The Arty Semite

Pianist Maurizio Pollini: Perpetuating Kabbalah-based Inspiration?

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share

An all-Chopin recital April 18 at Carnegie Hall by the Italian pianist Maurizio Pollini, who gives further performances of the same composer’s music on April 29 and May 9, contained spiritual, even mystical, depth.

Chopin is not often considered the most metaphysical of composers; the Hungarian Jewish pianist András Schiff, himself a majestic Chopin interpreter, has belittled Chopin the man as a notorious antisemite. Yet in Pollini’s hands, Chopin’s Preludes and Scherzos seem like a form of gnosis.

These Pollini recitals surround the 20th anniversary, on May 8, of the death of the pianist’s great friend and mentor Luigi Nono. As we read in Nono’s “Writings” (Écrits) from Christian Bourgois Éditions in Paris, sadly untranslated into English, Pollini was a close comrade of the leftist Nono, accompanying him to perform at Italian factories and prisons in the 60s.

Nono was a philosemite who married Nuria Schoenberg, daughter of great Jewish composer Arnold Schoenberg. Nono composed spectral, haunted works inspired by the writings of the Egyptian Jewish author Edmond Jabès.

After the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials which concluded in 1965, Nono composed “Ricorda cosi ti hanno fatto in Auschwitz” (Remember what they did to you at Auschwitz) a work seemingly guided by the voices of ghostly victims. Yet Nono’s most emotionally profound encounter with Jewish experience was in the early 80s, when he purchased a copy of the Sefer Yetzirah at a bookstore in Spain.

Nono explained in his “Écrits” that he considers the esoteric text as a key to the musical thought of Schoenberg, whom he idolized. Nono’s close reading of numerous Jewish mystical texts, as elucidated in an article by Italian Jewish mathematician Giorgio Israel in the publication “Matematica e cultura 2004,” may not have been imitated by Pollini. Yet the pianist was surely aware of Nono’s close ties to mystically inclined avant-garde Jewish composers like Fred Rzewski, himself a student of Jacob Taubes, and Richard Teitelbaum. Surrounded by these young musicians fascinated by Gershom Scholem and Martin Buber, Pollini surely absorbed some of the spiritual concerns of Luigi Nono, which continue to inform his musical interpretations even today.

Watch Maurizio Pollini play Chopin with majestic spirituality (and Japanese subtitles) below.

Listen to Nuria Schoenberg Nono discuss her father, Arnold Schoenberg, next to a photo of her late husband, Luigi Nono.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Pollini, Nono, Chopin

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.