Robin Freeman - Tanmatras-The Life and Work of Giacinto Scelsi
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Tanmatras: The Life and Work of Giacinto Scelsi Author(s): Robin Freeman and Giacinto Scelsi Source: Tempo, New Series, No. 176 (Mar., 1991), pp. 8-18 Published by: Cambridge University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/944639 Accessed: 18/08/2009 07:58Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=cup. Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1995 to build trusted digital archives for scholarship. We work with the scholarly community to preserve their work and the materials they rely upon, and to build a common research platform that promotes the discovery and use of these resources. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected]
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RobinFreeman Tanmatras:The Life and Work ofGiacinto Scelsi
Giacinto Scelsi, last Count of Dayala Valva and one of the most extraordinarycomposers of this century,'died in Rome on 9 August I988 at the age of 85 in the Policlinico Gemelli after an attack brought on by the sweltering Roman summer: he who never went to the mountains to avoid it, thinking that warmth could do him of only good. After the Naples earthquake I980, which flattenedthe mediaevalhill town of Valva and with it the family castle and its library, Scelsi said: crollail castello,crollail padrone.The castle falls to bits and so does its master. Those of us who knew him in his last years remember above all the frailfigure sitting on a couch below the two portraitsthat Dali had given the Eluards for a wedding present, doing ironic and at times testy battle with the world and old age, there in his overheated house across from the Roman Forum. With such a view, he used to say, what one does must be quite splendid or else a very bad joke. During his lifetime Scelsi refused to be photographed, did his best to avoid programme notes, and gave information about his life only when he chose to forget himself in conversation. Few of us cared to violate these rules, knowing that for a man who had dictated of the memoires his future life they representeda kind of defence against a finality imposed from without. He sought something like this in his music as well, hoping it would seem only a snatch of what had been going on long before, of what would be going on long after. In the only snippet of officialbiography Scelsi says that he passed his childhood in the castle of Valva where he studiedLatin,fencing and chess. What he doesn't tell us is that from a very early age he spent much of the day improvising at the piano. To Heinz-Klaus Metzger, the German musicologist, he explainedthatit was only when thus self-absorbed that his mother could comb his hair. His father, an airforcepilot, pioneer of aviationin a country that took it seriously, didn't understandhis strange son, pioneer, adventurer of another kind - his father, always in the air or at sea, rarely at home and then always with a
different lady friend... One day they went walking on Via Nazionale in Ronmewhen the street was cordoned off for an official visit. Scelsi's father walked up to the soldiers, told them he was crossing the street to buy a packet of cigarettesand did so, holding the little boy by the hand - a little boy who, grown up, would walk into the Rome opera house without a ticket and have an usher take him to a seat. Scelsi's formal training was scanty. He frequented the house ofOttorino Respighi, where he was entranced by the conversation of Respighi's wife, Elsa San Giacomo, herself a pianist and composer. He attended the futurist concerts organized by Russolo and his circle in Rome, saying later they had an excitement and novelty about them he never rediscovered. There are traces of this early enthusiasm in his ballet Rotative(= printing presses) for 3 pianos, wind instruments and percussion, first performed under Pierre Monteux in Paris in I93 I. But Scelsi's interest in musical radicalism did not stop with the Futurists. He went on to study briefly in Vienna with Walter Klein, an obscure follower of Schoenberg1 - composing, as a result, the first I2-tone piece by an Italian. But an abstractapproachto composition, based as it was on the tempered scale and veering already towards neo-classicism, could not interest him long..'In view of the fact that there seems no proof that Walter Stein (activein Vienna from I9oo) actuallystudied with Schoenberg, the Editor of Tempohas suggested to me that the Stein in question might be Fritz Heinrich, a student of both Schoenberg and Berg and the man who prepared the vocal score of Wozzeck.I have a recollection of Scelsi's having said 'Walter', independent of Claudio Annibaldi's New Grove Scelsi article (naming 'W. Stein') - which I hadn't read at that time. Nevertheless, while awaiting further information on Walter Stein, the idea is worth entertaining. First because Scelsi was much more interested in the music of Berg than that of Schoenberg: in fact one of his few pieces with a dedication is an elegy on the death of Berg. And second because a man who consented to do the vocal score of Wozzeck, however privileged the task, might well have had time for an eccentric foreign student who lacked formal preparation.
