He’s the greatest composer you’ve never heard of. But if the name Ludovico Einaudi is unfamiliar, his music won’t be.
Einaudi’s muted piano melodies have accompanied poignant moments on the small and big screens for more than two decades, become a Classic FM staple and a classical music phenomenon.
Ludovico Einaudi’s muted piano melodies have accompanied poignant moments on the small and big screens for more than two decades
His plaintive music is played over the titles of Dr Foster and beneath the more moving montages in MasterChef and The Apprentice. He enriches British Airways adverts and historical Hollywood epics with his trademark wistful tinkling. And if there’s a tear-jerking backstory on The X Factor, a reflective Einaudi air is rarely far away.
In 2011, Radio 1’s Greg James revealed that Einaudi’s I Giorni was his ‘study break’ record and turned it into a Top 40 hit.
His signature sound, a hypnotic motif repeating over shifting chords, has come to embody a modern-day melancholy, a sort of Instagram sadness.
Which doesn’t quite square with the twinkle-eyed Italian carefully pouring tea in a London hotel. ‘I hope to promote peacefulness rather than misery,’ he says.
Einaudi produces soothing music for turbulent times. His more famous fans include Bono, Nicki Minaj (who comes onstage to his music), Iggy Pop, Ricky Gervais and Clint Eastwood.
He is the most streamed classical artist of all time and has more than a million followers on Spotify, although his sound defies categorisation, drifting between classical, new age and pop.
Yet Einaudi doesn’t court fame and is cautious of celebrity, preferring a low-profile life, moving quietly around the world relatively unrecognised.
The previous evening, he had performed to a spellbound audience – ‘a collective meditation’, as he puts it – at an intimate concert in an Islington church.
The classical superstar, who has single-handedly rejuvenated sales in the genre, returns in the summer for seven performances at the Barbican (July 31-August 6).
Einaudi’s latest project, Seven Days Walking, seven bodies of music released over as many months, is already the fastest-streamed classical album ever.
Einaudi studied composition at the Conservatorio Verdi in Milan under the avant-garde composer Luciano Berio, who ‘opened my mind to music just as Bob Dylan had with his words’
This acclaim has made Einaudi a wealthy man. He owns properties in Italy, including a hotel and vineyards in Piedmont, although he was never particularly poor.
Einaudi was born into a prominent Turin family. His ‘sober, studious’ father built a publishing house, Giulio Einaudi Editore, and writers Primo Levi and Italo Calvino (‘like an uncle to me’) were regular house guests.
At home, Ludovico’s mother Renata would play classical piano, but he also recalls her introducing him to The Rolling Stones. He remains a fan of English rock bands such as Radiohead and Alt-J but also adores Bach and Bartók.
Einaudi studied composition at the Conservatorio Verdi in Milan under the avant-garde composer Luciano Berio, who ‘opened my mind to music just as Bob Dylan had with his words’.
Although the same age as Johnny Rotten, Einaudi had little time for punk, preferring the complex progressive rock of Pink Floyd, Yes and Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells.
Meeting Bono on U2’s Zoo TV tour in 1993 was ‘very important and meaningful’ for Einaudi. ‘He told me to play from the heart,’ he remembers. ‘He said that is what U2 always do. And after that everything changed. I was inspired.’
As Einaudi’s music reaches new heights, he can surely no longer be pleased that his works are background to Gregg Wallace’s gurning on MasterChef. ‘I don’t have absolute control over where all of my music is used,’ he apologises. ‘Although I refused to allow Marlboro, the tobacco company, to use it for advertising.’
Einaudi is now a key influencer. People tell him that his music has saved their lives and some fans, he reveals, can verge on the obsessive. ‘They show me tattoos,’ he marvels. ‘My titles and musical notes on their skin for ever!’ Einaudi chuckles. ‘I would prefer for the music to be well known rather than me. That would be my dream.’
‘Seven Days Walking: Day One’ and the single ‘Birdsong’ are out now on Decca. ‘Seven Days Walking: Day Two’ is out on Friday. His UK tour starts at the Barbican on July 31. barbican.org.uk