In the early years of the 1990s, when Ludovico Einaudi had just begun writing in what we might consider his ‘signature’ style, he was asked to describe his new album ‘Stanze’ and responded in the following way:
"...it is the diary of a journey towards essentiality, with the objective of achieving the maximum expressive intensity using the minimum indispensable.”
Twenty years later that description not only holds true for his own music but describes a journey on which he has been joined by literally millions of listeners around the globe.
Whether releasing chart-topping albums or selling out the largest concert halls, composing award winning film scores or topping audience polls, Ludovico Einaudi has achieved the most difficult of all artistic feats, to speak meaningfully to a huge audience in a way that each member finds uniquely and deeply personal. In doing so he has rendered traditional ideas of musical genre and audience divide obsolete and become not only one of the best known composers active in the world today but almost certainly the best loved too.
Ludovico’s journey began in Turin, Italy where he was born on November 23rd 1955. His father, Giulio Einaudi, founded the eponymous Italian publishing house, one of the country’s largest. His grandfather was Luigi Einaudi, a noted economist and President of the Italian Republic between 1948 and 1955. As such it could be fairly said that Ludovico comes from a patrician background with the broad educational and cultural horizons that go with it.
His earliest musical recollection is listening to his mother Renata Aldrovandi playing the piano and it’s from her that he feels he inherited his musical passion. Music is undoubtedly strong on that side of the family as Renata’s father, Wando Aldrovandi, was also a noted musician. A pianist like his grandson and also an opera teacher and conductor, Waldo was a child prodigy who befriended Puccini and Caruso before emigrating to Australia where he helped establish the Sydney Opera Company and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
Ludovico received a conventional classical education in similar fashion growing up, although at times it was not something he was always receptive to. He developed a passion for rock and pop music as a teenager, took up the guitar and fondly recalls that his first ever album purchase was The Beatles’ ‘Revolver’. All were early signs of his eclectic tastes and the determination to follow his inner voice, wherever it might lead.
Nonetheless he applied himself to his traditional studies and won a place at one of Italy’s most prestigious conservatoires, Milan’s Conservatorio ‘G. Verdi’ where over the next few years he underwent a formal training in composition and graduated with his diploma in 1982.
Immediately on leaving he began post-graduate studies with Luciano Berio, one of the most important composers of the post-war generation with whom he worked as assistant on various musical and theatrical projects. In the same year he also won a scholarship to the prestigious Tanglewood Music Festival in Massachusetts, USA.
All in all it was an extremely promising start and over the next few years Ludovico began to build his career with a series of traditionally orientated pieces couched in the then house-style of the international ‘serious music’ establishment.
Performances duly followed by and at an impressive list of international institutions: the Teatroalla Scala, Milan; the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino; the Tanglewood Festival; Pierre Boulez’s IRCAM Institute in Paris; the St Paul Chamber Orchestra (USA); Settembre Musica; the Lincoln Centre in New York; the UCLA Centre for Performing Arts; the Budapest Music Festival, etc.
EARLY TRIUMPHS & GROWING DISCONTENTS
On the surface all was blossoming but inside Ludovico was becoming increasingly discontented, as he recalls:
“The serious music world began to seem very academic and oppressive. I was very captured by the conceptual ideas of the music I was writing but I couldn’t find myself inside. I felt there wasn’t a connection with my emotional side….I began to notice that when I was able to leave free space inside the experimental pieces, these were the moments I liked most…I also felt that I didn’t want to leave out all the music I had experienced in my life; popular music, rock music.”
And so in the mid-1980s he began to break with orthodoxy and search for a more personal mode of expression, one that could reconcile and provide a vehicle for his various musical influences and ideas. Shrewdly his first experiments in this direction were via a series of collaborative works in theatre, dance and multi-media, forms which naturally demanded a much looser and more experimental approach, and also allowed for a greater emphasis on rhythm and repetition than was ‘allowed’ by the traditional establishment in concert works.
The most significant works of this period are the multimedia / dance-theatre piece ‘Time Out’ (1988) -devised with the writer Andrea De Carlo and performed by the American company ISO Dance Theatre in Italy, the United States and Japan -and the opera-ballet ‘Salgari’ (1995) inspired by the life and works of the Verona-born writer and featured texts by Salgari himself, Rabindranath Tagore and Charles Duke Jr. Commissioned by the Arena di Verona and first performed there the work featured choreography by Daniel Ezralow and sets by Jerome Sirlin.