Tanmatras: Life and Workof GiacintoScelsi The
CasaScelsi- Viadi San Teodoro showingthebalcony Scelsi'sprivate whichhewouldshowfriends his 8, of apartmentfrom andguests view of theRomanForum across way. (photo:RobinFreeman) the
Scelsi then went to Paris and London where he led a brilliant, worldly life and pursued his interestin surrealismand the esoteric. Musically he continued to develop under the double influence of Scriabin and Berg, writing mostly for his own instrument, the piano; and in 1937 he organized a series of concerts of contemporary music in Rome, in collaboration with Petrassi.He also began to traveloutside Europe, above all in India and Tibet. Of this period I know little since Scelsi seldom spoke of it in detail. It is there for the biographer to reconstruct, and that reconstruction will not be easy since the handful of people who were close to him then - Igor Markevitch, Pierre-Jean Jouve, Henri Michaux - are no longer here to ask about him. For me, apart from the childhood anecdotes and the music itself, Scelsi's story begins in the I940s, since that is where he chose to begin it. I had been sent to visit him one chilly winter evening with an electric fire he needed because the heating had broken down. At the tablewhere he took his meals, next to the piano with a carved Sicilian angel on it, he spoke to me about his life with an openess that was not to recur. How he had taken refuge in Lausanneduring the war; how he had helpedJouve escapethere from a Nazi-occupied Paris through the ruse that Jouve's wife needed psychoanalytic treatment that only the wife of the Chinese ambassadorin Geneva could provide; how as the war dragged on his British wife grew to detest life abroad -
particularly with an Italian who, according to her, could not help but be the accomplice of an enemy regime, and how she took the first train for the channel after the ceasefire never to see, hear or write to him again.2 His life would have been different if that hadn't happened. He wouldn't have been alone. He didn't know if things would have been better for him or if he would have written his music in the same way. As it was he had had years of solitude in which to meditate and work. Not that it came easily, however. In I950, Roger Desormiere performed Scelsi's last ecole de Paris work, La naissance verbe,for chorus du and orchestra, in Paris. Scelsi lay on the floor of the men's loo during the performance, imperiously ordering out the theatre personnel who had found him there, and only came out into the hall once more when the applause had begun. A performance scheduled a week later in London with the BBC Symphony Orchestra was cancelled when Desormiere unexpectedly died; and the piece, in spite of my own efforts and those of others, was never to be performed again during the composer's lifetime. La naissance verbe(1948) has a wordless phonetic du text set to melodic lines of an impassive austerity which look forward to Scelsi's music of the2Scelsi'swife's name was Dorothy. His pet name for her was Ty. He wrote two pieces for her, a Suite for piano (No.6) from 1938-9, called I capricci Ty, when they were together di and a duo for viola and 'cello from I966, Elegiaper Ty, after they were separatedbut as far as I know before her death.
The 10 Tanmatras: Lifeand Work GiacintoScelsi ofI950s,
and with it something
that will not
reoccur in the later music: passages of bleak relentless counterpoint. I have heard the primitive recording Scelsi made by placing whatever was then availablenext to a table radio. Salabert have in the meantime prepared a performing score. There is little doubt that this piece, a sort will of surrealistSymphonie despsaumes, surprise whatever audience has the first chance to hearit after the premiere over 40 years ago. Presumably it will also be possible one day to discoverjust when Scelsi spent a period in a rest home after a sort of breakdown, as a result of which his, improvisations were reduced to the constant repetition of a single note - a date of crucialimportance, when one thinks that Scelsi deliberatelyfalsifiedthe dates of composition of at least some of his scores in the usual attempt to efface anything like a normal biography. He knew, of course, about Rudolf Steiner's idea that music could be written on a single note. Steiner was not a musician, and indeed the composers who called themselves his followers never got beyond a greeting cardidea of cosmic harmony. For all I know such music, based on the negation of conflict, might have been more pleasing to Steiner himself than Scelsi's, where serenity is achieved by the balancingof tensions;' where the angelic voice, if there is meant to be any, sounds as Rilke thought to hear it: Ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich.Goethe, after all, preferredZelter's bland settings of his lyrics to Beethoven's. But there was more than Steiner at work in Scelsi's imagination. In Paris in 1924 a press conference was held by the Russian traveller and exile Fernand Ossendowsky together with the esotericistRene Guenon and Jacques Maritain, the neothomist philosopher. Ossendowsky had escaped from the Bolshevik regime not throughcentralEurope but through Indiaand, on the way, he had spent time in Tibet. There he had 'discovered' tantric Buddhism and arrived in Paris full of accounts of the survival of ancient religious teachings going back to the origins of mankind. It was his book Betes, hommes,Dieu that was discussed at the press conference, Guenon insisting that the traditions Ossendowsky wrote of could be reconciledwith catholicmysticism to the benefit of European spiritual renewal, whilst Maritain warned that however fascinatingand venerable these traditions might be, the Church should keep Her distance from them and not attempt a synthesis. The young Scelsi took the side of Guenon (and that of his Italian disciple Julius Evola, author of a book on tantrism),eventually
going to Nepal and India (if not Tibet) to see and hear for himself. Hence the importance for him of ritual prayers and dances with their element of hypnotic repetition. Even when most esotericists had given up their ideas about the Dalai Lama and his monks in the aftermath of the Chinese invasion Scelsi was able to say: 'Of course the Tibetan monks had the power to repelor even destroy the Chinese invaders. They must have had some deep spiritual reason for failing to do so.' Not so different, perhaps, from Christ binding himself over to his accusers of his own free will. Or from 'the Mlayan city' of Scelsi's choral-orchestral piece Uaxuctum which destroyed itself'for religious reasons'. Of even greaterimportance was Scelsi's own idea about the three-dimensionality of sound, unveiled in I953 in Lausanne at what one imagines as a musical equivalent to Mr. Whistler's 'Ten O'Clock', and finally in published under the title Son et musique Rome has in 1981. This is the Scelsi whom L' Itine'raire taken as fairy godfather, seeing in him a precursor of the spectral analysis of sound. Of course Scelsi's music, like that of all important composers, is witness primarily to its own uniqueness and not a step along the way to what somebody else had in mind - a fact insisted on by PascalDusapin after Tristan Murail's lecture at the 1987Royaumont Scelsi congress. Even so there is a major difference in aesthetic outlook between Scelsi and the high-tech world of musique spectrale. Scelsi had little use for machinery - once ordering quantities of it out of a studio where he had gone to supervise a recording of his music. The simpler the better, he always said, and the more honest. His quest for the hidden aspects of sound lay as it were with the naked ear, that ear which Schoenberg called 'ein Musikers ganzer Verstand', his laboratory equipped only with the mechanism of the single piano key he kept playing, and the air around him which caused it to resonate. Finally, if I am not mistaken, there is the suggestive power of Russian futurist thought about art - called to Scelsi's attention by Markevitch or by one of his surrealist friends, pervaded doubtless as well by oriental speculative mysticism. There is an extraordinary passageat the end ofAlexandr Blok's lecture on the 84th anniversaryof the death of Pushkin: wheremanis manno of Intheinfinite depths thespirit to longer,in those depthsinaccessible the state and society, thereare sound waves similarto the ether the waveswhichsurround universe. There,rhythmic vibrations pulsatelike those that shapemountains,
Tanmatras: Life and Work GiacintoScelsi 11 The of The first of these developments can already be seen in the music for piano, even if the eventual point of arrival lies far beyond it, in It is the duty of the poet to commune with this Scelsi'sinstrumentaland vocal writing. Morton primeval chaos and to draw from it a harmony Feldman, adding to his endless series of that can be vouchsafed to other men. wisecracks, said after a recital of Scelsi's piano The moreveils arestripped away,the morecharged music at the Darmstadt Ferienkiirse in 1986: the communionwith chaos, the more painfulthe 'How on earth did he get from all thosenotes to and birthof sound,the moreprolonged harmonious just onenote?' Dear Morty, I would like to have the will be thatwhichcomesforth,theclearer formit will take, the more insistentlyit will speakto the been able to say, since at the time I didn't know either, it happened something like this... humanear. In the Ninth Suite, Ttai (1953), which seems These words apply more to the music of Scelsi to me the jumping-off point (however much than to any other, more even than to that great single notes come unstuck in the earlierpieces explosion, proximate to them in time: Le Sacre v. Zeller's analysis of the 1939 Second Piano duprintemps. Sonata),3therearethreemain types of repetition. such (1) Repeatedpatterns