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Sylvano Bussotti

Sylvano Bussotti

Sylvano Bussotti (born 1931), an Italian avant-garde composer, was one of the most audacious of the experimental composers of his generation. His ability to discover new sounds in conventional instruments was unsurpassed.

Sylvano Bussotti was born in Florence and received his early education there. Between 1941 and 1948 he studied at the Florence Conservatory, and in 1957 he became a student of Max Deutsch, a disciple of Arnold Schoenberg, in Paris. At the same time Bussotti studied painting and became acquainted with the principles of abstract expressionism and the concepts of aleatory (or "chance") music championed by John Cage and others.

In abstract expressionist painting a great deal was left to chance. The painter worked without a preconceived plan or drawing and sometimes dripped or slashed paint on his canvas. In the corresponding movement in music, composers believed that the traditional composer-performer relationship, in which the composer "controls" performance through the exactitude of his notation, should be changed. Instead, they held that the composer should establish only certain general situations and then allow the performer great liberty in fulfilling them.

As a result, traditional notation had to be abandoned because it was too precise. Probably because of his training as a painter, Bussotti was very ingenious in devising new notation. His scores often have no staffs, clefs, notes, or anything resembling conventional music. Instead, there are doodles, blots, or intricate line drawings. In his Five Pieces for David Tudor (1959) the score looks like Rorschach ink-blots; the performer is asked to approximate the shapes in sound. Naturally, no two performances, even by the same pianist, will ever be the same. In these pieces Bussotti extends normal piano technique in requiring that the fingernails be rattled against the keys and that the strings be plucked, hit by table-tennis balls, and rubbed.

In Frammento (1959), for soprano and piano, the singer intones a wide variety of fragmentary texts in several different languages while the piano punctuates with highly percussive sounds. At times, the singer sings directly onto the piano strings so as to make them vibrate sympathetically.

Bussotti, like other avant-garde composers of his generation, was interested in multimedia theatrical performances. His "opera" Passion, according to Sade was presented in Sweden in 1968. Without a plot and without characterization in the usual sense, it is in the tradition of the theater of the absurd. Another piece, written in the same year, is called Instrumental Theater. When the curtain opens, a piano, a harp, an electric organ, and a harpsichord are seen, along with a clothes rack on which there are numerous costumes. The performers change costumes from time to time, while projections are shown on the back wall of the stage, and tapes of distorted words and music are played. Here, too, every performance is different. Success depends on the ability of the performers to improvise and on the empathy of the audience.

Passion, according to Sade piqued Bussotti's interest in theater, which came increasingly to occupy his imagination in the 1970s. Turning his back on the radical experimentation that had marked his work in the 1960s, Bussotti began to incorporate more theatrical and operatic elements into his work. His Rara Requiem (1970) marked the beginning of this stylistic shift, which culminated in 1972 with Lorenzaccio, a virtuoso blending of dramatic genres most plainly influenced by 19th century grand opera. The work incorporates elements of ballet, film, spoken passages, and off-stage events into a seamless unity of which music is only one part. Eschewing experimentation for the craftsman's devices of the traditional theater, Bussotti manages to use all of the artistic tools at his disposal. As much a departure as it is, however, the composition's theme of memory and its quotation of the entirety of Rara Requiem as its fourth and fifth acts hearken back to earlier Bussotti works.

Bussotti continued to work with the techniques and eclectic mixing of styles perfected in Lorenzaccio for the remainder of the decade. He also found time for a wide range of academic and administrative commitments. In 1972 he traveled to Berlin on an award from the Deitscher Akademischer Austauschdienst. From 1971 to 1974 he was a professor of history of music drama at the L'Aquila Academy of Fine Arts and in 1974 held an open course in music analysis at the Milan Conservatory. In 1975, Bussotti was named artistic director of the Teatro La Fenice in Venice. Throughout this period he worked as director and designer on numerous stage works by himself and other composers. His major works during this period include the ballet, Bergkristall (1974), and the opera, Nottetempo (1976).

More recently, Bussotti has kept up his breakneck pace and astonishing command of genres. Il catalogo è questo is a cycle of symphonic movements for orchestra which the composer began working on the late 1970s. A series of operas centered around the character of Racine's Phèdre commenced with Le Racine (1980). Fedra (1988) transformed and expanded upon this piece, while L'inspirazione (1988) explores the theme of artistic creation, as its elderly protagonist oversees the production of a new opera in the year 2031.

