25 June 2007

Scelsi some more

Ko-Lho (1966): For flute and clarinet and a minor work. We get the sense of a continuum of sound that is sustained between the two instruments. Somewhere half between the solo and duo works of the late fifties and early sixties and the unison works like the Duo.

Elegia per Ty (1958/1966): In three movments and scored for viola and cello, this is elegiac though I wonder how much I'm being pulled in by the title. Ty was a pet name for Scelsi's wife, if I recall correctly. The first movment, based around Gb and F quarter-sharp gives off a remarkable keening in the beating between the cello double stops and viola lines. The second movement more dramatic with its powerful octaves. Overall moving, breathing, calming piece. Notice the use of nonpitched pizzicati. I read somewhere that in the trnascriptions, Scelsi would want everything on the tape transcribed - getting into the sound perhaps? - including the noise of the street, the tape hiss, the occasional knock of the radiatior. Could this be the daily life of Scelsi intruding on the composition and enlivening it? I find myself when listening to my old recordings that I expect the cough, I expect the paper turn - I even at one point incorporated sound from the recording - paper rustling - into a very early piece of mine. You get used to the wrong notes and they become the right ones.

Ohoi (1966): One big inexorable siren-like work of 8 miniutes for strings. Ascends from an ominous chord to louder and higher range always with interesting ornament. Doesn't really climax instead gets loud and then peters out. Could not get the score.

Uaxuctum (1966): The real Uaxuctun - "eight stones" in Mayan - and a pun on "Washington" - was a Mayan city close to Tikal that sruvived from the 4th century CE and was abandoned sometime after 900 CE. Scelsi's Uaxactum, the full title is "Uaxuctum: The Legend of the Maya City which destyroyed itself for religious reasons," programmatizes the mystery of this abandonment. For choir and orchestra in 5(?) movements. Ritualistic and strongly influenced by the breath - I get a sense very much like that of the people frozen running from Pompei. No doubt for Scelsi, Pompei would be in his mind even if Popol Vuh was in his library. So we hear the frozen sounds, the choir shouts at mezzo-forte. Fits in a vein of Scelsi's work that includes Yamaon and Hurqualia - Scelsi as prophet here - recreating this ritual act. I think also to really understand this we need to think of it in line with - now don't come down hard on me - Italian movie music - Morricone, the wordless choirs, the programs. Could not get the score.

Elohim (1965/67): Very much out of the ordinary for Scelsi, more like Xenakis. Alternation of differetly agitated chords with clusters. About four minutes and for strings. Striking. Very much about breathing, no doubt influential to spectralists. Could not get the score.

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18 June 2007

A Return to Scelsi

Taiagaru (1962): Not too enthused about this one.

Yliam (1964): Definitely one of his better works, for female choir up to I think 8-10 parts spreads from an A out in both directions to a chord. There is a narrative sense to the piece which makes you listen even through the somewhat dull stretch in the middle, also in the female voices there are great means to realize the vision of this sliding alterately dirtied pitch world. A great success, if quite difficult to sing - woe be to whomever is singing Soprano 1 and 2. The literature that has sprung up around this musi is a bit overblown, but this is a cosmic sound experience made all the better to beheard in a reverberant space.

Duo (for violin and cello) (1965): Two movements for violin and cello, both of which seem to play in a strange area in which it is not supposed to be dramatic yet at the same time there are dramatic gestures - just when you think you can safely live in a detuned octave, say, the violin comes with a loud ponticello in the high register and so forth. THe first movement is about detuning a G octave, the second, more meditative. Just as Scelsi thoroughly explored one idea - for instance the piano for a while, he is now been in the strings, primarily for several years. I imagine he will soon move on to something else.

Anahit (1965): "Concerto" for violin and 18 instruments, spectacularly beautiful, with phrases based on breathing it seems. The orchestration is supple, the entry of the violin stunning - like the Sibelius concerto even - after the cadenza the violin is apotheosized - stunning.