as the still Scriabinesque * * * one at the beginning of the first movement, It is easy to see that Scelsiwas more a visionary which no matter how much and how quickly than a theorist. Theory meant literally nothing they decay still have something of the ostinato to him. His work, reborn from the spiritual about them. (2) Repeated notessuch as that at du conflagration that followed La naissance verbe the beginning of the second movement, soon (if my chronology is right), took two directions, doubled and extended downwards. Here the which are in reality one and the same direction writing, taken apart from what we know of Scelsi's theory,resembles that of Elliott Carter's the simplification of the melodic line until it one-note etude for wind quartet - while its became the manifold projectionof a single note, structuraleffect, in spite of the octave doubling, and the gradual introduction of microtonal inflections as the principal means to that is close to that of the opening two bars of Gerhard's Second String Quartet. Both pieces projection. I use the word 'inflection' since Scelsi'smicrotonalityalways has a linearmelodic go on to other notes and other textures. (3) identity which generates, if you like, what there Repeated chords, of which there is a good is of harmony, of intervallic structure in his example in the third movement. The bell drone effect is made 'anecdotal'by the peal of smaller music. This explains as well Scelsi's place in the 'bells' above it. We are on our way to Eastern evolution of musical style, for he was the firstto ritual gongs, have got as far perhaps as a see that in order to unleashthe expressive power ofmicrotones the other musical parametershad Byzantine church in European Turkey. to be simplified. By the first movement of the Tenth Suite, Ka That is what distinguishes his work from all (1954), this process is complete in its earliest the tampering that went on in the margins of stage - the stage that produced the seven solos for wind instruments and the piece for solo chromatic atonality, where microtones were introduced into a musical language already viola Coelacanth.Here (Ex.I) all notes other chargedto the point of saturation.Such strategic than middle C are a kind of ornamental efflorescene or - to use words that Scelsi would simplifications have occurred before in the of music. The bold harmonic progress- doubtless have preferred - are an aura or history ions of the early baroque, introduced by emanation of it. Within the ambitus of an Monteverdi and his contemporaries, replaced octave (plus an all important B below middle C) the polyphonic structures of Palestrina and Scelsi disposes the total (keyboard) chromatic Victoria with something altogether simpler and in a figuration that looks deceptively neomore homophonic. Scelsi, like the Italian classical. In fact the layout, which shows every madrigalists,was attractedby a vision of ancient sign of having been arrived at intuitively, Greek music.With him it was the aulodia, a amounts to a deconstructing of the harmonic potentialof intervalrelationships.All secondary melody played on the aulos, an antique flute. This perhaps explains why the first pieces on polarities are contradicted before they have the the new path are for wind instruments, even chance to establish themselves. In this way the microtones are much harder to intone though 3HaIns Rudolf Zcllcr, 'D)as Enscimble der Soli', in Musikon winds than on strings. Konzepte31: GiacintoScelsi(edition tcxt+kritik, 1983). winds, marinecurrents,the animaland vegetable worlds.
12 Tanmatras: Lifeand Work GiacintoScelsi The of Ex.I J =08r;t. molto --.-I ,
rempo, ma uan poo-
ca ,- ^-
AHLo~~r~ rt1rr cn^]
Note: "KA" has several different meanings; the principal one is "Essence."
individual notes all refer the ear directly to that middle C, the upper octave being no exception. The B which occurs first between C(E) and C S, and is later 'frozen' on to the C in the passage's only 'simultaneity', is a downward extension of the C, of its band of sound, and as such is different from the intervals above it precisely because the context (together with our knowledge of later developments) suggests that it is no interval all. at A parallel example from Messiaen's Canteyodjayashould help make this clear (Ex.2).
dealing with a four-note series (D,E,D # ,A), unmanipulated and untransposed in the right hand, untransposed in the left hand as well though 'free' in order and rhythm. Messiaen remedies the greyness of much post-Viennese I2-tone writing by choosing shorter series with an ear to their colour: he who early (in Preludes of 1929) took the path of modalism never mind how complex, rejecting that of total chromaticism. All the same, the outer interval here is a major seventh with a persistent tritone inside its frame (D# ,A) - those two standbys of
(inter- fmarcato _ versions) 8 ......... .......................................