Ludovico was very much enjoying his new freedom and the sense of expanding possibilities that came with it, as he noted at the time, “‘Salgari’ was originally born as a ballet and along the way became something else, a combination of texts, music, movement, images…”
A NEW COMPOSER IS BORN
The decisive break with the past however would come as he stripped back both his musical language and the forces he was writing for so as to concentrate on obtaining the maximum from the minimum. In doing so he found his authentic, personal voice and it is from this point that the career of Ludovico Einaudi as we know the composer today, really begins.
The new musical language he had arrived at was a very unselfconscious synthesis of various musics he enjoyed and felt empathy with – from one side there were echoes of classical composers such as Philip Glass and Steve Reich – and on the other, the ‘ambience’ of Brian Eno or the Cocteau Twins – from a third, the influence of world music, Malian kora music being particularly important to him -on a fourth, the influence of rock and pop bands like U2 and Pink Floyd. Over a lifetime he had taken in these and other influences and was now able to connect them at the most fundamental, what we might call ‘atomic’, musical level, forging his personal language from the result in a very original way.
It’s perhaps because of this breadth of influence that Ludovico’s music has such broad appeal, not merely reflecting and reconciling but actually transcending the multi-faceted world that we live in and the polyglot lives we all lead; making sense of it all with evident success and immediately apparent beauty. It’s also for this reason that when people sometimes describe Ludovico’s music as ‘Minimal’ (in the classical tradition of Glass, et al) it feels such an inadequate description, as it’s literally describing just a part of the original picture. Nevertheless as we live in a world of labels, Ludovico is characteristically diplomatic, and indeed insightful about such things, as he says:
“In general I don’t like definitions, but ‘Minimalist’ is a term that means elegance and openness, so I would prefer to be called a Minimalist than something else.”
STANZE (1990) / (1992) IT / (1997) UK
By 1990 the fruits of Ludovico’s private musical experiments had produced ‘Stanze’ (in English ‘Rooms’), a cycle of sixteen pieces for solo electric harp. Composed he says: “spontaneously, over two or three years. They are musical spaces separated from each other like the rooms of a house. Every room has its own character and its own self-contained meaning, like a song...”
An album of the pieces was recorded by the virtuoso electric harpist Cecilia Chailly and was originally released in Italy in 1992 and later in the UK where it would cause an instant sensation, jamming the BBC’s switchboard with the response to its first plays and quickly becoming a cult hit, even featuring on MTV’s VH-1 channel.
LE ONDE (1995) / (1996) IT / (1998) UK LE ONDE (2004)
Meanwhile, back in Milan Ludovico’s next step was to mark the real turning point in his career. ‘Le Onde’ inspired by and named after Virginia Woolf’s novel ‘The Waves’ was a new cycle of instrumental pieces, this time for solo piano and to be played the composer himself. Paring his resources down in other words as far as it’s possible to go and re-launching his career as both composer and now performer too. Compositionally it was a further development of the instrumental song form he had successfully explored in ‘Stanze’, but despite this Ludovico encountered a considerable amount of initial resistance to the idea, as he recalls:
“I remember when I when I told my record company I wanted to make ‘Le Onde’, they said ‘we don’t believe in this project, not a solo piano album’ but my family and friends were supportive, and slowly, without any kind of promotion or investment, radio stations began to play it. Now I have a strong connection with my audience. I feel I have built my own path.”
Indeed he has and it’s fitting, given that in the novel the waves are a symbol of life itself, that after an initial ebbing away of support, so much more has subsequently flowed from this album for Ludovico. In the UK, as a result of listener pressure, the album has become a permanent fixture atop the Classic FM charts and this mobilization of people-power has become a phenomenon in country after country as new listeners discover Ludovico’s music.
FILM & TV MUSIC (1998 – Present)
Something else that has flowed from ‘Le Onde’ is Ludovico’s burgeoning career in music for film and television soundtracks.