Anagamin (1965): I was unable to see a score for the work. A piece for strings that moves around an octave and its higher harmonics. There is a sense of impending doom in this. The orchestration is ever lovely of course.

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07 June 2007

Scelsi again

Lilitu (female voice) (1962): Is a short and quite rangy one movement work for female voice in the style of the Canti del Capricorno more the one note pieces. There is some repetition of figures - particularly a tritone figure in the highest range and some focus around E. This is expanded up to the G# and then down (though the pitch is higher) to C. So the ambitus is the third around E with the bottom half above.

String Quartet No. 4 (1964): One movement of extreme tension - this to me does not seem to be caused by timbre alone though no doubt timbre and dirtying of the sound is part of it. Rather the tension develops from the harmonies, the striving upward by quarter-tones that takes its time and moves back so we have the sense of continual ascent through important tones, not all tones. The tension builds continually and then it seems Scelsi doesn't know what to do perhaps - this is among his longest sustained arches - he changes course dramatically and rather effectively in the last few measures for an apotheosis of sorts. All instruments are at scordatura and the resulting sounds of the particular timbres on particular pitches give it a great timbral richness. I don't htink though that this is necessarily in the original conception. It sounds to me as if he is working with the pitches and ideas and then translating them to the instrument's bodies to the best of his ability, rather than writing through the instruments. In this way the timbral quality almost becomes a by-product of the linear nature of the sounds - obviously very influenced by electronic muisc - rather than a narrative aspect of the piece. This doesn't put down the sonic result which is stunning, it's just a question of what is primary.

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29 May 2007

More Scelsi

Khoom (1962): 7 Movements in an unwritten love story from far away for soprano, string quartet, horn and percussion. Now I don't know what this has to do with the ridiculous title other than seem "exotic" but these are generally ok movements with the exception of IV which is actually quite lovely and tender - note the Carnatic shadow heterophony, and V which brings together the primitive power of Yamaon or Hurqualia and has harmony of all things. Worth hearing for these two alone and perhaps could have done with some editing.

20 Canti del Capricorno (1962 - 1972): These are compositions for solo voice and occasionally another instrument - percussion in a few and a surna-type in others. I haven't seen scores. They have a feeling of the sorts of improvisations one does with one's voice when trying to sound shamanistic - or else vocal improvisations I remember from my first year at Bennington with Frank Baker. Guttural shouts, r-k-d-k-t-p kind of rhythmic articulation. Strong indebtedness it seems to ponsori singing of Korea, though admittedly my knowledge of that is slight. A few stand out particularly - 4, 5 and the last which has no vocal soloist.

String Quartet No. 3 (1963): In five movements each appended by a "direction" reflecting a journey of a soul to some sort of mystical state. Interesting how there can be some many different moods from these simple movements on one note, or at best one chord. Remarkable moments, the flat submediant relation that pops up here ad there in movement four and the repeated E naturals at the end of the final movement. None of these are very long and development is not necessary, they last about as long as pop songs and about as long as it takes for one to be really into the sound and then it leaves, if it were longer it would, it seems, be too much - so in this way, although unsatisfying from a larger scale perspective, their proportions are just right. As to the interplay of timbres, I hear the various changes, but I'm uncertain if there is a conscious narrative of timbre, a conscious ompsing out of the timbres of the work. They seem more to me to be momentary and unattached beyond their immediate musical context. One at times hears an arch of dirtying up the sound and then returning to a clean sound, though, as well and this is certainly a composing out of a different aspect of the composition.

Hymnos (1963): Massively powerful work for massed orchestra and organ, an enormous challenge no doubt for any recording engineer. It is said that an overtone hymn emerges from the sound of this at some point, but I must admit in hearing the work many many times over the years and beiung aware and listening for this sound, I have no clue as to where it is or what it is. I would love to see a score or else have someone point out this mystery overtone chorale, though I'm doubtful of its existence. Nonetheless, this is a sonic marvel, an exciting visceral work in a loud-soft-loud sort of form.