The spontaneous impression of the high-speed rhythmic patterning veils the fact that we are
antitonality that project a multivectored geometry of sound in which the note as note is
Tanmatras: Life and Workof GiacintoScelsi 13 The scarcely to be heard. Another, more elaborate, piece of melodic writing which Scelsi would have known is the long monody at the beginning ofJolivet's 'La vache' from the piano suite Mana: Ex.3J= 52
strainstowards the B6 of its upper tritone rather than nestling close to the preceding F. Quite a different situation from the B below middle C in the first movement of Ka. The end of Ka's second movement brings a
< estprssivo p
,Jolivet, under the influence of Varese, had sought a non-serial (=organic) atonality rather as Messiaen, the follower of Emmanuel, had briefly sought a serial modality. Once again in the passage quoted it is the major seventh and tritone that one feels behind every note as it passes by. The E for instance in the second barEx.4>
passage that is the pianistic equivalent of Scelsi's later device of tonal fluctuation within a band of sound: Ex.4. Once more we have a chromatic aggregate contained within an octave. This time the contents could be described as clusters, making one wonder if the four-note groups of movement I should not be considered asr,x4
prx Comre ;maJ /=})
c Fempo \
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L) m ~,,3:
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The 14 Tanmatras: Lifeand Work GiacintoScelsi of horizontal clusters. The 'chordal'motion has in fact taken the music from the E below middle C to the octave above, reinforced in the bass by furtheroctave doubling, with, characteristically, the semi-tone F clinging above the E's. At this point the E comes forward in its own right There is more than a suggestion of (comeprima). chant here, with the C( seeming liturgical merely to support the E. But when at last the E dies away, the C S falls to C - the C that began the piece, now with its band extended upwards by that same C , become Df. Movement IV brings a bell-likepassage,given shape by irregular rhythmic pulsations and vibrato pedalling which provoke tonal and microtonal over-lapping (Ex.5). The Bb, when it arrives, seems almost like a figure in a of landscape- it gives the measure the band EF, ratherthan framing it harmonically. Ex.5 MOLro rMlRATro(J =54)(jempre /csciando vb6rcre colped.)
(Ex.6). Pedalling, touch and layout result in resonant thuds: microclusters, one could well call them, since in all but a single instance where the 'band' is widened to encompass a whole tone (D J ,E,F) - we are dealing with minor-second dyads. Jolivet achieves something similar in another piece from Mana, 'La princesse de Bali': Ex.7. In spite of the sevenths (here associated with perfect fourths and fifths rather than tritones), this is the sort of experimental music from the world before Darmstadt that helped Scelsi on his way, music which had gone out of fashion before the recognition of CharlesIves once more called attention to it. The last page of Ka ushers in its terminal F$ (here Scelsi too has succumbed to the magic of the tritone) via a distant E.: (Ex.8). Pedal (introduced gradually, like a gathering mist),
The last movement has a percussivefiguration that Scelsi marksto be played 'like sabreblows':
alternation of hands (like stopped and unstopped string, v. the second violin in the
alourdr' o^ -'7 Sp. "K7--rD,*
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Tanmatras: Life and Workof GiacintoScelsi 15 The Ex.8 r:fen.-9----f
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(sempre ,senzq ped.) " 1- 6 t--,[
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the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, and have an importance for the history of musical composition comparable to that of the first serial scores of Schoenberg and of the Modes et valeurs of Messiaen. In all three cases, what happened later on may be more interesting, more spontaneous * * * but everything is alreadythere. A door has been In I959 Scelsi wrote the Quattro Pezzi chiascuno opened. As Harry Halbreich likes to point out, su unanotasola (FourPieces, each one on a single it had become possible to tell a conservatoire note) for small orchestra.They were performed student: 'And now, my lad, I want you to under Maurice Leroux on 4 December I9614 at compose a G'. Though as usual with Scelsi, things are not so simple as that. The QuattroPezzi are in no way a loosely 4Thus the 1959 date given for the first performance in the connected series, a sort of experimental suite. Musik-Konzepte volume on Scelsi, and cited by Harry Halbreich in his notes to the recording of the QuattroPezzi They have as much right to be calleda symphony ('c'est l'une des tres raresoeuvres de Scelsi qui furent crees t6t as Webern's op.2I. In fact it is a near-constant apres leur achevement'), is incorrect. The programme tells us with Scelsi that he retains the classic division 'les quatrePieces pour