Initially ‘discovered’ by director Nanni Moretti who used three pieces from ‘Le Onde’ in his highly regarded ’Aprile’ (1998), Ludovico has gone on to compose music for several more Film and TV productions and had his music used in many others. Indeed so successful has he been in this area that he has won major international awards for his scores to Michele Sordillo’s ‘Acquario’ (1996), Giuseppe Piccioni’s ‘Fuori del Mondo’ (2000), ‘Luce Dei Miei Occhi’ (2001), Giacomo Campiotti’s ‘Doctor Zhivago’ (2002), and Roberto Andò's ‘Sotto Falso Nome’ (2004).
In recent years he has formed a particularly fruitful partnership with the noted English director Shane Meadows and the use of his music in the widely acclaimed film ‘This Is England’ (2006) and its television sequel ‘This Is England ‘86’ (2010) were extremely well received, earning Ludovico a BAFTA nomination, and has brought his music to a new and much wider general audience.
In 2011 another acclaimed film used his music: “ Intouchables” by Olivier Nakache and Eric Soledano. The film has been voted as the cultural event of 2011 in France, in March 2012 he became the highest grossing movie in a language other than English and it has been submitted for an Academy Award.
EDEN ROC (1999)
Much of which of course was still in the future when Ludovico sat down to compose the follow-up to ‘Le Onde’ but in the music and general sweep of ‘Eden Roc’ it’s easy to hear a wider, more ‘cinematic’ feel to things.
The most noticeable change of course is the broader instrumental palette -Ludovico’s piano is still the driving force but the album’s startling opening track ‘Yerevan’ sees renowned Armenian musician Djivan Gasparijan, master of the duduk (a small oboe made of apricot wood) backed by the urgent drones of a vibratoless string quartet. No sooner have we got our bearings than more surprises are dealt by the title track as a perky electric guitar strums happily under an impassioned cello solo, and so the album unfolds.
Overall ‘Eden Roc’ is a more exuberant collection than its predecessors, the sound of a young composer felling more relaxed and playful. Its importance shouldn’t be underestimated though and the combination of musical ‘actors’ assembled – piano, strings, solo cello, world music and ‘electrics’ – are ones we’ll see combined and recombined in kaleidoscopic ways, ebbing and flowing in relative importance, through a substantial amount of Ludovico’s later music.
I GIORNI (2001)
His next album, ‘I Giorni’ (in English ‘The Days’) is a case in point as Ludovico once again strips his instrumental palette back to solo piano in order to focus on the fundamentals of his music. In this case producing what he describes as a “musical reflection” of his recent travels in Africa, as he explains:
“One day some time ago, during my stay in Mali, I was traveling in a car with a friend, Toumani Diabate, a famous kora virtuoso, when I suddenly heard some quite enchanting music, an ancient melody dating from the thirteenth century. When I returned home to work on my new recording, I began to improvise with that sweet, melancholy music in mind, and so I was able to overcome my nostalgia for Africa.”
The sound of this melody, and of the Malian kora (a bridged harp characteristic of Mali and much of West Africa), suffuse the music of ‘I Giorni’ to delightful and evocative effect. Harps and harp music, and Malian music in particular, are of course areas Ludovico is already very familiar with, not least in the writing of ‘Stanze’, but what is fascinating about ‘I Giorni’ is the way that the percussive, rhythmic character of the kora now impacts directly onto Ludovico’s piano style. It was an encounter that would leave a lasting impression both on Ludovico and his later music.
DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (2002)
‘Love is a Mystery’ as one of the tracks on this haunting CD so ravishingly reminds us and rarely more so than in Boris Pasternak’s iconic tale of revolution and romance ‘Doctor Zhivago’.
Given the existing fame of David Lean’s epic 1965 film version and its equally memorable Oscar-winning score by Maurice Jarre, Ludovico could be forgiven for thinking he’d taken on an epic task in every sense when he agreed to score director Giacomo Campiott’s new four-hour TV version starring Keira Knightly and Sam Neill. That he produced such a magnificent result is testament once again to his artistic courage as well as to his craft.
The way Ludovico forged a fresh new musical world for ‘Doctor Zhivago’ and made the score his own was to begin with a journey mirroring that of the characters, deep into the heartland of Mother Russia, where in the county’s ancient music he found the source he needed to help convey the elemental forces shaping both the novel and its setting, in all their vastness and profundity.