Chukrum (1963): For strings alone, it does have quite a bit of Psycho in it, with its jabbing downbows over single pitches. Not of the caliber as some of the other works, particularly Hymnos.

Oleho (solo voice or choir and 2 gongs) (1963): No score - no recording

Xnoybis (1964): In three movements and scored for solo violin, this seems to be on one level a study for Anahit. Uses the one-staff-per-string notation, which allows for some compositional freedom particularly when it comes o the timbre of a single pitch which now can be spread easily (at least to the eye) between several strings - this could be exploited more. For the most part there are variations around single pitches throughout exploiting the combination of open and stopped string owing tot he scordatura. In a way the new notation serves its function well. Not too long and constantly interesting.

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09 May 2007

Scelsi: Aion and Riti

Aion (1961): About eighteen minutes in four movements, the first a single-pitch oscillation dronw - a beautiful squawk at the beginning: is that a clarinet multiphonic? The second movement with a good deal of drums that interrupt a similar feel. The last movement a strange bagpipe-y drone complete with the tritone-to-fifth grace note figure and ending with a radiant chord in the upper partials of the fundamental. The orchestration is quite good, as per usual, and I'm struck by how "Hollywood" this all sounds - Hollywood in a modern sense particularly.

Riti: version for Achilles (1962): This is scored for four percussionists, apparently later versions were made for different ensembles, presumably taking the rhythmic framework as a scaffolding. It is an austere work, slow, stately, with a good use of membrane percussion. A microphone is supposed to be placed over the percussion which lends an "aura" to the piece which can be unsettlingly loud drone when it is on for some time. I'm curious to see how the other versions differ.

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04 May 2007

Scelsi: Wo Ma

Wo-Ma (1960): H-go, o-go-do t-ho. Is this Scelsi's attempt at some sort of "oriental" speech, a ritualised Asian priest of some sort? Interesting for the first three minutes, I.e. the first movement, but after that progressively duller and more annoying. As Carla said, "this piece annoys the shit out of me", I don't think its that bad, but nonetheless, an idea piece that would have better had it been shorter.

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03 May 2007

Scelsi: Coelocanth and Ho

Coelocanth (for viola) (1955): A twittering work for solo viola, more in line with the divertimenti than the future so-called "one-note" pieces. The viola flutters around a good deal often in what seems like its higher range.

Ho "Five Songs" (1960): For unaccompanied female voice, this uses again only vowels, "gh," "l" and the like. Scelsi was probably quite interested in the sense of the ecstatic with these songs. The first is a centering piece, focusing solely on the pitch F, quarter-tone inflections of it and the seventh degree. The second opens up to explore a chord-area on B, (Interestingly the same pitches as the opening of the quattro pezzi for orchestra). We then take the opening as if putting the singer into a trance who then can bring forth the Scelsi as instrument for revelation. There is probably one too many, though the fifth is quite nice, focusing as it does on a high-G coming back to the low B-F.

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02 May 2007

Scelsi: Quatro pezzi su una nota sola

Quattro pezzi su una nota sola (1959): This is Scelsi's justifiably famous big "one-note" piece, though he had been getting there for some time - not for orchestra proper, more like a large chamber group - 22 players, no violins, four hourns, two saxophones. In four movements this time - each an exploration of a single note - F, then B, then Ab then finally A. Tellingly dramatic and strangely compelling, no doubt to the large scale prolongation of a cadence from the diminished resolving to A in the final movement: this is tonal music, 100%. I think this is what leads to the drama of the work - the romantic narrative. What lends it its internal motion, I'm not certain as it seems the quarter-tone inflections aren't guided. Excellent.

