Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988) is one of the great originals of
the century, and one of my favourite composers. I began writing about him
in the early 1980s, and visited him in Rome during 1986. In 1987 first
performances of Scelsi's music from the 50's made him suddenly famous at
the end of his life, and Accord pioneered the recording of his major
orchestral works a decade ago, soon after his death. They are astonishing,
and only two of them have yet been performed in UK, only last year, and in
semi-private at the BBC's London studio. I recommend one of Accord's best
Scelsi CDs below (I hope they are still available).
Vocal music is central in Scelsi's explorations, and his work on 'directed
improvisation' with the Japanese soprano Michiko Hirayama led to the solo
Canti di Capricorno and these choral works of 1958-73, Scelsi's most
important creative period. They reflect his dual religious and experimental
preoccupations. Musically, there is a synthesis between European tonal and
contrapuntal music with the traditional Japanese fluctuation of timbre and
pitch. He enriches his music with a profusion of singing methods and changing
vocal colours (long before Stockhausen's Stimmung) with variable vibrato,
glissandi, trills, glottal stops and blowing.
The achievement of James Wood's singers (many of them non-professional) in
mastering this strange and wonderful music cannot be overestimated. The recording
followed a New Voices Festival in France given in September 1998, celebrating
the 10th anniversary of Scelsi's death.
There are excellent notes by Marc Tessier, and this indispensable CD is the
first complete recording of this important oeuvre.
Peter Grahame Wolf
Scelsi Aion, Pfhat and Konx-Om-Pax, Cracow Philharmonic
cond. Wyttenbach, Accord 200402
Buy now from
(q.v. my discussion of Pfhat in relation to Apeiron by Posadas in
my review of Musica99
at Strasbourg, Seen&Heard