The fundamental nature of the encounter Ludovico had with Russian folk music is clear to hear throughout the album, whether overtly in terms of featuring traditional singers and instruments or woven more deeply into the fabric of his composition and arrangement, creating a real sense of dialectic and dialogue between the different cultures, the latter process not dissimilar to that he would undertake with world music of a very different kind in ‘Diario Mali’ the following year.
This broadening of his sonic palette was further expanded by the use of a large string section, something he deploys to masterful effect and which clearly left a lasting impression, in due time becoming an integral part of the soundworlds of his most recent studio albums ‘Divenire’ and ‘Nightbook’ , and their accompanying tours.
At a more profound level still and with similarly long-lasting impact, a romantic, or more
precisely post-romantic, inflexion occurred in Ludovico’s musical language. Almost demanded in some ways by Zhivago’s subject matter and at times verging on Mahlerian in tone, this metamorphosis can be heard in the score’s leaping melodic cascades, the keening closeness of its darker chromatic harmony and the contrasting expansiveness of its luminous string and choral writing.
Drawing together the inner and outer forces at his disposal, Ludovico succeeds in creating a ‘Zhivago’ worthy of the name, not only portraying the timeless romance of both the film and the novel but grounding it in an authentic sense of place, even encapsulating the historical undercurrents underpinning it. It’s an impressive achievement and one that was to win Ludovico the New York Film Festival‘s Gold Medal for Best Film Soundtrack.
One of the reasons the tale of ‘Doctor Zhivago’ continues to fascinate contemporary audiences is that many of the themes it deals with -the clash between the traditional and the modern, the personal and the public, the romantic and the pragmatic, and perhaps above all its interleaving of passion, introspection and yearning, whether for love, a sense of place in the world, or for a present and a past slipping inexorably away-are still very active concerns in our everyday lives. Doctor Zhivago is after all, a modern novel (first published in 1957) and it deals with modern themes.
Having devised a musical language to deal with these same themes it’s perhaps not surprising it would have an enduring impact on Ludovico’s music and we can hear thematic and textural echoes of ‘Doctor Zhivago’ emerging in both ‘Divenire’ and ‘Nightbook’, the kinship between ‘Farewell to the Past’ and the title track of ‘Divenire’ being one of particularly clear significance.
LA SCALA CONCERT 03.03.03 (2003) IT / (2004) UK
DIARIO MALI (2005)
As Ludovico’s fame grew, his concert schedule naturally grew along with it and so 2003 was to become a year of touring and live performances for him.
January began things in wonderfully exotic style, with a return to Mali to perform in the third Festival au Désert as part of a line-up boasting Oumou Sangaré, Tinariwen, Robert Plant and Ali Farka Touré. Ludovico had been invited by and performed with another of the country’s finest kora virtuosi, Ballaké Sissoko, and a section of their performance together 'Chameaux' can be found on the festival’s live album ‘Le Festival au Désert’ (Triban Union / Ponderosa Music & Art).
Ludovico was so inspired by the experience of playing with Ballaké that he immediately invited him back to Italy and so it was that in February, less than a month later, they recorded the album ‘Dario Mali’ together which was subsequently released in 2005.
As we saw with ‘I Giorni’ (2001) Ludovico by now had a considerable knowledge of and empathy for Malian music and the album documents a profound and fruitful musical communication between the two player-composers.
No sooner had Ludovico finished one album than he began work on another, still live performance-based but for his audience at least on much more familiar territory. The double live album ‘La Scala Concert 03.03.03’ was recorded in Milan’s Teatro degli Arcimboldi as a souvenir and a present to his ever growing live audience (and most particularly of course to that of his adopted hometown where has lived since being a student in the city). As might be expected, all of his most popular pieces are represented together with an ‘homage’ to the rock music of his youth in the shape of The Rolling Stones’ ‘Lady Jane’.
From here Ludovico’s attention turned once again to the UK with a series of concert dates to promote the release of ‘Echoes: The Einaudi Collection’; a compilation of favorite tracks from his first four UK albums which has since gone on to sell more than 100,000 copies.