Further Reading

Paul Henry Lang and Nathan Broder, eds., Contemporary Music in Europe: A Comprehensive Survey (1965), includes a short discussion on Bussotti and his work. An excellent background study is Joseph Machlis, Introduction to Contemporary Music (1961). A more recent work is A. Lucioli's Sylvano Bussotti (1988). A valuable essay on Bussotti's work, "'Auf der Suche nach der verloren Oper' Mozart's Musiktheater und sein Winfluss auf Luciano Berio und Sylvano Bussotti" appears in S. Mauser, Mozart in der Musik des 20. Jahrhunderts: Formen asthetischer und kompositionstechnischer Rezeption (1996) □

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Bussotti, Sylvano

Bussotti, Sylvano (b Florence, 1931). It. composer. Prizewinner at ISCM festival and Venice Biennale. Influenced by Webern and serialism, later by John Cage. Dir., Teatro La Fenice, Venice, 1975. Operas incl. Lorenzaccio (1972), Nottetempo (1976), La Racine (1980), L'Ispirazione (1988), and Fedra (1988). Other works incl.: La Passion selon Sade, vv., instr., narrator (1966); 5 Piano Pieces for David Tudor (1959); Torso, v. and orch. (1963); Rara Requiem (1969); Poesia di De Pisis, sop., orch. (1975). Some of these are in graphic score. Also a painter.

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Bussotti, Sylvano

Bussotti, Sylvano

Bussotti, Sylvano, important Italian composer, opera director, and stage designer; b. Florence, Oct. 1, 1931. He began violin lessons at a very early age and also took up painting while still a youth. At the age of 9, he entered the Florence Cons., where he was a student in harmony and counterpoint of Roberto Lupi and in piano of Dallapiccola. His training there was soon interrupted by World War II. After the War, he pursued composition study on his own (1949–56) before continuing his training in Paris with Max Deutsch (1956–58). He also attended courses in new music at Darmstadt (summers, 1958-61). In 1964-65 he was active in the U.S. on a Rockefeller Foundation grant. In 1972 he studied in Berlin under the auspices of the Deutscher Akademis-cher Austauschdienst. He taught at the Academy of Fine Arts in L’Aquila (1971–74), and then served as artistic director of the Teatro La Fenice in Venice (1975). He was artistic consultant to the Puccini Festival in Torre delLago (1979–81), and later its artistic director. From 1980 he taught at the Fiesole School of Music. He publ. I miei teatri: Diario segreto, diario pubblico, alcuni saggi (Palermo, 1981). Bussotti’s early interest in painting continued later in life; his visual works have been exhibited around the globe. As a composer, he found his exploration of serialism, indeterminacy, and other modern means of expression too restrictive. He thus charted a revolutionary course which led him to embrace an anarchistic aestheticism. In 1976 he established his own production company, “Bussottioperaballet,” which, from 1984 to 1992, operated asa festival in Genazzano. From his Lorenzaccio (1972), much of Bussotti’s energies have gone into operas, both his own (which often draw heavily upon earlier compositions) and the standard repertory, which he has explored as a director and stage designer in most luxurious terms. He has also continued to create films and to write poetry, and has elevated himself to Italian celebrity status through his flamboyant direction of the musical section of the Venice Biennale, of which his last, highly controversial term was 1991.

