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Life Played Ffortissimo: An Artist Liberates the Piano

June 5, 2015


Mauro Ffortissimo’s real name is Mauro Di Nucci. He’s an Argentinian/Italian pianist, painter, and poet, as well as a piano ecologist and impresario. He took the name Ffortissimo for a flourish, and because when he was five years old he played the piano so loudly you could hardly hear the notes. Moreover, his inclination remains, especially after coming to San Francisco, to be the insurgent — albeit under the flag of the old school: Ferlinghetti and Kerouac, the Beats. The extremists content to wield merely a sharp word over your neck.

Ffortissimo, who left Argentina rather than fight in the Falklands, made his way to San Francisco in 1980. He promptly fell in with the likes LeRoi Jones, Ernesto Cardenal, and Philippe LaMantia, whose daughter, Lisa, started calling him Ffortissimo after they played duets together. She also noticed his loud style.

Two years ago, Fortissimo came up with the idea of putting pianos along the bluffs in San Mateo Country. He has a bone yard of old pianos, which he repairs or cannibalizes or burns, or gives away; anything to promote pianos. So he got people to carry 12 pianos, with benches, all the way out to the bluffs. Each piano weighs about 800 pounds. You think of Fitzcarraldo. Ffortissimo even put a piano at the end of Kelly Avenue on Francis Beach in Half Moon Bay where he lives. The idea was simply to leave the pianos in place to give people a chance to enjoy something and create something spontaneously. I broke every law. They were even out looking for me.” – Mauro Ffortissimo

“I broke every law,” Ffortissimo said the other day, talking about his adventures with the bureaucrats in San Mateo. “They were even out looking for me. Everyone was so uptight. But why? We were very careful not to destroy the vegetation. Still, I apologized, again and again, and after a few weeks we removed the pianos. A year goes by and then Santa Clara County invites us to put pianos at five state parks, and paid about $4,000 to keep them there for three weeks. One year they want to kill me; the next they want to pay me.”

The same was true in San Francisco: The Mayor’s Office of Economic Workforce was only too happy to have Ffortissimo bring three pianos to the UN Plaza, for anyone to sit down and play. The project included 20 events over four months in 2014.

Ffortissimo’s crusade is to bring spontaneity back to the city and encourage artists, particularly in the face of an ever more expensive city.

“Everybody talks about it but nothing is really changing. It’s not just their fault but these techie kids make a lot of money, and there’s a snobbery that comes with income. On top of that they don’t seem to have much of a background beyond technology, and there’s no desire to get in touch with the community around them.”



"Flower Piano in July

Ffortissimo’s partner in creativity is Dean Mermell, a local filmmaker, writer, and musician. Together, they run a small repair and restoration business called Sunset Piano. Mermell refers to the instruments they acquire as being “like homeless pets we have adopted.”

Their next great adventure begins on July 9th for 12 days at the San Francisco Botanical Garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The idea is to position 12 pianos here and there in the various gardens. Visitors are encouraged to seek out one of the instruments and “play what they like, from Bach to boogie-woogie.” Professional pianists will also perform, including Steinway Concert and Recording Artist Lara Downes.

“By simply changing the context of a musical instrument, issues of environmental sustainability, the loss of fine hand craft to a digital future, music in schools and public places, all become very important to people,” says Mermell. “We’ve found that music enjoyed in a beautiful setting under the sky builds an instant camaraderie even among perfect strangers. Flower Piano is going to bring people together under the best possible circumstances. It’s going to be very social, possibly even romantic.”

There will also be scheduled performances in the Garden’s century-old Redwood Grove on the two Sundays, July 12 and 19. Sunset Piano will also post a schedule of events on their website. Updates are available by joining its Facebook group. More information: (415) 661-1316 or visit



Mark MacNamara, a writer and journalist based in Asheville, North Carolina, has written for such publications as NautilusSalonThe Stanford Social Innovation Review, and Vanity Fair. From time to time, his pieces in San Francisco Classical Voice also appear in  Noteworthy examples include a piece about Philip Glass’s dream to build a cultural center on the Pacific Coast; a profile of sound composer Pamela Z and an essay on the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. MacNamara recently won several awards in the 2018 Greater Bay Area Journalism Awards presented by the San Francisco Press Club.  His website is