Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli

Italian pianist (born 1920 in Brescia - died 1995 in Lugano)

Considered a capricious, distant pianist, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli pushed perfectionism to the extreme. His thorough knowledge of pianos made it possible for him to play only on pianos that he had regulated and tuned himself.

Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli's first contact with music was through the violin at the age of four. A bout of pneumonia, however, obliged him to give up the violin, and he turned instead to the piano. In 1931, he entered the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatoire in Milan, where he studied for three years under Giovanni Maria Anfossi. After coming seventh in the Eugène Ysaÿe International Competition in Brussels (jury members included the pianist Artur Rubinstein), Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli obtained first prize in the Geneva International Music Competition in 1939. Jury member Alfred Cortot is said to have declared that "He's the new Liszt. He gives the piano greater fluidity."

In the early 1940s, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli was appointed to teach at the Giovanni Battista Martini conservatoire in Bologna. He also made his first recordings. The outbreak of World War II obliged him to put his career on hold. He entered the Italian air force and played a part in the anti-fascist resistance before being taken prisoner by the Germans. At the end of the war, he did his first concert tours, first in England (1946) then in the United States (1948). Health problems forced him to retire from the stage for several years, during which he taught in several Italian cities, including Venice, Arezzo and Sienna. During the same period, he established an International Piano Academy. Pupils have included Walter Klein, Jörg Demus, Martha Argerich and Maurizio Pollini.  

From 1959 onwards, he made a few appearances on stage, but health problems again obliged him to cancel his concerts increasingly frequently. It was at this time that he began to acquire the image of an enigmatic, aloof, pretentious pianist in the eyes of music critics. There was strong popular demand for him to return to the stage, nevertheless, and his renown spread around the world in the 1960s. He performed in the USSR, Japan, South America and again in the United States.
He settled in Switzerland in 1968 on the shores of Lake Lugano and continued to teach, primarily at the Villa Schifanoia in Florence. In the 1970s and '80s, his attention shifted more to recording, notably for the Deutsche Grammophon label. During the last 20 years of his life, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli gave only a handful of concerts, with demanding conductors such as Carlo Maria Giulini and Sergiu Celibidache. In 1988, he suffered a stroke during a concert in Bordeaux and owed his survival to the presence of a doctor in the hall. He died seven years later of a heart attack.

Six landmark dates in the life of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli:

1949: began to enjoy international recognition; performed for the commemoration of the centenary of Chopin's death.
1964: founded the Brescia and Bergame piano festival.
1968: settled in Switzerland in Lugano, where he lived until his death in 1995. 1974: performed Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, accompanied by the Orchestre National de France conducted by Sergiu Celibidache.
1975: gave a concert at the Vatican to an audience of 8,000 people.
1993: gave his final concert, on 7 May in Hamburg.

Biography compiled from Radio France Documentation, March 2016.