Works

DRAMATIC: Juvenilia, ballet (1951-53; Se-gromigno, Aug. 5, 1983); La Passion selon Sade, chamber mystery (Palermo, Sept. 5, 1965); Lorenzaccio, romantic melodrama (1968-72; Venice, Sept. 7, 1972); Raramente, choreographic mystery (Florence, Feb. 4, 1971); Bergkristall, ballet (1972-74; concert premiere, North German Radio, Hamburg, May 15, 1973; stage premiere, Rome, June 8, 197A); Syro-Sadun-Settimino, mon-odance (Royan, March 1974); Oggetto amato, dance piece (1975; Milan, April 7, 1976); Phaidra/Heliogabalus, ballet (1975-80; Turin, Feb. 15, 1981); Nottetempo, lyric drama (Milan, April 7, 1976); Le rarità’, potente, lyric representation (1976-78; Treviso, Oct. 12, 1979); Autotono, divertimento (1977; Treviso, Oct. 12, 1979); Le Racine, theater piece (Milan, Dec. 9, 1980); Miró, L’uccello luce, ballet-pantomime (Venice, Sept. 25, 1981); Cristallo di Rocca, ballet (Milan, June 10, 1983); Phèdre, lyric tragedy (Rome, April 19, 1988); L’Ispirazione, melodrama (Florence, May 25, 1988). orch.:...et due voci (1958–85); I semi di Gramsci, symphonic poem for String Quartet and Orch. (1962-71; Rome, April 22, 1972); Lorenzaccio Symphony I for Soprano and Orch. (Royan, March 28, 1974) and 77 (Rome, Dec. 17, 1978); II catalogo è questo I-IV (1976–88); Le bal Miró (1981; Rome, Dec. 20, 1986); Timpani (1985; Rome, Jan. 12, 1986); Nuit du faune, Concerti con figuro (1991). chamber:Breve for Ondes Martenot (1958–72); Phrase à trois for String Trio (1960); mit einem gewissen sprechenden Ausdruck for Chamber Orch. (1961–63); Fragmentations for Harp (1962); Rara (eco sierologico) for Violin, Viola, Cello, Double Bass, and Guitar (1964–67); Rara (dolce) for Flute and Mime (1966); Solo for Various Instrumental Combinations (1967; Danish Radio, Feb. 3, 1968); Marbre pour cordes for 11 Strings (London, Nov. 10, 1967); Ultima rara (pop song) for Solo Guitar or Guitar and 3 Speakers (1969); Quartetto Gramsci for String Quartet (1971; Siena, Aug. 26, 1974); Rondò di scena for 4 Flutes (1975); Ripetente for 8 Instrumentalists (Milan, Feb. 12, 1976); Gran Duo for Cello and Piano (1977–78); Passo d’uomo for Piccolo, Timpani, and Percussion (Rome, Dec. 17, 1978); Tramonto for Flute, Horn, and Clarinet (1978; L’Aquila, March 5, 1979); ”Dai, dimmi, sul” for 11 Instruments (1978); 3 Lovers’Ballet for Violin, Cello, and Piano (1978); Brutto, ignudo for Bass Clarinet (1979); Accademia for Flute and Piano (1980; Fiesole, June 22, 1981); Nudo disteso for Viola (1980); Naked Angel Face for Double Bass (Pisa, Nov. 13, 1982); La vergine ispirata for Harp-sichord and Another Harmony Instrument (1982; Paris, March 21, 1983); Due concertanti I for Piccolo and Double Bass (1983); Qu’un corps défiguré for Viola, Oboe, Bassoon, Trombone, and Percussion (Rome, June 14, 1986); Concerto a L’Aquila for Piano and 9 Instruments (London, July 5, 1986); Andante favorito for String Quartet (1988).piano:La Recherche de bal perdu (1953–57); Musica per amici (1957; rev. 1971); Piano Pieces for David Tudor (1959); Pour clavier (1961); Tableaux vivants for 2 Pianos (1964); Foglio d’album (1970); Novelletta (1972–73); Brillante (1975); Olof Palme (1987).vocal:Nympheo for Voices and Instruments (1937–84); Autunno for 4 Voices (1950–53); Poesia di depisis for Soprano and 15 Instruments (1954; Siena, Aug 27, 1975); Nottetempo con lo scherzo e una rosa for Voice and Chamber Orch. (1954–57); El carbonero for 5 Voices (1957); Due voci for Soprano, Ondes Martenot, and Orch. (1958); Pièces de chair II for Baritone, Woman’s Voice, Piano, and Instruments (1958-60; Paris, Oct. 22, 1970); Torso (Letture di Braibanti) for Voice and Orch. (1960–63); Memoria for Voices and Orch. (1962); Siciliano for 12 Men’s Voices (1962); II nudo for Voice and 5 Instruments (1963); ”Extraits de concert” for Voice and Ensemble (1965; Milan, Feb. 28, 1966); Cinque frammenti all’Italia for Mixed Voices and Chorus (1967-68; Venice, Sept. 14, 1968); Julio Organum Julii for Reciter and Organ (1968); The Rara Requiem for Vocal Group, Chorus, Guitar, Cello, Wind Orch., Piano, Harp, and Percussion (Venice, Sept. 13, 1969; rev. 1970); Aria di Mara for Soprano and Orch. (Milan, July 9, 1973); Lachrimae for Voices (1978); Citazione con quartina per Maurice for Baritone and Piano (1981); In memoriam (Cathy Berberian) for Voice, Flute, Viola, and Piano (Genazzano, Sept. 8, 1984); Pianino for Boy’s Voice and Piano (1987); Lingue ignote for Bass and 7 Instruments (1993–94); Furioso for Mezzo-soprano and Orch. (Vienna, May 28, 1994); Unerbittliches Denkgesetz for Bass, Flute, Trumpet, and Piano (Rome, Jan. 20, 1994).

Bibliography

F. Degrada, S. B. e il suo teatrale (Milan, 1976); M. Bucci, L’opera di S. B.(Florence, 1988).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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