orchestresont recentespuisqu'ellesont into movements, usually three or four of them. ete composees en 1960'. Though it is still possible that they were writtenin 1959 since Henri Michaux in a letter from I9 In the light of the many radical simplifications October 1961 remarks: 'Enfin on va entrendre cette oeuvre in his music this decision could only have been unique'. In any case, whether Scelsi heard the first perform- structural,a recognition that a singlepiece could ances of Ligeti's Atmospheres and Lontano (I960-I) before be based on a one note. It was finishing the QuattroPezzi is of little importance. Their lines only exceptionally of research at that time were utterly different. Ligeti was better to devise a convincing succession of useful to Scelsi later on, when he was expanding the micro- movements based on a convincing succession tonal counterpoint of works like the Second String Quartet of single notes. The succession in the Quattro into the spacious microtonal polyphony of his later style. Pezzi is as follows: F, B, A;b,A. Scelsi's String Traces of Ligeti's influence are to be found here and there which resembles the QuattroPezzi in a throughout Aion for orchestra (I96I), though the mighty Trio, outburst in the first movement that suggests (to me, at least) number of important aspects, has this succesVishnu dancing on a mountain of skulls is there to show us sion: Bb, Ff, B, C - which, on examination, the limits of that influence. There is something of Ligeti as turns out to be a transposition and re-ordering well in the first movement of Konx-Om-Pax (I969), but in - to my mind the high point in Scelsi's production of the Quattro Pezzi's one. In fact both Pjhat(1974) for large means - he is utterly himself again in yet another successions - and this becomes clearer if region of his own discovery. representedgraphically: opening bars of Brahms's G major String sustain what can Sextet), and the final morendo be described as hypnotic fixation on a only single pitch. One-note composition is just a step away.
16 Tanmatras: Lifeand Work GiacintoScelsi The of Scelsi had already done all he could with the piano using clusters, overtones and special B C pedallingto approximatemicrotonalharmonies. F B F-B He was now moving towards the opposite pole, - Bb - Ab the human voice, very likely under the influence - reproduce on an architectonic level a recurrent of yoga and the great importance it gives to situation in Ka and other Scelsi scores of the the discipline of breathing. There is perhaps another reason why Scelsi time: a 'band' of a major second distanced by a tritone (-fourth-major third). However, even if abandoned the piano. It had become the the correct date for the String Trio is 1958 (as instrument of his solitude, a solitude that given in the Musik-Konzepte catalogue), the weighed on him; and so he sought, in working QuattroPezzi are not an outgrowth of the Trio with others, that complicity in the face of in the ordinary sense. existence his privatelife no longer affordedhim. Here we are in the presence of a problem Thus the man who seemed so isolated from his central to the study of Scelsi's music - that of colleagues - who, after his failure to establish improvised matrices. It is clear that from the himself in the I930s and 40s, quite literallyrefuslate I950s he worked out skeletal patternson the ed the profession of composer - also refused, as ondulina (with its microtonal possibilities), no classical composer had done for centuries, recording and later using them for more than the isolation of the creative act. Almost everyone composition. This is evident in the case of thing that Scelsi wrote in the I960s and 70s was Aitsi (1974) for piano with electronic transform- bor directly or indirectly from a close working ation and the Fifth String Quartet (1984) - relationshipwith a performer. In this Scelsi was possibly because Scelsi, who broke the certainly a musical researcher,but the research compositional silence of his last years to write he carriedout was as much on the player as on the Quartet as a memorial to his friend Henri the instrument. He insisted on a yoga of Michaux, had not the physical strength to work meditation that made it possible to play without the long hours necessary for a thoroughgoing a conscious act of will. He did so with an eye to re-elaboration of the original improvised the liberation of personality rather than to the structure. It is not so easily seen in earlierpairs suppressionof it. He was looking, as well, for a or groups of pieces. It is to be hoped that one music based on the breath and heartbeat that day soon musicologists will be given access to would move the soul and not just the emotions the wealth of recorded material in the Scelsi something, in spirit at least, like the ritual Nachlass, and with it the possibility to recon- prayers of Tibetan monks. None of this, of struct what, for Scelsi, are the equivalent of his course, would have happened had Scelsi not musical notebooks. possessed a