Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi is one of the most enigmatic and intriguing figures of 20th century music. Having suffered a breakdown following the Second World War, Scelsi began to explore the meditative qualities of sound almost as a form of therapy, sitting for hours at a time at his piano playing no more than a single note. This process of discovery constituted something of an epiphanic juncture in his musical development: Scelsi thereafter abandoned the serialism of his earlier compositions, taking this new appreciation of the intricate subtleties of sound as the starting point for all of his subsequent music. This music is a slow, kaleidoscopic procession of translucent orchestral colour saturated with mysterious, static tension and shimmering timbres. Yet, the effect is never that of brutal dissonance. Instead the musical voices seem to circle each other furtively, occasionally coalescing into strikingly lucid harmonies before drifting apart once more: this music is perpetually expanding and contracting, slipping in and out of focus with intoxicating ambiguity.
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He is best known for writing music based around only one pitch , altered in all manners through microtonal oscillations, harmonic allusions, and changes in timbre and dynamics , as paradigmatically exemplified in his Quattro pezzi su una nota sola "Four Pieces on a single note", This composition remains his most famous work and one of the few performed to significant recognition during his lifetime.
His musical output, which encompassed all Western classical genres except scenic music, remained largely undiscovered even within contemporary musical circles during most of his life. Today, some of his music has gained popularity in certain postmodern composition circles, with pieces like his "Anahit" and his String Quartets rising to increased prominence.
Born in the village of Pitelli near La Spezia , Scelsi spent most of his time in his mother's old castle where he received education from a private tutor who taught him Latin, chess and fencing. Later, his family moved to Rome and his musical talents were encouraged by private lessons with Giacinto Sallustio. He became the first exponent of dodecaphony in Italy, although he did not continue to use this system. In the s, Scelsi made friends with intellectuals like Jean Cocteau and Virginia Woolf , and traveled abroad extensively.
He first came into contact with non-European music in Egypt in His first composition was Chemin du coeur In , he organised a series of concerts of contemporary works, introducing the music of among others Paul Hindemith , Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky , Dmitri Shostakovich , and Sergei Prokofiev to an Italian audience for the first time. Due to the enforcement of racial laws under the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini , which prevented the performance of works by Jewish composers, these concerts did not continue for long.
Scelsi refused to comply, and gradually distanced himself from Italy. In , when Italy entered the war, Scelsi was in Switzerland , where he remained until the end of the conflict, composing and honing his conception of music. He married Dorothy Kate Ramsden, a divorced Englishwoman. Back in Rome after the war, his wife left him eventually inspiring Elegia per Ty , and he underwent a profound psychological crisis that eventually led him to the discovery of Eastern spirituality, and also to a radical transformation of his view of music.
In this so-called second period , he rejected the notions of composition and authorship in favour of sheer improvisation. His improvisations were recorded on tape and later transcribed by collaborators under his guidance. They were then orchestrated and filled out by his meticulous performance instructions, or adjusted from time to time in close collaboration with the performers.
Scelsi came to conceive of artistic creation as a means of communicating a higher, transcendent reality to the listener. In this view, the artist is considered a mere intermediary. For this reason, Scelsi never allowed his image to be shown in connection with his music; he preferred instead to identify himself by a line under a circle, as a symbol of Eastern provenance. Some photographs of Scelsi have emerged since his death. One of the earliest interpreters Scelsi closely worked with was the singer Michiko Hirayama , whom he met in in Rome.
From to he wrote the extensive song cycle Canti del Capricorno directly for her in view of her special and unique vocal range. The writing process of the piece set an example for Scelsi's very personal way of working: developing pieces through improvisation, recording, and then making a final transcription.
From the late s, he met several leading interpreters who have promoted his music all over the world and gradually opened the gates to wider audiences, such as the Arditti String Quartet , the cellist Frances-Marie Uitti , and the pianists Yvar Mikhashoff and Marianne Schroeder. Frances-Marie Uitti, dedicatee of all Scelsi's cello works, collaborated intensively with him for over 10 years editing and then recording La Trilogia, a massive 3 part work of 45 minutes in length which Morton Feldman called his "autobiography in sound".