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01 May 2007

Scelsi: Tre canti sacri; Kya

Tre canti sacri (1958): Three movements for choir on sacred fragments: "Angelus" "Requiem" and "Gloria" of the three "Angelus" is the least interesting. The other two make use of what would become typical ways of working for Scelsi - the oscillations around a particular interval - in "Requeim" F-C and the expansion over time to a particular interval, the fifth (B-F#), in the Gloria. Intervals chosen for the sacred connotations no doubt. Shows an awareness of the trends of the time in the choral klangfarbenmelodie as in Nono's recent choral works. Here the choir members are trading off melodies and interval oscillations which must contribute to making this extrememly difficult piece easier to perform. Powerful recording made by Neue Vokalsolisten. The "Gloria" also has a great dramatic arch and here Scelsi's works can really succeed in that he ties together the narrative arch of Romanticism with the sensitivity to timbre and harmony that he had in his earlier works.

Kya (1959): Again in three movements (someone must have told Scelsi to write three movement pieces at some point - I've done it too - they tend to be more lithe and less clunky than four movements), this is for C clarinet (a richer more klezmer sound) and seven instruments - english horn, bass clarinet, horn, trumpet, trombone, viola, cello). Beautiful and lyrical even with the limited accompaniment palette - primarily oscillating drones. The clarinet wanders about like Hariprasad Chaurasia, the drama builds in the third movement, but its not harsh. The instrumentation is particularly rich in partials. Very successful.

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28 April 2007

Scelsi: Tre canti poplari

Tre canti popolari (1958): Three movments for quartet of "natural" voices (remember N'Shima of Xenakis - more impossible music for untrained singers) this is recorded on an old Sub Rosa disc; the liner notes say it was recorded down a minor third as the original pitch proved impractical.Of the three movements the last is the most impressive - throughout it is divided into two duos - alto/bass, tenor/soprano, this is exploited to the best in the third movement. Anyway, the third features a repetition of an ascending tetrachord that sounds almost Indonesian, The voices sing vocables and fricatives. Not as good as the Canti Sacri.

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23 April 2007

More Scelsi

More comments on Scelsi.

Four Pieces (for horn in F) (1956): There doesn't appear to be a recording of this - at least not one I can get my hands on, though I've seen the score. Uses stopped sounds in the first movement, muting techniques (up to the player) in the second. Exploring perhaps the different sound qualities. I can see how these very very bold for their time.

Ixor (1956): For Clarinet or other instrument like it, the recording I heard if for the English Horn. In one movement and demonstrating the technique that Scelsi was developing of expanding intervals - we begin on Db and we eventually open up before returning to Db. On the return, however, the Db sounds different, not like a tonic, more like a Neopolitan, but C doesn't sound like a tonic either move like a seventh. Subtle.

Divertimento No. 5 (for violin) (1956): No recording or score available.

Three Pieces (for trombone) (1957): More focused in pitch content than, I think, any of the other of these solo studies. The trombone has great qualities for this sort of sound which are exploited in the first movement much more than the other two. Consider the first movement, ABA effectively, with the A sections basically around a single pitch - is it Ab (I'd have to look again at the score) - that becomes extended through the use of glissandi in the B. The glissandi seem forced, somehow. The other two movements extend this pitch-centrism somewhat.

Rucke di guck (1957): Duet for piccolo and clarinet. Essesntially ogranizes the expanding interval concept on two instruments. This allows us to hear the fundamental pitch much more strongly and to allow for the other pitches to open up around them, we have a single line through two instruments and in two pitches - a complex pitch if you will. Otherwise forgetable.

I presagi (1958): In three movements for an ensemble of brass with percussion it is said to represent, like Yamaon before (and Ecuatorial by Varese before before) and Uaxuctum after the destruction of a Mayan city. The last movement provides that destruction with powerful explosion of percussion. The movements prior have some nice focus on single pitches and the complex monophony that I mention in regard to Rucke di guck. I'm intrigued by the use of the wind machine which leads me to believe this is, I shudder to use the wor, programmatic.

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11 April 2007

Scelsi: Various

After some chiding by Mika Pelo, I've returned to this posting. What follows are some notes, really, only notes, on my ongoing exploration of Scelsi.

