Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Case of Giacinto Scelsi

The thing about controlling the Narrative in the culture, is that you always have to be coming up with something new and cool. In the mid to late 1980s one new discovery in music was Giacinto Scelsi. Even though he was a contemporary of Dmitri Shostakovich (who was born in 1906, while Scelsi was born in 1905), he was almost completely unknown for most of his life. An important concert in Cologne in 1987 premiered some of his orchestral music decades after it had been written. He passed away less than a year later. Since then quite a lot of his music has been recorded, including this 2006 disc that I have been listening to:

The piece that gives its title to the album, Natura renovatur ("Nature is renewed"), was written in 1967 for 11 string instruments. Here it is:

Please listen to it and form your own impressions before I offer mine!

Scelsi is highly renowned for supposedly discovering a new way of composing. He did everything through improvisation, which was then transcribed. The inspiration for Scelsi to change his way of approaching music was Eastern spiritual thought. I think that puts him squarely in a certain tradition in the West, one shared by other composers and artists. There is nothing wrong with influences, of course, but I get the sense, from the music and what he seems to have thought about it, that it is a kind of escape from the traditions of composition in the West. Like Buddhist meditation, to which this is perhaps related, it is about extinguishing thought and the ego and becoming a mere receiver for whatever forces you sense in the void. This is, in my opinion, a very bad idea! Well, it's not an idea as such, but it is certainly a practice! Let's not flee into Oriental quietism and stasis and think we have achieved something, shall we?

As for the music, it very much reminds me of John Luther Adams without the lush orchestration and charm. And this may be where his music derived some ideas.

UPDATE: I forgot to include this. As part of his flight from, well, existence, I suppose, he avoided having photos taken of him for much of his life. He preferred to use this as an icon/monogram:


Christine Lacroix said...

Well it could have been worse. At the very beginning I thought it sounded a bit like Terra Aria by Giovanni Sollima
Something about it..... But it just droned on and on like mosquitos whereas I quite like the Sollima.
On a totally different subject have you seen this clip of Rostropovich being silly? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5AGUc1Lk-Nw

Bryan Townsend said...

Oh yes, good point. It does sound like it might be the somewhat inchoate introduction to a piece, but it never gets past the inchoate part! Reminds me of a criticism of a Liszt tone-poem I read once that described it as a series of introductions without ever getting to the piece.

I've done the Toy Symphony a number of times. Great fun!