talk about childhood as I started playing the piano at thirteen—by chance!’ he recalls with a laugh. ‘I remember [that] I was listening [to] much more symphonic music rather than [music] for piano solo. I really loved Horowitz and Cziffra, and nowadays my taste [hasn’t] changed at all!’ Still, he developed rapidly as both a technician and an artist, his raw talent refined by fastidious study and self-imposed discipline. ‘As far as I’m [now] much more mature, I can say [that] I appreciate and understand more pianists than before,’ he shares. After pausing for a moment, he smilingly adds, ‘I don’t have a favorite one!’
This rejection of favoritism also extends to his choices of repertory. Troncanetti eschews specialization, wisely seeking to avoid being confined artistically by identification with any one niche of the piano’s extensive repertoire, but he possesses an unmistakable affinity for interpreting the music of Franz Liszt. One of the most ill-informed injustices in the Classical Music community is the continuing perception of Liszt’s piano music as a series of emotionally-barren virtuoso display pieces. ‘Unfortunately, this thought about Liszt is very common, sometimes as a compliment [and] sometimes as a defect,’ Troncanetti opines. ‘Amateurs should know [that] Liszt used his virtuosity in order to convey his own feelings, thoughts, moods, and sensitiveness through the music; not the contrary. In other words, according to Liszt, technique is the means and not the aim.’ In Troncanetti’s view, many modern listeners recognize Liszt more as a musical circus act than as a practicing artist and pedagogue—a musician primarily concerned with what Shakespeare called ‘outward shows.’ ‘As a teacher, Liszt offered his students little technical advice, expecting them to “wash their dirty linen at home,” as he phrased it,’ the passionate young Italian intimates. ‘Instead, he focused on musical interpretation with a combination of anecdote, metaphor, and wit. In my personal opinion, a good and clear example of all this is the Grosses Konzertsolo (S.176), in which the composer perfectly combines his piano skills and [an] avalanche of tormented feelings.’ His mention of Liszt’s teaching style turns Troncanetti’s thoughts to the lessons that he would seek to impart to his own students. ‘If I were a teacher,’ he begins, ‘first of all, I’d recommend [that] my pupils make sure that what they’re playing corresponds to what they feel inside themselves. Secondly, I’d suggest not to abuse the pedal and to do their best to play “legato” with it as little as possible.’ This leads to contemplation of what Troncanetti perceives as one of the greatest vices of contemporary pianism. ‘As [my] last advice,’ he muses, ‘I’d [share that I’d] appreciate if they didn’t “run” on the keyboard too much. Musicians are not sprinters!’ He is the rare artist who takes his own advice: two of the greatest joys of his playing are the liquidity of his legato playing and the unhurried articulation of his phrasing, each note granted its full weight in the line regardless of its duration.
When asked from which composer he would most like to commission a piece fashioned to exhibit his unique gifts, he says without hesitation, ‘That’s [a] very funny and curious question! For sure, I’d ask Liszt and [Swedish pop group] ABBA for a piece specially-tailored for me! It would be a sort of mix of the Liszt personal mood and ABBA’s unforgettable musicality and joy!’ The choice of Liszt is natural, the composer’s music having launched Troncanetti’s public career. He remembers, ‘The first piece I played in public was the First Mephisto Waltz (S.514), when I was seventeen. It’s still in my repertoire, and, comparing to the first time I played it, I certainly say [that I now] play it definitely more slowly, more clearly, and [highlighting] all the harmonies that interweave and make the piece so amusing!’ His description of his approach to Mephisto Waltz No. 1 is, in fact, representative of the way in which he seeks to play all repertory, whether a piece was composed two centuries or two weeks ago. How does he define what it is that he tries to achieve with his playing? ‘I’d say the balance between virtuosity and sound,’ he summarizes. ‘I always do my best to try to balance them perfectly and make the sound as clear as possible and use the pedal just where it's necessary.’
In molding his career as a concert pianist, Troncanetti is a solo artist in the truest sense of the designation. He does not have formal management or representation, preferring to make his own decisions and allow his playing to serve as the persona that agents are so keen to fabricate for their clients. He has the boon of being as handsome as the leading men of Hollywood’s gilded past, but he is also cognizant of the difficulties of pursuing a career without a manager's guidance through the business aspects of an artist’s life. Nothing distracts him from the music, however. ‘The greatest challenge in [artists’] careers is the concert itself!’ he exclaims. ‘Every single time we perform, we always test ourselves! It doesn’t have anything to do with the time you spend practicing: that’s utterly a personal question. Whether you practice twenty-four hours or just one per day, you'll always have that crisp, inevitable, and funny feeling which makes you feel responsible and ready to face the audience—and yourself, too. It’s a never-ending challenge which lasts during all your career. No choice; each of us has to deal with it. That’s the special thing of our job.’
His unpretentious embrace of this ‘special thing of [the] job’ sets Troncanetti's playing apart from that of his colleagues. Perhaps it seems counterintuitive to suggest that his performances are more complete, more interpretively fully-formed experiences for listeners because the pianist himself regards them as works in progress, but this pianist’s dedication to perpetual self-improvement makes every performance a part of a journey that has as its ultimate destination not perfection but profoundest connection with both music and hearer. It is this quest that is the hallmark of Troncanetti’s playing, whether in the rehearsal room or the concert hall. For him, playing is a means of sharing aspects of his psyche with audiences in a manner that words could never accomplish. ‘I want [audiences to] remember my capacity to share my feelings, to be emphatic; just the way I go straight to their souls without showing off,’ he says. ‘If they remember me for this, I’d feel so immensely grateful—the happiest man in the world!’
Happiness is a state that is sadly rare in the lives of many artists. In some cases, this is perhaps because the choice to pursue a career as an artist is a surrender to external pressures rather than a response to internal desires. When playing the piano, the fingers either sound the right notes or they do not, but a pianist's artistry is defined by less-tangible qualities. When carefully-groomed dilettantes are celebrated as important artists because their publicists insist that it should be so, it can be difficult to discern a legitimate artist among the throngs of pretenders. Artists are men who view life from the inside out, and this perspective can blind those incapable of seeing the smiles among the scowls and tears. It is impossible to overlook the smiles in Ludovico Troncanetti’s playing. More remarkably, it is impossible to overlook the composers’ smiles that emerge from the sound worlds he creates as he plays their music. Happiness is perhaps the most elusive of human emotions but also among the most contagious. It is also cyclical, and the happiness with which Ludovico Troncanetti infuses his playing, happiness derived from forging friendships with and via music, is returned and redoubled by the joy that hearing his performances inspires.
In performance: Italian pianist Ludovico Troncanetti in his natural habitat [Photo © by the artist; used with permission
Ludovico Troncanetti is based in Milan, Italy. To learn more about this incredible artist’s work or to make booking inquiries, please contact him via email.
Sincerest thanks are extended to Mr. Troncanetti for his time and candor in responding to questions for this profile.