Some years ago, I could never guess that I would write now this article and that I would have a personal website with my biography and pictures as international solo pianist. Many years have passed since that winter evening in 2005, that literally changed my life and turned upside down every personal choice of mine afterwards.
Suddenly, I woke up in a room in the burns unit of the hospital in Parma, with my whole body covered in bandages, on a bed, at my right a big window beyond which there were red and white-bricked palaces.
For months, that window became my
source of contemplation, my source of light, to which I addressed my
thoughts and prayers. If I had the chance, I think I would have
painted it with oil colours, but I just sketched it on my journal
with a pencil.
Burns of deep 2nd degree, five operations with skin grafts on the neck and on the legs. My face was a bit reddened, but was not wounded, my hair became shorter, but my hands were left untouched.
Those days and nights at the hospital seemed not to have an end, rhythmed by the constant visits of the surgeons and the daily hour with my family, by my loneliness, by listening to the Queen’s music with the nurses, by my moments of courage, when I tried to remain seated on the bed although my muscles did not yet have the force to, until I was able again to put my feet on the ground.
I realized only after a while that I would never have the same body again, my skin stain on the the right thigh was gone, as all my certainties. My body was changed, together with my perception of pain and of joy. Even cherries in May tasted differently. The colour of the sky, the form of my grandmother’s hands, the sensation of leafing through a book, the odour of a candle, the perfume of the linden trees in my town, all felt different.
I was almost 19 years old and I could not fit anymore in the person
I was few months before, my dreams changed too, and with them my
priorities and needs. All I wanted was to turn back time and be the
one I was before. My mind and heart were so much changed, that I was
not interested anymore in the dreams I had up until few months
before, going further with the study of ballet and attending a
fashion designer course at the Marangoni school in Milan.
I always had an artistic personality; when I was ten years old, I liked to listen to the vinyl records in the garret of my house. I could listen to Beethoven’s symphonies performed by Berliner Philarmoniker – on a windy day, I saw the intense vibrato of a violin or cello in the grass shaken by wind.
On the symphonies by Brahms performed by
Bernstein with the Wiener Philarmoniker, I wore the ballerina toes
and improvised a choreography, then I would listen to Mozart’s ones.
There was an old organ with 2 keyboards at home and a very old upright piano belonging to my mother; when she was a child, she took piano classes from the parish priest of our village, so that she could play in church on Sunday mornings. Among her old scores, there was a book of exercises by Czerny, the waltzes by Chopin and a collection of songs by Francesco de Gregori.
I had had piano lessons in a music school nearby and from an old professor at the conservatory; I remember I could play everything very quickly but with no order at all, and the more quickly I could play, the more satisfied I felt, but the idea of seriously studying this instrument was very far from my aspirations at that time. I have always felt attracted to those white and black keys, though.
When I was a teenager, I won for 2 consecutive years a scholarship
as best ballet dancer at Teatro Nuovo of Turin, that helped me
study with important ballet teachers. During masterclasses, the
exercises were very hard. I was having classes five hours a day,
morning and afternoon. My toes moved graciously on the wooden
parquet of the hall. I could see my reflected image in the huge
mirror: my hair combed carefully in a chignon, my thin but strong
and tonic body, my eyes full with trust and beauty.
I still remember the name of the pianist, who, for us dancers, played marvelously a Steinway grand piano, Miguel – he was Spanish – a tall and robust man.
Every evening, I waited for my fellow coursemates to go away, so that I could get nearer to this instrument; it was something magnificent. Its ebony keys were opaque and yellowish, the black wood drew a sinuous and delicate form, the golden letters of Steinway and Sons – I did not know yet that that name was the most important brand of pianos in the world.
At school, instead of doing my homework of translating latin transations and exercises of physics, I drew soirée dresses, some had paillettes and an elegant train for a première at La Scala, some had quilts of any sorts, all very carefully combined to sophisticated pair of shoes.
I put in those drawings such a careful attention to every detail! My favourite fabrics for my dresses were the delicate and chiffon from Paris, the wavy silken georgette, the luxurious satin duchessa, macramé, taffeta, tulle...
Suddenly, all that got shattered: how could all that fit with my new body and my new way of life? I did not like myself anymore.
My legs were full of terrible scars. I hardly walked, because my skin was not so elastic as before.
For three years, I had to wear, day and night, very heavy tights with silicon pads, to prevent the formation of keloids.
I would not be able anymore to dance with those heavy tights
always on. How could I wear those beautiful white and blue tull
tutus, that I carefully held in my wardrobe? I was ashamed of my
And what about those sketches of dresses, that I drew on my stylist’s journal? I refused anything that had to do with esthetics and feminine beauty, anything that could remind me of my devastated body.
In the following months after I came back home, I had to go to Parma regularly every month for the medical checks and I would stay overnight in a cosy bed and breakfast, called “Albergo Angela”.
In its living room, after two big leather sofas, a tall iron lamp in art-déco style, and a red-wooded desk, there was a beautiful Yamaha piano. Everyday after lunch, while waiting for the health checks, they would start punctually at 16, I sat down and played what I learned some years before; my mother would put in my luggage the old scores of "Rimmel", "Sempre e per Sempre" and "Buonanotte Fiorellino", Chopin’s Waltzes, and a baroque sonata by Leonardo Leo.
I started a very intimate relationship with that piano – it was my best friend and confident of my deepest thoughts. I was totally alone, I found myself misunderstood even by my parents, not to mention my friends. They were all suddenly gone, together with the boyfriend I had at that time, who, with a hasty phone call while I was in the hospital, confessed that he was not the right person for me.
Nonetheless, I thought about them with understanding; at that age, you are not able to bear such painful situations – I used to think.
I smiled when I heard their big doubts, about booking a holiday in Formentera or Ibiza after taking their diploma, or what bikini to wear or what boy to kiss in the swimming pool.
The morning of my high school exams, I
saw them completely dedicated in writing math formulas on small
notes and hiding them in a pocket or in the dictionary of latin.
I saw sheer terror in their eyes, when it came for us to face the
terrible third exam. I could not attend the whole second term, and
I arrived completely unprepared to the final exam.
My love for piano got greater and greater, more and more present. I could feel myself again alive in the continuous feeling of death that I perceived every second, day and night.
I isolated myself more and more.
Music was the only thing that could resonate in me as authentic; I forgot through it the pain that I went through in my body; while I was playing, my legs were not disturbed, I did not have to care about esteriority,
I just needed to find peace in myself, in my room, and concentrate on sound. All that was needed from me was my inner feeling, in a total state of meditation and almost prayer. It is extremely difficult for me, even now, to express with words what I felt in those moments, I do not think I can completely.
An autumn morning, walking in the streets of Piacenza, I got in a music shop; I was a bit embarrassed by all those wonders and did not know who those great interpreters were nor the works performed by them; I chose to buy randomly three disks: Franz Liszt – Hungarian Rhapsodies, performed by Georges Cziffra, for EMI, W.A.Mozart – 3 Piano Sonatas K.309, 310, 311, performed by Mitzuko Uchida for Philips, Frédéric Chopin – Scherzi, performed by Gianluca Cascioli for Decca. Since then, I would spend all my mornings listening to those wonderful musics.
I put on obsessively the Scherzo op.31 and the Rhapsody n.2, I felt a deep love for all this, and that small music shop became my whole new weekly routine.
I did not remember the moment when I
decided to dedicate all my new life – the old one was completely
gone – to the intense and obsessive study of piano. I had to begin
from scratch again. I got rid of all the habits I had, for a new
style that fitted more my new self.
I wanted to build my woman’s profile again, a profile that suddenly faded away.
That event in 2005 was the end of an era for me, getting so close to death turned up something new in my soul, something I had the duty to grow in a totally new soil, an incredible fertile and pure one.
I decided to become a professional pianist and to play around the world, with the mission to bring my experience to everyone. My long waited moment when I was able to walk again with my own legs taught me how to be patient, disciplined, determined and courageous – all human qualities that I did not only exercise in my daily study for the following years, but that I gave freely as a gift both to those people who valued me and were together with me during this wonderful journey, and to those who did not understand me.
I would spend every day in the conservatory, from when I was 19 to when I was 25 years old. I would take the bus very early in the morning, so that I could find an empty room only for myself with a grand piano, as I had only an upright piano at home.
My family had always been very humble, my mother is a teacher and my father an electrician, I dreamed about a very different future for me and surely they would have never guessed such a choice from my part.
My parents did not really consider becoming a pianist as a
professional choice, especially my father, who, in reply to my
request of buying a “real” piano answered: “A piano? But we
already have one, wouldn't you rather buy a car?”