high degree of musical fancy and After the QuattroPezzi, two paths now lay invention. But the interesting thing is that he open to the composer: that of full-textured chose to exercise it on materialsdrawn from the scores ranging from the string quartetsto large- hidden resourcesof performers,resourcesfor the themselves scale pieces for chorus and orchestra,and that of most partunknown to the performers solo pieces of a greater length and intensity than before working with him. In this way the Canti (1962-72) written with Michiko anything he had yet achieved. H. R. Zeller del capricomo remarks in his essay, the most important yet to Hirayama, and the cello Trilogia (The Three be published on Scelsi's music, that the two are Ages of Man, 1957-65), given its final shape not so different, the orchestral scores being with Frances-Marie Uitti, arevirtuallyportraits. reducible to a plurality of individual lines and The chamber works, even the most exotic of the solo scores dividing, as it were, into multiple them, were worked up from these individual layers projected by a single instrument. One experiences. The London critic who wrote that thing, however, is certain. With Action Music Scelsi's pieces for string orchestra were simply (I955), Scelsi said farewell to his own instru- the quartetswith a few more instrumentswas in ment, the piano, not least because of its lack of a sense right, though he missed the point. The microtonal possibilities. The solution of ricercarfrom the Musical Offering could be Wyshnegradsky - to build differently tuned described as a two-part invention with some pianos so that two or three of them together voices added by one who had recently discould provide microtonal textures - was not covered counterpoint and found it tedious. A more serious objection has to do with the acceptable to him. Intonation remained fixed in of the finer tuning, and the need for two or way Scelsi'smusic was written. Zeller trustingly spite more pianistscompromised rhythmicflexibility. refersto the fact that we have only copies of the Pezzi Quattro Trio String
Tanmatras: Life and Workof GiacintoScelsi 17 The manuscripts, not the manuscripts themselves such a thing exists from the musical point of (something true, curiously enough, of another view. I do believe it helped him in his quest for great Italianeccentric, Domenico Scarlatti).The whatJean Leymarie calls lapuretedesorigines. What interested him was an ancient Indotruth of the matter is that there are no 'manuscripts' since Scelsi, at least in the later, more European music which preceded the division experimental phase of his career, prepared his into East and West, of which Indian music was scores with the help of other people. Some of one, and perhaps the best-preserved branch. these people happened to be composers in their The crucial thing that Scelsi's music has in own right, which has inevitably led to accusa- common with Indian and all traditional musics tions that they, not Scelsi, actually wrote the is its character as frozen improvisation. Scelsi music.5 As it is, none of the composers known was a fluent and highly skilled improviser. It to have worked with Scelsi were capable of was from improvisations worked up to nearthat. Their own music has nothing to do with definitive form that Scelsi's aides prepared the his. Nor does the characterof what is written scores, with the composer (though he detested change according to who wrote it down. But the word) there to supervise and edit.6 The the fact does make a difference. truth is that Scelsi was neither a sublime Scelsi himself may have thought of it from visionary, who had no need of anything so the point of view of an aristocrat whose mean as notation, nor a bungling amateur who ancestorsdid well enough for themselves before paid others to write his music. He was somewriting was invented, and who employed thing much more like an inspired naif, as in scribes for long afterwards. Nevertheless there certain respects Charles Ives had been before is little doubt that he could not have written him. Naifs have not been infrequent in the down the more complex pieces, no matter the history of painting and poetry, though few degree of mental control he had over them. musicians who had sacrificed years of their life What this means is that Scelsi's music was in formal study to become competent profesconceived without the set of habits and pre- sionals would know what to make of such a dispositions that come from a mastery of claim. And even so, we should be careful in our notation. I refuse to believe this brought him judgments of a man who used to say with great any closer to the physical nature of sound, if satisfactionof his breakdown afterWorld War II: 'I forgot everything I ever knew about music.' SThemost important collaboratorof Scelsi was Vieru Tosatti Towards 1975 Scelsi almost ceased to comwho seems to have worked with him on and off from the late pose. An exception is the Fifth String Quartet 1940s until he went blind some 30 