Giacinto Scelsi

GIACINTO SCELSI (1905, La Spezia – 1988, Rome) was brought up in an aristocratic family and given a quality education. Allthough he showed interest and talent for music very early, his professional career took off only later in his life, if we ignore the course of harmony he took with Giacinto Sallustio and occassional encouragement from Respighi and Casella. After intense studies of Scriabin with Egon Koehler in Geneva, he studied composition with Schoenberg’s pupil Walther Klein in Vienna (1935 – 1936). In 1937 he settled in Rome, where he and Gofreddo Petrassi organized avantgarde music concerts; in the 1940s he suffered a major personal and health crisis, but he continued travelling to Africa and the Far East until the 1950s. Most of the time, though, he spent in Paris, London and Switzerland: there he contributed to the magazine Suisse contemporaine (1943-1945). In 1952 he finally came back to Rome, and in the early 1960s he joined the Nuova consonanza group, gathered around Franco Evangelisti. He maintained contact with celebrated personalities, artist, composers, and writers. Between 1949-1987 he published six collections of poems in French and an autobiographical story in Italian.

Giacinto Scelsi is a perfect example of an outsider in 20th century European music. In many ways, his work is unprecedented, starting with his technique of notation: setting up precise rules, he used somebody else to write down his music. Scelsi was interested in spatial qualities of individual sounds, he looked for it depth. „Composition“ (he rejected this word) was for him more of a contemplation of a sound, or sound complex, whose size, density, or intensity can be modified without changing its unity, with no regard to inner relations. For him, the primary quality of the sound was depth, and music should illustrate this dimension. Ko-lho goes further in this tendency, as does all Scelsi’s music after the late 1950s, by using limited material, restricting itself to one or two pitches, employing the technique of continuous rhythmic variation, and using quarter-tones.

Works (selection): Rotative, symphonic poem for 3 pianos, winds and percussion (1929), 40 Preludes for piano (1930-1940), 5 string quartets (1944, 1961, 1963, 1964, 1984), Suite No. 8 (BOT-BA), Tibet Rituals, Prayers and Dances (1952), Pwyll for flute (1954), Coeloconath for viola (1955), Ixor for B-clarinet (1956), Yamaon for bass and 5 instruments (alto saxophone, baritone saxophone, contrabassoon, double bass and percussion) (1954-1958), TRe canti sacri (1958), I presagi for 9 instrments (1958), Kya for B clarinet solo and 7 instruments (English horn, horn, bass clarinet, trumpet, trombone, viola and cello) (1959), Quattro pezzi su una nota sola for chamber orchestra (1959), Wo-ma for bass (1960), Hurqualia for orchestra with electric amplified instruments (1960), Aion (4 episodes of one Brahma’s day) for orchestra (1961), Taiagarú (5 invocations) for soprano (1962), Khoom for soprano and 7 instrumentalists (2 violins, viola, cello, horn and 2 percussion) (1962), Chukrum for string orchestra (1963), Yliam for female chorus (1964), Anahit (Lyrical Poem dedicated to Venus) for violin solo and 18 instruments (1965), Ko-lho for flute and clarinet (1966), Uaxuctum for mixed chorus, orchestra and Ondes Martenot (1966), Ohoi (Creative principles) for 16 strings (1966), Ckckc for soprano with mandoline (1967), Tkrdg for 6-part male chorus, electric guitar and percussion (1968), Okanagon for harp, tom-toms and double bass (1968), Konx-om-pax for mixed chorus, organ and orchestra (1969), Pranam I for soprano, 12 instrumentalists and tape (1972), Pranam II for 9 instrumentalists (1973), Sauh (Two Liturgies) for soprano and tape (1973), Manto (per quattro) for voice, flute, trombone and cello (1974), Pfhat („Un éclat... et le ciel s’ouvrit“) for mixed chorus, large orchestra, organ and dinner bells (1974), Et maintenant c’est de vous de jouer for cello and double bass (1974), In Nomine Lucis for organ (1974).