I had to be happy then with my upright piano, dreaming someday to have one beautiful grandpiano in the living room, like all my fellow students at the conservatory. I studied on that upright piano something like nine hours per day, of which only 3 of pure technique with scales of any genre, arpeggios and chords in every tonality. I made up the exercises myself, so that I could have enough force in my fingers and enough confidence with the keyboard.
For years, I felt like I was being late, as if I had to run after a train that already left. I felt tired and I thought many and many times of not being able to achieve my goal. I would read many books of history of music and essays on great composers, I had a terrible hunger of knowing and exploring this new world.
Beyond the classes in conservatory, I tried to take part to masterclasses and courses with different teachers on different topics, they were absolutely prohibitive for my family: a masterclass of six days, between tuition, eating and accommodation could cost up to 800 euros.
I asked myself how many of my friends could afford attending four, five courses like that in a year and I wondered if that was the normality for a student that aspired to become a pianist.
And my answer was yes, that was the normality.
I started working in a bar every evening.
If I wanted to afford that education, I did not have any choice and I started participating to small national contests in Italy. As I could win quite a few, I managed to get granted several scholarships.
I remember my
first masterclass in Umbria with the Russian maestro Konstantin Bogino, in the
summer 2008; together with me, there were Federico Colli and Gloria Campaner,
now famous pianists, and they already played with orchestras and took part to
important national contests. I was fascinated by their tales.
In those moments, I felt a terrible frustration. I asked myself how life would have
been, had I started all that when I was a child, because I perceived I could
play well and learn very quickly. It was always a pain, when I had to write my
bio for contests, masterclasses or for my first local concerts. I read those
of the others and their beginning sounded always like that: “...begins the
study of piano at the age of 4” or “ starts the study of piano at the age of two
with his/her grandmother” or “gets his/her diploma with brilliant scores at
the age of fourteen”.
I did not know if I had to write “gets burned at the age of 18 and discovers who Martha Argerich is at 19”.
I kept taking care of my legs with daily massages. My father had very strong hands and with a lot of care and love each night he would dedicate 20 minutes of his time to me; that gesture was very important because it helped my scars to heal faster.
Until 23 years old, I had to wear those terrible heavy tights, night and day, but with the time that fabric became my second skin and such a part of my body, that when my surgeon told me that it was time to get rid of them, I did not want it, it seemed to me that I had to deprive myself of a part of my body. In those years, I could not lay in open sun, and at the beach I could only wear light trousers – that of course did not go unnoticed, all people around me would stare at me.
I could never wear a skirt again or a top with a décolleté.
The more I was covered with dresses and could hide my scars, the better I felt
with myself. Having to face everyday with that pain was very exhausting for me
and I still was not able to accept what happened to me.
The idea of myself was yet too blurred and too little defined. I think that finding our own self back and our role in the world is one of the most difficult things to do.
The study of piano was for me the only means I had that could help me profile my new self as a woman. Winning this challenge gave a total new meaning to my existence.
I could overcome a trauma, and at the same time achieve a wiser and higher vision of life.
After having ended my studies in Piacenza with the highest of scores and laudatio, I was admitted in the conservatory of Milan and at the International Lake Como Academy, suggested by pianist Roberto Prosseda, who had wonderful words for my talent and my skills.
He wrote a beautiful letter to my teacher William Grant Naborè and I still have its original, that my mother decided to frame and hang on the wall.
I bought finally a piano Yamaha C3 at the age of twentyfive, and I could at last dedicate myself to my study at home.
That meant for me that I earned the trust of my family, and was a new important step in building myself up.
Those years at Lake Como were extremely formative for my artistic growth, as I had the chance to work together with great professors in a genuine and familylike environment, in a circle of coursemates, who not only represented a professional model to me, but also quickly became good intimate friends.
Maestro Naborè is one of the most incredible personalities I've met in all my
life, and what he has always repeated to me was: “You must be an artist, not
just a pianist!”.
I remember lovingly our chats at evening in our room with Yulianna Avdeeva, who after her victory in 2010 at Chopin Competition in Warsaw started a brilliant career, and the dinners with Francois Dumont, Alessandro Deljavan, Alessandro Taverna, our trips to the mountains with Sergei Redkin, Dmitri Maslev, Ran Jia and the walks along the lake in the early afternoon with Turid, who was and still is like a second mum for me. It was a great honor to be with those amazing pianists and people, and I really can't be compaired to them! The trust in myself grew significantly when I started having concerts in many different countries: Spain, Portugal, France, Austria, England, Germany, up to Japan and United States. Most of the times, at the end, when I stood up to receive the applauses, I would feel such a big emotion that I could hardly hold back my tears.