SOTTO FALSO NOME (2004)
UNA MATTINA (2004)
In the same way that 2003 had seen a mixture of experimentation and consolidation for Ludovico so the pattern continued into 2004.
The first ‘experiment’ was allowing his music to be remixed by Swiss techno duo ‘Table’ and featured on a Buddha Bar compilation (‘Volume VI’). Not the kind of thing a conventional ‘classical’ composer does but further proof if needed of Ludovico’s determination to look beyond issues of ‘convention’ and concern himself solely with matters of pure music. As he has remarked of his career and the occasionally strained relationship he has with the more conservative critics:
“I think the classical world is not very approving of what I do. Apart from certain people who understand my roots. I was always more interested in pop and rock than classical. After the Beatles came out, I never stopped listening to that music. Today, it’s bands like Radiohead.”
Whatever else it was again proof that his music was being taken up by an audience much wider than the ‘usual’ expectations, and once again doing so under its own power and in a purely natural way, free of any conscious marketing effort.
The second experimental area of this year was a film score, for Roberto Andò’s ‘Sotto Falso Nome’ (in English ‘Under False Name’ though its Anglophone release was as ‘Strange Crime’), an all too contemporary tale of deceit and desire.
The score’s most obvious innovation is in the area of instrumentation, and alongside a full string section Ludovico brings into play a whole new battery of synthesizers and other electronic textures. Ludovico’s exquisite control of sonority is a hallmark of his music, but what’s not often appreciated is the degree to which he honed this while working as a student in Berio’s electronic studio ‘Tempo Reale’. Having comprehensively revisited the world of electronics in this score, it’s become an element of increasing importance in his music since.
Indeed if taken as a pair with his earlier music for ‘Doctor Zhivago’ the two scores form a bridge between the sound world of Ludovico’s earlier albums such as ‘Le Onde’ and ‘Eden Roc’ and those of recent years such as ‘Divenire’ and ‘Nightbook’ – each score containing different seeds of what would later bloom together in unison. The film and its soundtrack were both successful on release and Ludovico was awarded the ‘Best Film Music’ prize at that year’s Avignon Film Festival in recognition of his work.
The last big change of 2004 came with the release of ‘Una Mattina’, Ludovico’s first album for new and current major record label Universal, the world’s largest.
Though mainly written for solo piano (with the addition of some magnificent cello solos from longtime collaborator Marco Decimo) and thus not dissimilar in this respect from Ludovico’s previous solo album ‘I Giorni’, ‘Una Mattina’ has a very different feel as the composer brings a more ‘classical’ and reflective side to bear.
‘Una Mattina’ is a subtle album in many ways and it’s evidenced right from the opening of the title track, posing as it does a series of unconscious questions to the listener – is the music more reminiscent of classical keyboard masters such as Chopin or Beethoven or even earlier styles such as the Baroque, or then again is it drawing more heavily on Ludovico’s beloved Malian music, or is it all of these at once, the figures shifting in identity as they change in shape from bar to bar?
It’s a haunting album that pays rich rewards with repeated listenings, a record that demands one’s inner confidence. And yet despite this air of private introspection it was also a work of very public popularity, leaping immediately to the top of the UK Classical album chart upon release.
In response to this outpouring of audience approval Ludovico once again took to the concert stage and for the rest of this year and much of the next became a touring virtuoso in the time-honored fashion, playing to delighted audiences by night and planning his next musical moves by day. A particular highlight for the UK, being his first sold-out tour (13 dates) in February 2005.
THE HANGAR CONCERT (2005)
Almost certainly the most unusual concert Ludovico played in the midst of this activity was once again at a venue very close to home. It was one that would also prove to have a lasting importance in terms of his future music.
The Hangar Bicocca is a unique space in what were formerly the industrial Northern suburbs of Milan. Coincidentally it’s only a block away from the Teatro degli Arcimboldi but there the similarities end. Whereas the latter is a purpose built modern theatre, the Hanger Bicocca is a cavernous space enclosed by the shell of former factory and now devoted to the exhibition of installation art works.