years later. Tosatti began which, however, as noted above, derives from writing letters to various musicjournals in Italy after Scelsi's death to say that he had written all the music himself, but that the same compositional matrix, or better, the in any case it didn't matter since it was utter rubbish. Tosatti's same improvisation, as Aitsi, for amplified music is in favour with one of the directors of ItalianRadio piano. That Scelsi felt impelled to write it at all (an institution that has done everything possible to hold up shows the sorrow he felt at the death of his Scelsi's acceptance in Italy), so I am not unfamiliar with it. The fact is that Tosatti's early neoclassic scores have nothing friend, the poet, Henri Michaux, who sent him to do with Scelsi's music, but that his Requiem,composed all his new books with a personal dedication. du yearsafterLa naissance verbe, betraysthe influence, however He did revise what he had already written and watered down and conventionalized, of the earlier work. it for publication (first with Schirmer's Tosatti's lack of scruples is reflected in the use he made of prepare and, when that venture proved a cul-de-sac, some poems of Scelsi's (written in French)in the preparation of the text of his own Gedichtkonzert. what surely decides with Salabert);and he worked with musicians But the cas Scelsi, if there is such a thing, is the opinion of three who wanted to perform his music. Gradually, composers who are among the most meticulouslyprofessional thanks to Gerard Grisey, Tristan Murail and of our time. Horatiu Radulescu- and, in England, to Adrian York H6ller, discussing the 1987ISCM Festivalin Cologne over a beer when it was all over: 'By far the most interesting Jack (who was the one to put me on to his event for me was the Scelsi evening. There's something really music) - Scelsi's name began to be known. I new there. That man is a wizard!'. remember the day when I had scores of the FrancoDonatoni at lunch with his composition students in sent to Irvine Arditti. Shortly thereafter Trastevere in I988: 'I don't know what the problem is. It's quartets he rang me up to tell me: 'It appears rather a Italian really quite simple. You see, there were three6Frances-Marie Uitti leaves no room for doubt on this point: 'It was always interesting to work with Giacinto, even on a transcription' [they had prepared the score of Sauh (1973) together] 'the choice of dynamics, the workir.g out of an idea he always knew exactly what he wanted'. (Interview with StefaniaGianni.)
great composers born in the early years of this century'. [The other two being Petrassi and Dallapiccola.] 'Scelsi's music was unknown till recently, and so everyone'smaking a fuss over it'. Gyorgy Kurtag, on his way to an evening at Ada Gentile's after being collected at his hotel: 'Do you know Scelsi's music at all?' (say I). 'Only the Fourth Quartet. But it's enough to consider myself an adept of that man.'
The 18 Tanmatras: Lfe and Work ofGiacintoScelsi
A paejC tihcJourtlih fom ofScelsi'sQuattro Pezzi su una Nota Sola. ( courtesy UnitedMusicPublisiersLtd. of
large fish has got through our nets'. Though it was Heinz-Klaus Metzger who took Scelsi's casein hand and brought out the Musik-Konzepte volume of essays on him. Then Wolfgang Becker and Ernst Albrecht Stiebler were won over and so Scelsi began travelling again - to London for a two concert evening of his chamber music, to Cologne and Frankfurtfor his orchestralpieces. Life at Via di San Teodoro 8 went on as ever, except perhaps that Scelsi saw more people, heard more music than before. There were the vegetarian dinners with a little ham for the rest of us served by Bruna his cook, the birthday parties, and after-concertreceptions with a fleet of servants that lasted well after midnight; and the occasional concert where he was taken by his driver Salvatore. About the funeral and the mass which preceded it the less said the better.7 Both were marked by utter lack of preparation
and the absence of all but a handful of musical friends. August is the cruellest month in Rome and he who can avoid it does so. The house overlooking the Forum is now the IsabellaScelsi Foundation, though Bruna and Salvatore have been allowed to live there for the rest of their days. The foundation has already organized its first concert: MusicheRitualidi GiacintoScelsi, at the Villa Medicis, seat of the French Academy in Rome. Thus the work of making known some of the most original music of our time, most of it unperformed for years after it was written, goes steadily on.7The hearse first carriedthe body to the wrong vault, that of his father, when the will clearly provided for his burial in the vault of his mother and sister in another part entirely of Verano cemetery. When this mistake was rectified it was found that there was not enough room for the remains of what had been a tiny slip of a man in the space allotted to him. The projecting part of the coffin was masked by flowers and work to be done left for another day.