Scelsi, Giacinto (actually, Conte Giacinto Scelsi di Valva)

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Scelsi, Giacinto (actually, Conte Giacinto Scelsi di Valva)

Scelsi, Giacinto (actually, Conte Giacinto Scelsi di Valva ), remarkable Italian composer; b. La Spezia, Jan. 8, 1905; d. Rome, Aug. 9, 1988. He was descended from a family of the nobility. He received some guidance in harmony from Giacinto Sallustio; after studies with Egon Koehler in Geneva, he completed his formal training with Walter Klein in Vienna (1935–36), where he became interested in the Schoen-bergian method of writing music outside the bounds of traditional tonality; at the same time, he became deeply immersed in the study of the musical philosophy of the East, in which the scales and rhythms are perceived as functional elements of the human psyche. As a result of these multifarious absorptions of ostensibly incompatible ingredients, Scelsi formulated a style of composition that is synthetic in its sources and pragmatic in its artistic materialization. His works began to have a considerable number of performances in Italy and elsewhere, most particularly in the U.S. A curious polemical development arose after his death, when an Italian musician named Vieri Tosatti publ, a sensational article in the Giornale della Musica, declaring “I was Giacinto Scelsi.” He claimed that Scelsi used to send him thematic sections of unfinished compositions, usually in the 12-tone system, for development and completion, using him as a ghostwriter. So many of such “improvisations” did Scelsi send to Tosatti that the latter had 2 other musicians to serve as secondary “ghosts,” who, in turn, comfirmed their participation in this peculiar transaction. The matter finally got to the court of public opinion, where it was decided that the works were genuine compositions by Scelsi, who improvised them on his electric piano, and merely ed. for better effect by secondary arrangers.


orch.: Rotative for 3 Pianos, Winds, and Percussion (1930); Rapsodia romantica (1931); Sinfonietta (1932); Preludio e fuga (1938); Ballata for Cello and Orch. (1945); Quattro pezzi (su una nota sola) for Chamber Orch. (1959); Hurqualia (1960); Aiôn (1961); Chukrum for Strings (1963); Hymnos for Organ and 2 Orchs. (1963); Anagamin for 12 Strings (1965); Anahit for Violin and 18 Instruments (1965); Ohoi for 16 Strings (1966); Natura renovatur for 11 Strings (1967). chamber: 4 string quartets (1944, 1961, 1963, 1964); 5 divertimenti for Violin (1952, 1954, 1955, 1955, 1956); Suite for Flute and Clarinet (1953); Preghiera per un’ombra for Clarinet (1954); Pwyll for Flute (1954); Tre studi for Clarinet (1954); Coelocanth for Viola (1955); Hykos for Flute and Percussion (1955); Ixor for Clarinet or Soprano Saxophone (1956); Quattro pezzi for Horn (1956); Quattro pezzi for Trumpet (1956); Tre pezzi for Soprano Saxophone or Bass Trumpet (1956); Rucke di Guck for Piccolo and Oboe (1957); Tre pezzi for Trombone (1957); Trilogy for Cello (1957–65); Elegia per Ty for Viola and Double Bass (1958); I presagi for 10 Instruments (1958); Trio for Violin, Viola, and Cello (1958); Kya for Clarinet and 7 Instruments (1959); Xnoybis for Violin (1964); Duo for Violin and Cello (1965); Ko-Lho for Flute and Clarinet (1966); Ko-Tha for Guitar and Percussion (1967); Okanagon for Harp, Tam-tam, and Double Bass (1968); Praham II for 9 Instruments (1973); En maintenant, c’est à vous de jouer for Cello and Double Bass (1974); Voyages for Cello (1974); Dharana for Double Bass and Cello (1975); Kshara for 2 Double Basses (1975). Piano: 11 suites (c. 1929–56); 6 pièces (1930–40); 4 poems (1936–39); 24 Préludes (1936–40); Hispania (1939); 4 sonatas (n.d., 1939, 1939, 1941); Quattro illustrazioni (1953); Cinque incantesimi (1953); Action music (1955); Aitsi for Amplified Piano (1974). vocal: Perdus for Woman’s Voice and Piano (1937); La Nascita del verbo for Chorus and Orch. (1948; Brussels, June 28, 1950); Yantaon for Bass and 5 Instruments (1954–58); Tre canti popolari for Chorus (1958); Tre canti sacri for Chorus (1958); Hô for Soprano (1960); Wo-Ma for Bass (1960); Khoom for Soprano and 6 Instruments (1962); Lilitu for Woman’s Voice (1962); Taiagaru for Soprano (1962); Yliam for Women’s Chorus (1964); Uaxuctum for Chorus and Orch. (1966); TKRDG for 6 Men’s Voices, Amplified Guitar, and 2 Percussionists (1968); Konx-om-pax for Chorus and Orch. (1969); Ogloud-oglou for Voice and Percussion (1969); 3 Latin Prayers for Man’s or Woman’s Voice or Chorus (1970); Pranam I for Voice and 12 Instruments (1972); Canti del capricorno for Woman’s Voice, Another Voice, and Instruments (1972–73); Sauh I and II for 2 Women’s Voices or Voice and Tape (1973); Manto per quattro for Voice, Flute, Trombone, and Cello (1974); Pfhal for Chorus and Orch. (1974); Litanie for 2 Women’s Voices or Woman’s Voice and Tape (1975); Maknongan for Bass (1976).


A. Cremonese, G. S.: Prassi compositiva e riflessione teorica fino alla metà anni ’40 (Palermo, 1992); K. Angermann, ed., Symposium G. S. (Hofheim, 1993).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire