Author Topic: Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988)  (Read 37170 times)

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Offline Brewski

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Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988)
« on: April 04, 2008, 09:07:38 AM »
I thought we had a thread on this highly original composer, but maybe not--a search didn't produce anything.  In any case, I just found this post on a blog called Boring Like a Drill, an MP3 file of Pranam II (1973) by Ensemble 2E2M with Paul Méfano.

And here's a good introduction to Scelsi, Alex Ross' article on his blog, from November 2005, which also describes the concert I attended with all five of his string quartets.

Scelsi was rather reclusive: below is the only known photograph of him.

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Offline Earthlight

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Re: Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988)
« Reply #1 on: April 05, 2008, 05:44:37 PM »
I first heard Scelsi on an anthology, The Modern Italian Piano, 1939-1990, by Elisabeth Klein; she played his 3rd Sonata. I liked it the first time I heard it, and liked it more as I listened to it again. Tranquil, but melancholy, and not really like anything I ever heard. There aren't a lot of notes in it, and in a way it doesn't seem to go anywhere; it's like it creates a space and stays there for a while, changing its form in subtle ways without caring whether I noticed or not. (I did, but it took me a while.) (Is that cosmic enough for everybody?) I guess I'm not surprised that he was a bit of recluse.

I found some other music by him on eMusic, all with cryptic titles (for instance, suite no. 10, "Ka" and suite no. 9, "Ttai"); so far I haven't gotten into them that deeply, but for some reason or another I haven't been all that receptive to new-to-me music the last few months, so I'm sure their time will come.

lukeottevanger

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Re: Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988)
« Reply #2 on: April 06, 2008, 01:11:10 AM »
There a a few pieces of really fantastic Scelsi...and many others, very attractive, but which it may be less important to hear. Among the former, though, I would put

Anahit - a ravishing work, and probably a masterpiece, IMO
Pranam - ditto, on a smaller scale
Uaxuctum - a kind of parallel to Varese's Ecuatorial, perhaps
and everything on the Arditti's Quartets disc (also contains Khoom and the String Trio)

Scelsi's musical-spiritual interests and mine (as a composer) coincide to a large extent; especially admirable for me is the way he developed a technique which was the precise mirror of his philosophical concerns. There are a few other composers who have managed this (including such disparate figures as Lou Harrison, Jonathan Harvey, Satie, Terry Riley(sometimes), Tippett and, yes, Janacek), and this small group of composers in their different ways mean quite a lot to me, even if they aren't necessarily my 'favourite' composers (though the last one listed is!)

Offline not edward

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Re: Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988)
« Reply #3 on: April 15, 2008, 06:42:10 AM »
A fantastic Scelsi concert's coming up in Toronto next month: http://www.iictoronto.esteri.it/IIC_Toronto/webform/SchedaEvento.aspx?id=230&citta=Toronto

Being performed are: Lilitù, Hô, Litanie, Sauh I and II, CKCKC, Ogloudoglou, Yamaon, I presagi & Okanagon.
"I don't at all mind actively disliking a piece of contemporary music, but in order to feel happy about it I must consciously understand why I dislike it. Otherwise it remains in my mind as unfinished business."
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lukeottevanger

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Re: Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988)
« Reply #4 on: April 15, 2008, 07:23:29 AM »
Well, yes - the Bot-Ba Suite for piano, for instance, makes this explicit (Bot-Ba being a form of the Tibetan name for the country). His interest in exploring the turbulenct areas around the implicit still centre of every note is very Buddhistic. But I have the feeling his first instincts, if asked the question 'to which religious system are you most inclined?' would have been towards Hinduism (and of course we have pieces like Pranam which emphasise that link). As far as they relate to the philosophical question concerned Scelsi, though, the two religions are very closely intertwined.

Offline Brewski

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Re: Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988)
« Reply #5 on: April 16, 2008, 05:47:08 AM »
James, do consider returning to him at a later date.  I first heard one of his pieces some 15 years ago, Canti di Capricorni (on Wergo, with soprano Michiko Hirayama), and after one listen thought about returning it--just couldn't stand it.  So I didn't have any interest in exploring further, until a live concert about 4-5 years ago with some of his chamber music, which was riveting (and performed for a packed house of 500 people).  But I can understand the reaction--he is an unusual, even extreme composer, who takes some getting used to (IMHO).

--Bruce
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~Iannis Xenakis

Twitter: @BruceHodgesNY

lukeottevanger

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Re: Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988)
« Reply #6 on: April 16, 2008, 07:21:27 AM »
Another composer who's music I was open to the experience but ended up being a 100% miss. I've heard the Arditti set, Anahit etc. The word monotonous instantly comes to mind. Barren stuff.