It was first premiered in Festival di Como, and recorded on Fore records Raretone with Scelsi in the studio and later for Etcetera Records. Uitti also transcribed many of the chamber works for contrabass, contrabass and cello, viola, and two improvisations based on the ondiolina tapes that are found under the title Voyages. Alvin Curran recalled that: "Scelsi This was in the summer time, and he was such a nut about being outdoors. He was there in a fur coat and a fur hat.
It was an outdoor concert. He waved from a distance, beautiful sparking eyes and smile that he always had, and that's the last time I saw him" Ross, Scelsi died of a cerebral hemorrhage on 9 August , in Rome. Scelsi remained largely unknown for most of his career. A series of concerts in the mid to late s finally premiered many of his pieces to great acclaim, notably his orchestral masterpieces in October in Cologne , about a quarter of a century after those works had been composed and less than a year before the composer's death.
Scelsi was able to attend the premieres and personally supervised the rehearsals. The impact caused by the late discovery of Scelsi's works was described by Belgian musicologist Harry Halbreich : . A whole chapter of recent musical history must be rewritten: the second half of this century is now unthinkable without Scelsi He has inaugurated a completely new way of making music, hitherto unknown in the West. In the early fifties, there were few alternatives to serialism 's strait jacket that did not lead back to the past.
There were few people at the time who knew that Friedrich Cerha , in his orchestral cycle Spiegel , had already reached rather similar results, and nobody knew that there was a composer who had followed the same path even years before, and in a far more radical way: Giacinto Scelsi himself. Dutch musicologist Henk de Velde, alluding to Adorno speaking of Alban Berg , called Scelsi "the Master of the yet smaller transition," [ citation needed ] to which Harry Halbreich added that "in fact, his music is only transition.
The French company Actes Sud published writings of Giacinto Scelsi in three volumes, the majority of which are now out of print:. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Italian composer and poet. For the US politician, see Joseph Scelsi. For the Italian model, see Chiara Scelsi. The New York Times. Retrieved Categories : births deaths 20th-century classical composers Italian classical composers Italian male classical composers People from La Spezia Microtonal composers Italian male poets 20th-century Italian poets 20th-century Italian composers 20th-century Italian male writers 20th-century Italian male musicians Sub Rosa Records artists.
Giacinto Scelsi: Quattro Pezzi per Orchestra; Anahit;...
Giacinto Scelsi. Scelsi was in many ways the unknown X factor, the odd-man-out of Italian music in the 20th century. After it he experienced a severe mental illness with a prolonged recovery, and moved into a reclusive, countervailing position as a sort of mystic, channeling rather than composing music as he considered it, and bridging East and West. This borderline runs exactly over the Forum Romanum. It runs right here, through my drawing room. Anahit was the goddess of fertility and healing, wisdom and water in Armenian mythology.
He is best known for writing music based around only one pitch , altered in all manners through microtonal oscillations, harmonic allusions, and changes in timbre and dynamics , as paradigmatically exemplified in his Quattro pezzi su una nota sola "Four Pieces on a single note", This composition remains his most famous work and one of the few performed to significant recognition during his lifetime. His musical output, which encompassed all Western classical genres except scenic music, remained largely undiscovered even within contemporary musical circles during most of his life. Today, some of his music has gained popularity in certain postmodern composition circles, with pieces like his "Anahit" and his String Quartets rising to increased prominence.
Scelsi had, the year before, composed his masterwork for solo violin, Xnoybis. Only Hymnos had previously developed harmony as sumptuously as Anahit and the piece owes much of its overwhelming intensity to it. It consists of two parts, separated by a short cadenza for the soloist, beginning at the Golden Section. The violin follows a long ascending curve, rising by microtones from D to F-sharp, and the orchestra follows a similar upward move. Again and again, perfect triads and dominant seventh chords crystallyze, only to immediately melt into the glissandi; it is an enticing mystical voyage!