Monday, February 09, 2015


Prosecutor: Chicolini, isn’t it true you sold Freedonia’s secret war code and plans?
Chicolini: Sure! I sold a code and two pairs o’ plans! Ay, that's-a some joke!

Oh. Wrong guy. We're talking about CICCOLINI.

Though not one of the all-time greats, the late Aldo Ciccolini (August 15, 1925-Februrary 1, 2015) sold a lot of albums for Angel/EMI. Maybe it was because Horowitz and Rubinstein didn't seem to know about composer Erik Satie. Or, care to record him. In the late 60's and early 70's, college grads and classical music enthusiasts suddenly doubled over, discovering the duo of Satie as recorded by Ciccolini.

The impudent avant-garde dadaist and now decomposed Satie had to sustain himself as a cabaret pianist. Likewise, Ciccolini (born in Naples but a Parisian since the 1950's) found himself playing for bar patrons in order to keep baguettes on the table. Yes, "don't quit your day job just yet" was always a good strategy for oddballs trying to defy all odds and bring something new to the world. Even after winning some awards and getting record deals, Aldo didn't quit his day job, which in the 70s involved teaching at the Conservatoire de Paris.

While Ciccolini did earn some good reviews with war-horse pieces (his 1950 United States debut was a Tchaikovsky piano concerto performed with the New York Philharmonic) he found that the best way to get attention in the very competitive world of classical piano, was to specialize in esoterica. This included the twin darlings of keyboard oddness, Alkan and Satie, as well as the even more obscure Déodat de Séverac and Alexis de Castillon. With the success of his Satie recordings, the French-Italian pianist even turned up at New York's Bottom Line in 1979. It was rare for that venue to feature a classical pianist, but Aldo Ciccolini was a name that progressive rock fans knew (along with Tomita, Walter/Wendy Carlos and Virgil Fox. Fox, many recall, played an organ concert at the Fillmore, highlighted by that Phantom of the Opera toccata by Bach, man. Bach, man, he could be booked one night and Turner Overdrive the next! And the same fans might show up! Wowie Zowie)

Mainstream music fans who could tolerate SOME classical music, were delighted with Chico's Satie material, which included gnossiennes (more narcotic than Pachelbel's "Canon") and Zappa-esque titles such as "Flabby Preludes for a Dog." Ciccolini's record label allowed him to branch out for Ravel, and some of the more mainstream composers, while he continued to teach and to perform dates both on hip college campuses and at the standard classical music venues that once hosted the now-deceased Rubinstein and Horowitz.

“Ciccolini avoids standard clichés, and his is one of the finest lyric talents of the piano today,” wrote Washington Post reviewer Joseph McLellan after a 1983 show at the University of Maryland. “He makes it easy to forget that the piano is essentially a mechanical contraption, capable of doing very complex things and splendid in its dynamic range, but limited in expressive possibilities. He makes the piano breathe like a human voice — like a variety of human voices.”

On Dec 9, 1999, Aldo commemorated the 50 years since he first won a major award (the Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud Competition). In 2010 he celebrated his 85th birthday with concert appearances in conjunction with EMI putting out a massive (how about 56 CDs) set of his recorded works. By that time, an entire generation had grown up with almost no "star" classical pianist to follow, and only Alfred Brendel being ubiquitous for new releases. Artur who? Vladimir who? Van Cliburn what? And let's not bother with mono from Kempff or Schnabel.

Below? In under 3 minutes, you get Aldo's version of Satie's three short "Flabby Preludes for a Dog." In a different era, these works were as shocking to classical ears as Zappa's weirdly named instrumentals were to rock audiences. So give it a try. It showcases the melodic quirkiness that has continued to make Satie (and Aldo's recordings) such fun listening.

ALDO does Flabby Preludes for a Dog

As always, listen on line OR download...with no capcha codes, Zinfuck password, or promotions to get you buy a premium account for which the artists get nothing.

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