Costa Concordia cruise ship pianist tells story of survival and battle with PTSD

The pianist of the cruise ship Costa Concordia, which ran aground in 2012 claiming 32 lives, has opened up about coping with post-traumatic stress disorder through his music.

Every week in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Gamble Room, Antimo Magnotta plays tracks from his 2018 album Inner Landscapes.

The album was composed as a tribute to the people who died when the ship crashed into rocks off the Italian coast on January 13, 2012. 

The musician from Italy moved to London six years ago while he was struggling through PTSD, after the “nightmare” catastrophe that claimed the lives of two of his musician friends.

The 48-year-old is now preparing to release his next album Museum in September, inspired by the sounds he has “collected” during his time at the V&A.

The ship hit underwater rocks on January 13. (Getty Images)

Mr Magnotta told the Standard he started working as a waiter at the London museum after he had “lost everything” from his old life during the aftermath, including his ability to play the piano without trauma resurfacing.

He said: “I had been living in this environment of travelling the seas and seeing the world for 18 years.

“Then I found myself all of a sudden being a survivor at the of 42, having lost my savings, my job, my sleep, my marriage and my feelings.”

The resident pianist at the V&A survived the partial sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise ship in 2012. (Antimo Magnotta)

On the fateful night, the musician said he was playing a Yamaha baby grand in the exclusive Vienna Bar on Deck Five just before 9.45pm when the cruise ship, carrying more than 3,000 people, struck a rock in the Tyrrhenian Sea.

“It was a wonderful evening. The sea was calm and it was a lovely starry night,” he said. “But suddenly there was an unexpected swerve and I fell from the piano bench.

“The ship started tilting and the piano was torn off its safety locks and drifted across the room. That was the beginning of the nightmare.

Italian Antimo Magnotta, 48 on the Costa Concordia. (Antimo Magnotta)

The pianist said he stumbled along the sloping corridors before the ship was plunged into a blackout. Everyone was then waiting for someone to give instructions over the PA system but there was just “grizzly silence”.

Then people began to panic, he said. “I could hear people crying and calling out, and then screaming.

“Then the lights would suddenly come on revealing a scene of terrified passengers reeling around the tilting room, with broken teeth in their hands and bleeding from falls. It was a polyphony of horror.”

“Everyone scattered. I knew I needed to abandon the ship but I did not know how. The ship was collapsing.”

The musician said he managed to climb through “handrails, pipes and wires” to get onto the ships flank, where he winched himself down the hull with a lifeboat cable, before a vessel picked him up.

The stricken cruise liner Costa Concordia off the Isola del Giglio on Janurary 18, 2012. (Getty Images)

“I felt like I was jumping back into life. It was like a second birthday,” he said, after six hours of trying to escape the cruise ship.  

He was “totally devastated” to find out that his stage partner, a Hungarian violinist called Sandor had been killed as well as his drummer friend, whose body was found on the seabed wearing a life jacket.

“It broke my heart absolutely,” said Mr Magnotta.

After becoming gripped with “mental scars and survivor’s guilt” the musician said he began to produce compositions, which eventually evolved into the album, Inner Landscape.

The musician was working on the cruise ship when it partially sank in 2012. (Antimo Magnotta)

“I found myself in a very desperate condition,” he said. “I was writing and crying and writing. It was a very very emotional therapy process.”

When he moved to London, he was hired as a waiter at the V&A because he needed “a new life in a new environment”.

“I wanted to be less myself in a new landscape. I wanted to be anonymous,” he said.

He moved from Italy to Peckham in 2013. He was hired as a waiter at the V&A during the period where he had stopped playing the piano. 

Antimo Magnotta performing on BBC Radio 2. (Antimo Magnotta)

“But what a coincidence that I ended up working in a place in the museum where there was a piano,” he said. “I was cleaning that piano every day and no one knew that I was a pianist.

“I came closer and closer to it and eventually I found the courage to speak to my manager, who let me play.”

After just 15 minutes on the Gamble Room piano he was hired as the V&A’s resident pianist and he now plays the restorative tracks of Inner Landscape to museum-goers every week.

His new album is based on the sounds, customers, and objects that he has “collected” from the V&A to “build a picture from his memories” of a museum.

“I’m approached by customers, they tell me incredible, out-of-this world stories on a daily basis,” he said. 

“That is the beauty of performing in a public place. It is incredible. It is a kind of magic every day.”

Mr Magnotta’s book about the fateful night, “Seven short blasts and one long” will also be released in English in September.

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