In early 2005 the German artist Anselm Kiefer was exhibiting his work ‘The Seven Heavenly Palaces’, consisting of seven specially built towers wrought eerily in steel and standing sixteen metres high. Ludovico had been asked to play a special concert in the Hanger, in the midst of the artwork and its mysterious towers. As he recalls: “It was like playing inside a huge cathedral, the sound traveling up and never ending. The ‘Seven Towers’ evoked a mysterious power which it was impossible to express so I decided to do something completely different from what I’d thought.
I threw down a series of sketches, deciding I would improvise around the new ideas that I had been collecting. The concert was memorable for me and the atmosphere unique. The atmosphere of my last album ‘Nightbook’ was born there."
Some months later Ludovico was to take part in another event of memorable symbolism, thought his time of once–in-a-lifetime importance. On May 26th, 2005 in Rome, Ludovico Einaudi was awarded the ‘Ufficiale Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana’ (or OMRI) the senior order of Knighthood bestowed by the Italian Republic.
It is awarded for ‘merit acquired by the nation’ in the fields of literature, the arts, economy, public service, and humanitarian activities and for long and conspicuous service in civilian and military careers. In a particularly touching historical rhyme it was an award originally founded by Ludovico’s grandfather during his time as President of Italy and one he himself had been awarded once back in civilian life.
DIVENIRE (2006) IT / (2007) UK/US
Ludovico’s next album ‘Divenire’ was to be his both his most ambitious musically thus far and his greatest commercial success to date, an extremely difficult pairing for any artist to pull off but one which Ludovico managed triumphantly.
The album gathers together many of the musical ‘streams’ that had flowed through Ludovico’s mature career and at the same time expands on them dramatically in both scale and sonority acoustically in the shape of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and electronically in the use of digital loops and other sonic transformations. Even his beloved electric guitar was to reappear.
‘Divenire’ in Italian is both a verb and a noun, ‘to become’ and the state of ‘becoming’ at one and the same time, and this idea of ‘becoming’ and of the transformations inherent within it are the album’s central conceptual and musical motif. One of the images Ludovico drew on to explain this was a famous passage from Heraclitus -‘You cannot step into the same stream twice. For as you are stepping in, other waters are ever flowing on to you.’ and so it is with the soundworld of ‘Divenire’, constantly in a state of flux and motion.
The album’s musical genesis is in the three pieces ‘Divenire’, ‘Primavera’ and ‘Svanire’ (‘To become / Becoming’, ‘Spring’ and ‘To Vanish’) originally inspired by the Italian symbolist painter Giovanni Segantini’s ‘Trittico delle Alpi’ (Alpine Triptych) -the three paintings respectively titled ‘Vita’,‘Natura’and ‘Morte’ (‘Life’, ‘Nature’ and ‘Death’). Appropriately for such lofty subjects the pieces were commissioned by and first performed at the ‘I Suoni delle Dolomiti’ (Sounds of the Dolomites) festival which is held on a mountain plateau at an altitude of 2 kilometres.
Ludovico developed the album from these beginnings and eventually, having formed a relationship with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in meantime, recorded it with the Orchestra at Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall. On release, first in Italy (late 2006) and then the rest of Europe (early 2007) it quite simply became a phenomenon, not only topping the classical charts in his native country but crashing into the pop charts too.
In the UK and US it was a similar story. At one stage it was iTunes’ best-selling classical album across Europe and to date has sold in excess of 300,000 copies, picking up many awards and plaudits (including a BRIT awards ‘Album of the Year’ nomination) along the way.
Not surprisingly a huge tour followed, 80 dates snaking across Europe and in the UK taking in the largest concert halls in the country (the Barbican, Symphony Hall, Bridgewater Hall etc.)before culminating in November 2007 at The Royal Albert Hall.
Leading from the piano Ludovico’s ensemble was typically atypical and included both a conventional classical string sextet and post-rock musician Robert Lippok (of ‘To Rococo Rot’) on turntables and electronics.
A special edition of the album was later released which included several remixes, not least by Robert Lippok himself, and Ludovico become the only classical artist to play the first iTunes Festival alongside artists such as Paul McCartney, Kasabian and Amy Winehouse.
All in all it was a remarkable year and one which saw Ludovico’s popularity scale previously unimagined heights.