Blimey, aren't negative, mean-spirited posts like this or many of Rod's a real drain on ones mental resources? My own view - if you really hate a composer, no problem, but don't sling around the unnecessary insults just for the sake of sounding off. James did the same re. Feldman, IIRC. And the same is true for Scelsi as for Feldman - there are plenty of people for whom these composers are anything but monotonous*. Scelsi may ocassionally explore single tones, it is true, and he is almost always only concerned with a fairly narrow band of pitches, but he re-discovers what a tone really is, and explores it from the inside out - he makes notes live and burn, and carries them through trajectories which take on truly spiritual associations. An admirer of Stockhausen ought to find a lot in Scelsi that rings a bell - the similarities in technique (compare Stockhausen's large-scale extrapolations of his formulae to Scelsi's large-scale vectors) and sometimes in sound would be worth exploring, I think.

James repeatedly reminds us that he's a seeker after 'profundity'  ::), with a pretty narrow selection of worthwhile composers - not as narrow as Rod's, but similarly exclusive, and seemingly operating with a very narrow definition of what 'profundity' must entail. That's why he dismisses vast swathes of music, including music of undoubted profundity, but whose profundity is of a different sort - Cage, Feldman, Scelsi etc. That these composers imply things of great import and depth in their music is beyond doubt, but James, ever-suspicious of the non-Western and/or the non-canonic, finds the way into their world impassable. I don't have a problem with that. I have a problem with the aloof but undeserved superiority complex and lack of humility implicit in the language with which he chooses to reject it. As I say, it's similar to Rod, and that is not a good thing.

*BTW if James has really listened to the Arditti set he'll have heard SQ no 1, which could not possibly be described using any such terminology, being a wonderful and highly active cross between Bartok, Messaien and Crawford Seeger, as well as, in its way, deeply Scelsian, and reaching an extremely exalted level akin to that of late Beethoven towards the end - it's one of the last pieces Scelsi wrote before the mental breakdown which led to his re-evaluating the fundamentals of music, and one senses in the calm polyphony of its later stages a kind of homage, deliberate or otherwise, to the Heiliger Dankegesang...

Offline UB

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Re: Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988)
« Reply #7 on: October 04, 2008, 06:53:44 AM »
It is a Scelsi morning for me here in Utah. I had listened to his string quartets 1 and 5 and was about to put on one of my favorite works, Suite #8 'Bot Ba,' when I thought I would see what, if anything, had been said about his music here.

I was pleased to find this thread that Bruce had started and was not surprised to see James' response to the music. I think it is great that everyone does not have the same taste in music. If we did, then all music would end up sounding the same. I am glad that I live at time when there is such a wide variety of classical music available and that much of it is recorded so I can explore and revisit music whenever I feel like it.

As Luke points out there is such a wide difference between Scelsi's 1st and 5th quartet, it is hard to believe they were written by the same composer. And perhaps they are not. Certainly after his breakdown Scelsi could be considered a different composer. Today both quartets worked for me and that is not always true of #5. There has been times when I could not sit still for short 6 plus minutes but today it seemed perfect.

I have always enjoyed his piano suites. I hope that someday the ones that appear to be lost will be found and recorded. #8 is to me an amazing survey of musical sounds for the piano. I particularly enjoy the 2nd and 5th sections.

Next up "Quarttro pezzi per Orchestra."
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Offline Ugh!

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Re: Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988)
« Reply #8 on: October 04, 2008, 09:11:54 AM »


Scelsi was rather reclusive: below is the only known photograph of him.


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Kullervo

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Re: Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988)
« Reply #9 on: October 04, 2008, 09:26:16 AM »
Where did you find those?  :o

Offline Ugh!

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Re: Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988)
« Reply #10 on: October 04, 2008, 11:01:49 AM »
Where did you find those?  :o

I've got this wonderful tool called Google.

Kullervo

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Re: Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988)
« Reply #11 on: October 04, 2008, 02:38:59 PM »
I've got this wonderful tool called Google.

Thank you for your well-considered and informative answer.
« Last Edit: October 04, 2008, 02:46:16 PM by Corey »

snyprrr

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Re: Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988)
« Reply #12 on: April 24, 2009, 12:25:27 PM »
String Quartet No.1:

A forty min., 4 mvmt. SQ written in 1947. It appears to me that the post war breakdown that affected many composers of the generation (Villa Lobos, Malipiero, Chavez, Bloch, etc) came early to Scelsi. The hardening of language, the cragginess that these composers experienced in the 50s-60s, Scelsi seems to have manifested early on.

