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profiles - composers - giacinto scelsi - biography


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Giacinto Scelsi
Giacinto Scelsi - Biography
La Spezia, 1905 - Roma, 1988

Hyxos (1955)
for flute in G, 2 gongs and little bell
He had his first experience of the artistic, musical and literary world in the Twenties during his frequent journeys abroad, making friends who introduced him to the international cultural movements of the period. His interest in compositional language and techniques, such as dodecaphony, the theories of Scriabin and Steiner, dates back to the Thirties. In fact, in 1930 he completed Rotativa (Paris, 1931), the composition which made him known to the international musical world. He spent the years of the Second World War in Switzerland where his Trio for strings was first performed (1942) as well as various other works for piano. He later moved to Rome, completing several works: the Quartetto for strings and the Nascita del Verbo (both performed at Paris in 1949). These were difficult years, but he found refuge in poetry, visual arts, mysticism and esoterism. His active acceptance of oriental philosophies, the Zen doctrine, Yoga and the fundamental problems of the Unconscious Mind dates from those years and is reflected also in his research and experimentation in the musical field. The instrumentation of figures determined randomly, the improvisation on traditional instruments used in non-orthodox ways, the use of the ondiola - an instrument capable of reproducing the quarter and eighth note tones - but above all the manner of improvising in a situation free from any conditioning and very close to the Zen vacuum, mark his most significant works. Prevented psychically and physically from carrying out the meticulous work of transcribing his own improvisations, he adopted a totally original method of composing: he first recorded his improvisation on magnetic tape and then entrusted the transcription to collaborators who worked under his guidance. The work was afterwards enriched by meticulous instructions for performance and with devices to give the sound a specific value (mutes for the strings expressly made to his design, stringed instruments treated as percussion, sound filters to distort the sound of the winds, use of the voice as a means for fracturing the sound structure, use of preexisting recordings as a lead for performance). On the other hand his method of orchestration was highly original, consisting in the coupling of similar instruments out of phase with one another by a quarter tone, with unexpected beat effects. The revelation of this new phase was the performance of the Quattro pezzi su una nota at Paris in 1961.
His production diminished in the Seventies, but recognition at international level was always more frequent, with the performance of works up to then rarely heard. His theoretical and literary work was published in the Eighties and his prodigious musical production by the Editions Salabert of Paris.
He died at Rome on 8 August 1988.