LIVE IN BERLIN (2008) / (2010)
With people far and wide now clamoring to see him, Ludovico remained on the road throughout the following year (2008) with concert engagements in Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, France, Germany, India, USA and Japan, an ever-growing list.
To celebrate the unique bond that he has with his live concert audiences he made a special‘present’ available, his second live album ‘Live In Berlin’ which documents the ‘Divenire’ tour and could initially only be bought at the concerts. Happily it was made more generally available in early 2010 and it’s fascinating to hear how Ludovico translates the album’s expansive textures to a form that works equally well for his smaller live ensemble.
Even when on tour Ludovico was constantly writing and recording new music and so it was that 2009 saw the release of not one but two new studio albums, one as ‘band member’ and one assolo artist. Though the two albums share many aspects, not least three of the same musicians, they’re also very distinct and engagingly different.
First to be released was ‘Cloudland’, the debut release from ‘Whitetree’ which comprises Ludovico on piano, ‘Divenire’ tour collaborator Robert Lippok on electronics, and Robert’s brother Ronald Lippok on drums.
Recorded and mixed in Berlin at various points between January 2007 and June 2008 what’s immediately striking about Whitetree’s music is its consistent and collective group identity. It’s a genuine collaboration to which each of the members brings their own ideas.
What’s fascinating for those who know Ludovico’s previous work is to hear how he contributes to the group in different ways, sometimes taking center stage but sometimes standing musically aside and acting as an ensemble player.
The overall feel is relaxed, improvisatory and rhythmic which is entirely fitting as ‘Cloudland’ is inspired by and named after a paradisiacal retreat in Nigerian writer Amos Tutuola’s novel ‘The Palm-Wine Drinkard’. Magical realist in tone the novel deals with the clash between traditional African cultures on one hand and the global trend towards modernity on the other and this finds a perfect analogue in Whitetree’s music as musical figures often explicitly evocative of African music engage in dialogue with cutting-edge electronics and percussion.
If ‘Cloudland’ is a sunny, ‘daytime’ album it was perfectly complemented by Ludovico’s next Release, ‘Nightbook’, his seventh solo album and the first since the wildly successful ‘Divenire’.
Following the pattern of ebb and flow we have seen before in Ludovico’s music ‘Nightbook’ was to be a very different album from ‘Divenire’. Having previously expanded his forces greatly he once again cut back so as to focus on a particular musical aspect, this time a concentration on sonority and a deeper encounter with the electronics he had been using on the ‘Divenire’ tour.
The most striking difference however is in the overall mood, Where ‘Divenire’ is an ‘exterior’ album, an outward voyage to contemplate the flow of life in all its boundlessness, ‘Nightbook’ is a ‘interior’ one, into the psyche. Where ‘Divenire’ is effervescent, ‘Nightbook’ is evanescent but both are meditations on change, as Ludovico explains:
“’Nightbook’ is a journey, and each track is like a chapter in a story or the facets of a prism, a way of delving into the more oneiric, deeper side to ourselves. The music opens up gateways to hidden worlds, enabling the listener to enter into contact with their deepest emotions.”
Alchemically blending piano, electronics, strings and percussion, he paints a picture of a world: “transitional between light and darkness, between the known and the unknown. A night-time landscape. A garden faintly visible under the dull glow of the night sky. A few stars dotting the darkness above, shadows of the trees all around. Light shining from a window behind me. What I can see is familiar, but it seems alien at the same time. It’s like a dream, anything may happen.”
Such is the centrality of this psychological dimension to ‘Nighbook’ that Ludovico has christened the album his ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ (referring to the famous album by Pink Floyd), with the electronics: “projecting the piano like a shadow, in all directions.”
The atmosphere of ‘Nightbook’ is undoubtedly reflective of Ludovico’s life at the time of its writing, the nocturnal, ceaselessly shifting existence of the traveling urban musician -a long way in every sense from the settled, sunny idyll of the family vineyard in Piedmont where he’d often previously chosen to stay when composing.
‘Nightbook’ may show a different aspect to Ludovico Einaudi but it’s one wholly consistent with his opus, and if it posed his audience a challenge it’s one they’ve enthusiastically taken up, to such a degree that ‘Nightbook’ immediately followed its predecessor to the top of the European classical charts and also did well in the USA, an important new country for Ludovico.
THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL CONCERT (2010)
With album success naturally comes more touring and so in 2010 Ludovico was back on the road again with the ‘Nightbook’ tour, another marathon collection of 60 dates covering Europe and North America.
Concert performances have become an increasingly large part of Ludovico’s life over the years and given the particularly enthusiastic reception to the ‘Nightbook’ tour it felt only right to document and release it in some way.
So it was that on March 2nd, 2010, almost exactly seven years after recording the ‘La Scala Concert’, Ludovico’s concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall, which featured a specially arranged 16-piece string orchestra in the line-up, was recorded and filmed for posterity.
Released later in the year as a sumptuous double CD plus DVD package ‘The Royal Albert Hall Concert’ falls naturally into two parts, the first CD focusing on current album ‘Nightbook’ and then the second ranging widely through favorite parts of Ludovico’s catalogue. It’s a collection that has a definitive air about it, with assured performances for a knowledgeable audience in one of the grandest possible locations, handsomely showcasing a composer and performer at the height of his powers.
LA NOTTE DELLA TARANTA – (2010-2011)
Ludovico Einaudi has reached out to a massive audience across the world with his own music, but he’s never forgotten the joy and power of traditional Italian music. The summers 2010 and 2011 he has been invited to conduct La Notte della Taranta in the Puglia region where more than 100,000 people danced the whole night away . A successful tour also followed which included two sold out in London at Barbican. The music has its roots in the wild dances that were meant to ward off the effects of a tarantula bite, and Ludovico’s La Notte della Taranta Orchestra combines singers, mandolin, virtuoso tambourines, percussion, accordion, strings,organ and guitar in a mad profusion of exuberant music. Einaudi has refreshed the tradition by rearranging the old songs, writing new music, and inviting international guests such as The Turkish multi-instrumentalist and DJ Mercan Dede, the greel singer Savina Yannatou , Ballake Sissoko the Malian kora player and the Guitarrist/composer Justin Adams and the Gambian griot Juldeh Camara.
IN A TIME LAPSE – (2013)
In A Time Lapse was composed over a period of two years and recorded in October 2012 in a monastery near Verona, Italy. The 14 pieces that compose the album range between piano, strings, percussion and electronics. As with the previous albums, In A Time Lapse develops as a suite with a concept that recalls the form of a novel divided in different chapters. Epic and emotional as Divenire, experimental and adventurous as Nightbook, In A Time Lapse moves even further exploring new textures and arrangements that blends different musical worlds into one. Within the classical style of Ludovico, in this album you can hear echoes of baroque and Italian folk music, late romantic strings textures, and a wide variety of colors between percussion and electronics, appearing throughout a journey that transport the listener through a deep reflection on the idea of time, with the words of Ludovico "when you get conscious that our time is limited, it’s the moment where you try to fill that space with all your energy and emotions and start to imagine beyond the limits and live every moment of your life fully as when you were a child".
The album features Ludovico's band, the string orchestra I Virtuosi Italiani and violinist Daniel Hope that appears in four pieces: Life and Experience together with I Virtuosi Italiani, Underwood, a touching duet with Ludovico, and Orbits where the solo violin climbs the sky towards infinity.
In the two decades it’s taken him to reach this point Ludovico Einaudi has made a remarkable journey. From being one man composing alone at a piano he’s now an international phenomenon, surrounded when he plays by eager thousands, listened to avidly by many millions more. Country after country has taken him to its heart, his albums have topped innumerable charts and his concerts sold out the world’s most prestigious halls.
He’s reached a point in his career where seemingly any avenue or possibility of his artistic choosing is available to him, the only real question being where he wants to go. Even then, on current form a triumphant arrival almost anywhere would seem assured.
It’s gratifying then that through it all he remains that rarest of things a genuine and unaffected artist, pleased by his success of course but principally as it evidences his successful communication with his audience and the intrinsic quality of his work. This is where his true motivation has always been, the reason he began the journey, as he explains:
“I’m doing this music because I believe in it. I’m not saying it’s the music of the future or a big statement about humanity. But this is music I created from nothing. And yes, it’s my vision.”