I think this SQ sounds like no other composer of the era. It is bleak, gritty, fairly unattractive, grey-ish, that starts in a sputtering manner as if Scelsi is wondering what left there is to say. Maybe my description isn't fair, though. The descrition is would say would be the "greyest" of the Rosenberg quartets plus Pettersson's early Concerto No.1 for violin and SQ, plus maybe a little Petrassian cragginess.

I think this SQ is a great example of the problems composers of the time were having in moving forward as all the idols of the past were falling. I'm not going to call this SQ "ugly", but I can hear the "sickness" of the stagnating musical climate of the time more than from any other composer. Scelsi really MUST have been depressed!!!

But, for me, the early Scelsi, early Pettersson comparison works (Pettersson abandoned chamber music after this-his piece sounds unlike his later style- I think it's a masterpiece), though I'm not looking to "get into it"...just a personal feeling.

So, it seems the "old style" Scelsi wrote one big chamber work before he "died" and was reborn. If he had continued in this vein I can see him becoming one of the sourest sounding composers ever. I do like to listen to this SQ every now and then, but I couldn't imagine opus after opus of this stuff...it would be depressing. But, as it stands, it is a great, solitary statement of the times...a composer struggling to find a voice in the midst of total cultural breakdown. Obviously, this path was "dead" to Scelsi. Sorry more composers didn't realize this.

I feel like I've been poopooing this SQ, but that's not what I'm saying. It's a fine SQ, just very unattractive, which, for me, is ok. Want to say more, but I'm stumped (the "other" Scelsi I love, but a completely different animal- others are doing a fine job).




sul G

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Re: Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988)
« Reply #13 on: April 24, 2009, 12:42:10 PM »
I find it anything but unattractive - to me, it's a work of often radiant beauty, and full of intruiging hints at techniques which remind me, coincidentally, of Ruth Crawford Seeger. Actually, I think this is one of the most attractive and easy-to-penetrate quartets of its time.

Offline Guido

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Re: Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988)
« Reply #14 on: April 24, 2009, 01:05:26 PM »
Glad this thread came up again, just listened to the magnificent Anahit and Pranam again, and now I'm hungry to hear the first quartet too (especially if you say it reminds you of Ruth Crawford Seeger!)
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Offline not edward

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Re: Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988)
« Reply #15 on: April 25, 2009, 05:32:49 AM »
The First quartet is indeed a fascinating work--not perhaps a mature essay but certainly that of a composer teeming with ideas. A similar case could be made for the roughly contemporaneous cantata La nascita del verbo, though perhaps it is an even more ambitious work.

Listening to the best of early Scelsi is a reminder that though so much was gained when he pared down his style, there was a lot lost too.
"I don't at all mind actively disliking a piece of contemporary music, but in order to feel happy about it I must consciously understand why I dislike it. Otherwise it remains in my mind as unfinished business."
 -- Aaron Copland, The Pleasures of Music

snyprrr

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Re: Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988)
« Reply #16 on: April 25, 2009, 09:28:27 AM »
"teeming with ideas"...yes.
I think what I really wanted to say
I find it anything but unattractive - to me, it's a work of often radiant beauty, and full of intruiging hints at techniques which remind me, coincidentally, of Ruth Crawford Seeger. Actually, I think this is one of the most attractive and easy-to-penetrate quartets of its time.
was that! We'll all listen over the weekend, and...synchronize your watches, gentlemen...

Offline UB

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Re: Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988)
« Reply #17 on: June 09, 2009, 09:20:49 AM »
I have spent a couple of delightful hours this evening - I am in South Africa - listening to the recording of Scelsi's Preludi played by Alessandra Ammara on a recent Arts Music SACD. All of the pieces were written during his first period and as anyone who is familiar with Scelsi's music might expect they are very approachable. I enjoyed all the music but the last series - #38-#50 seems to me to be the strongest. Anyone who enjoys his piano suites should enjoy this fine cd.

I just read Edward's comment about the gains and losses from Scelsi's because of his change in style, and fully agree.
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Offline Brewski

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Re: Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988)
« Reply #18 on: June 09, 2009, 09:25:11 AM »
Cool!  Don't know that recording but would be inclined to get it soon.  (As an aside, where in South Africa?  I have been to Johannesburg and Cape Town, with a soft spot for the latter...)

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Offline UB

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Re: Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988)
« Reply #19 on: June 10, 2009, 03:05:33 AM »
Richards Bay, Bruce - East Coast about 150K North of Durban. About a 7 hours drive from Joburg and a couple of days from Cape Town.
I am not in the entertainment business. Harrison Birtwistle 2010