Hyxos (1955): A beautiful piece for alto flute and percussion (1 playing 2 gongs and a cowbell). In 3 movements, sets up a meditative mood and manages to sustin it throughout its duration. Somewhat "Japanese" in flavor, but without seeming particularly derivative. Unlike any of the other works from this period of which I am so far aware.

Four Pieces for Trumpet (1956): Four pieces for trumpet, another in the series. Not memorable.

Three Pieces for Soprano Saxophone or Bass Trumpet (1956); Perhaps the finest of these "pezzi" for solo instruments and the soprano saxophone is the right choice. Essentially, Scelsi limits himself to the pitches of a fundamental chord for each piece and then plays around with pitches that are neighbors to these fundamental pitches. So in the first, based around D, we hear a lot of F#, C and A and Bb in the middle part of this first movement there is more whole-tone ish playing around. The second movement begins with a feignt we think F minor-ish, but eventually we find these to be the neighbors/sevenths to a G minor-ish area.

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30 March 2007

Scelsi: Various

More from my ongoing listening and playing of the music of Scelsi.

Three Studies for Eb Clarinet (1954): Not a very impressive work for Eb Clarinet - basically it’s a trascription of Scelsi fooling around around certain particular pitches, twiddling nervously one might think, there is always though a sense of direction, ifnot of reason behind particular pitches. Again no rests, no respite from the constant note flux.

Divertimento No. 2 (for violin) (1954): I looked at this on the piano as there is no recording available. After playing through it, it becomes clear why this is the case. This is not an entirely satisfying piece, harmonically, melodically or idea-wise, and it seems to be quite challenging to actualy play. It ends with this very strange almost diatonic bit that sounds like a Venetian carnival song played at breakneck speed. The remainder of the four movement work is more in keeping witht he angular atonal Scelsi of the 4 Poems and before than the quasi-modal Scelsi whose image is put forth to represent the composer.

Yamaon (1954): For Bass voice and a handful of Bass instruments this is a striking, powerful evocation, using (like Varese) a Mayan text about a destruction of the city - O those Mayans! - however, it seems the vocal part is primarily phonetic. The ensemble is a fascinating one deep and dark. The liner notes of the Kairos recording speak - quoting Benjamin - of the instruments gradually appropriating the music of the soloists through mimesis, which I think is putting far too much thought onto this. More likely Scelsi is trying to evoke some sort of theosophically-influenced vision of the east through mimesis himself of what few recordings he was able to get his hands on.

Action Music (for piano) (1955): A new way of looking at the piano, though not particularly an interesting way nor one that Scelsi really does interesting things with and in fact not really so new - recall that Henry Cowell was doing such things almost twenty years prior. In many movements and burdened with a cumbersome notation this is almost entirely in clusters and intended to be played with the palms or the fists. The end result is a lot of baging and an over-reliance on pentatonics - resulting obviously from the clusters of black notes. Not worth the effort that would go into learning it.

Divertimento No. 3 (for violin) (1955): This is the only of these divertimentos that is recorded. Less single note-y than his other solo works, (Preghiera, Pwyll, etc.) But as with them without any seeming overwhelming structural focus. In four relatively brief movements dealing basically in different styles of articulation, II is legato-ish, another is more martellato, another more lyrical and neoclassical. None that interesting.

Divertimento No. 4 (for violin) (1955): Much more Scelsi-like and with the exception of the first movement much more interesting, not so much ramblings as Divertimento 2, instead the pitch-centered works that are the image of Scelsi - ends with a curious G minor bit. I'm surprised #3 is recorded but not this one. It seems these divertimentos in a way are to the violin what the Suites are to the piano - and these various other pieces are to various other instruments.