In New York, in the dressing room of the Carnegie Hall, I could not stop crying for several minutes, so big had been the tension and the emotion of playing on that stage.
Learning to play well the piano, when you are an adult makes you completely aware of your body and your own head. When you are a child, you learn much quicker and the new practices fit your body in a natural way. I had to understand how to use really well fingers, wrist, arm, the feeling of the weight on the keyboard, and it took me a while; I would stay hours on just one note and I tried to find all the sound nuances that I could create.
I wanted to be a “painter” and
paint my canvas with several colors,
I wanted to create within a piece a dance of several characters, I wanted to tell a story.
I wanted to discover how many types of piano I could reach and dance between the nuances of forte.
I wanted to enjoy that wonderful sensation in the fingers when performing a legato, slowly plunging in the key and discovering its perl effect.
I have always tried to face this wonderful research with the utmost humility, because I never felt myself a complete pianist, nor I feel like it now, so many situations I have yet to deal with and most likely I will never be able to.
My repertoire is not immense, I had some troubles in learning by heart the pieces and hélas, pianists are obliged to play everything by heart, and to have a perfect self-control in front of the public.
I think I am proceeding quite well and I am ready to embrace all new opportunities that surely will appear.
In these long ten years, I moved to Rome, Milan and finally London.
My move to London was essential for the complete realisation of the woman I am now - and that I strongly wanted to become.
This city, like any metropolitan one I guess, can be so complicated on a social level and particularly stressful when it comes to manage at the same time different daily situations.
London, though, offers the chance to take part in several cultural events and is incredibly energetic.
I got in touch with important personalities of the world of art, from musicians, to painters, directors, photographers, writers and dancers.
This city reminded me
who I really was, before that evening of that now far March 2005. The promise
I made to myself years before, when I played in that small hotel waiting for
my medical visits, the challenge of becoming an affirmed pianist let me
eventually accept all the pain and the huge suffering I felt.
Above all, I got reminded me who I was, I could reconcile two different persons that I believed I was in my life, the Margherita I was before the accident and the Margherita that came after it.
Thanks to my tireless work with the piano, now I have the chance of wearing those beautiful dresses that I used to draw when I was at school, and of creating the fittest ones for my concerts.
Now I can approach again the world of dance, through future wonderful projects, I can travel the world discovering other cultures and traditions, I can live my life in an enriching and fulfilling way.
My meeting with the great photographer Sophie Mayanne eventually gave me the courage to publish all my story, and to show my legs as they are, and to celebrate my body.
Thanks to the project “Behind the scars”, many women and men, who like me have suffered physical and psychological trauma, have the chance of overcoming what happened to them and to transform their sufferings in a unique work of art. The obsessive images provided by mass-media show a fake and stereotyped beauty, and contribute to the sick spreading of a canon of beauty that does not coincide with reality. True beauty is the sum of all defects that make our image perfect.
from deleting that barrier between what you are and what the world expects you
Nothing is more daring than showing ourselves for what we really are, making our fears our next goal, transforming our “defects” and weaknesses in an extraordinary and unique style.
A warm thank you to all those I met up until now, to all those who love me and support me, to all those who were with me but briefly and to all those who made possible my rebirth.
My special thanks to the surgeons and nurses of the Burns Unity of the hospital Maggiore in Parma, for their efficient treatments.
To Mrs.Angela, of the Hotel in viale I Maggio in Salsomaggiore Terme.
To my friends Elena, Teresa, Arianna, Francesca, Gianluca, Simona, Serena, Sophie, Bettina, Sara, Han, Valerio, Gabriele, Victoria for having believed in me and having pushed me to give my best.
To Luca, Amelie, Mimmo, who taught me that real love exists.
To the pianists Luca Buratto, Roberto Prosseda, Yulianna Avdeeva. To my teachers Marco Alpi, Cristina Frosini, William Grant Naborè, Nelson delle Vigne Fabbri.
To my parents Nicoletta and Roberto and to my brother Dario, who taught me how to be perseverant and love essentiality.