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06 March 2007


I had a at a certain point decided to look into the music of the Italian "mystical" composer Giacinto Scelsi, whose later works, particularly Anahit, I really admired. I dragged up a listing of his works and began collecting albums and began as is my wont at the beginning. I slogged through the many, I repeat, many early piano works - all quite large and unwieldy, some vey rewarding to play on the piano, others not rewarding at all and have now reached into what some refer to as his Second Period when he began to focus on so-called "one-note" music. After his explorations of the piano come a series of explorations for solo instrument or duo. My notes on the earlier pieces follow below:

1929: Chemin du coeur: Unavailable
1929: Rotative: Unavailable
1930-40: 40 Preludes for piano: Unavailable
1930-40: 6 Pieces from "Paralipomeni": Unavailable
1932: Dialogo: Unavailable
1932: Sinfonietta: Unavailable
1933: Tre canti di primavera: Unavailable
1933: L'amour et le crane: Unavailable
1933: Tre canti: Unavailable
1934: Suite No. 2 (for piano)
1934: Toccata (for piano): Unavailable
1934: Poems (for piano): Unavailable
1934: Sonata Vn. Pno.: Unavailable
1934: Concertino piano and orch: Unavailable
1935: Suite No. 5 (for piano)
1936: Trio No. 1: Unavailable
1936: Preludio, Ariosa e Fuga: Unavailable
1937: Perdus (voice and piano)

1936/9: Four poems: First is quite nice.

1938: Suite No. 6 "I Capricci di Ty" (for piano)
1939: Suite No. 7 (for piano)

1939: Hispania: My recollection is that this was not one of his better moments

1939: Sonata No. 2 (for piano)

1939: Sonata No. 3 (for piano): Quite nice as far as these go. The opening two movements have this sort of searching quality, searching through hamronic fields that I find interesting.

1939: Trio No. 2: Unavailable
1936/40: 24 Preludes: Unavailable
1940: Variations (for piano): Unavailable
1940: Variations and Fugue (for piano): Unavailable

1939?: Sonata No. 4 (for piano):A little bit more harmonic than some of the other really crappy piano music of Scelsi. I have a hard time here with the difference between improvising and composing. It seems that these piano works especially need a lot of editing.

1943: Ballata (for cello and piano): Unavailable

1944: String Quartet No. 1: Very long, some good moments. I listened to this long before I started taking notes.

1945: Introduction and Fugue: Unavailable
1948: La Nascita del Verbo: Unavailable
1950: Trio (vib., mar., perc.): Unavailable though a recording does exist

1952: Suite No. 8 "Bot-Ba" (for piano):Scelsi's orientalism is here apaprent in the "gong" notes, in the clamorous notes. This is though one of the better suites, along with suite 3. He does manage quite well to create a powerful twinkling effect on the piano through tremolo which might be good to reflect on in my own work.

1953: Quattro Illustrazioni (for piano): These are four illustrations from the life of Vishnu. Scelsi has found his niche now, though the piece is somewhat forgetable.

1953: Cinque incantesimi (for piano): On reflection, I have a hard time differentiating this from the others. It is more played, I imagine because it is shorter.

1953: Suite No. 9 "Ttai" (for piano): Another suite, on recollection one of the better ones.

1953: Piccola suite (for flute and clarinet): Here is the beginning of a number of solo and duo works for winds that explore one or two pitches with a bit or ornamentation, not developed really seemingly mere experiments.

1953: Quays (flute): Again an experiment for solo flute.

1954: Suite No. 10 "Ka" (for piano): A better one of the suites, developed, actually there are some very nice movements in it particularly is it the 6th which uses F and C augmented with a Db throughout. The last is not very successful, but really that's the only one. I was never all that pleased with these piano suites, with few exceptions, but this one I could actually live with.

1954: Pwyll (for flute): Experiment for solo flute, success depends on the interpreter.

1954: Preghiera per un ombra (Eb Clarinet): It is hard to distinguish these various pieces for solo instruments. All focus around several pitches have constant or near constant activity with various modal and/or "exotic" grace note figurations. This for Eb clarinet is the same - quasi-tonal with figurations leading up to or around important pitches scalar activity on the deeper level. In three sections, roughly, ending with longer notes. Very few rests.

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