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Giacinto Scelsi

Annotated Discography

Giacinto Scelsi

Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988) had a creative life lasting fifty-three years during which he composed a huge assortment of pieces in two distinct styles, the last of which has been divided into four phases. Much of his musical contribution consists of a re-intensification of chamber music – however, his series of orchestral works is among his most impressive testimony. Scelsi developed a style in which microtonal writing not only found a place, but formed the core of his expression. He successfully combined musical styles from around the world, incorporating them into his personal view of the mystical power of sound. It should be apparent from this article that the traditional language of music theory is largely inadequate for describing Scelsi's music; at the very least, these ideas must be modified into an entirely different context. I have tried to refrain from engaging in continual flowery epithets, though this has not always been successful: words are really foreign to this music, and in describing my own feelings for it I have sometimes relied on the vaguest of mystical descriptions – hopefully this will serve to prompt other listeners to discover these pieces for themselves. Scelsi's influence on contemporary music is only beginning, and the 3-CD set of orchestral music from Accord marks the major inauguration of this era. This series is one of the most important recording projects of our time. The series is comprised of:

Disc 1: Aion, Pfhat, Konx-Om-Pax
Disc 2: Quattro Pezzi, Anahit, Uaxuctum
Disc 3: Hurqualia, Hymnos, Chukrum

which belong to Scelsi's later phase, and attest to a supreme contribution in redefining classical music. The music is masterfully performed by the Radio-Television Orchestra and Choir of Krakow, directed by Jürg Wyttenbach. Most of these works had to wait until the late-80s for a first performance, though Scelsi was still able to attend before passing away on August 9, 1988.

The placement of these works within Scelsi's large output can be divided into four periods – such a distinction is, of course, in some ways arbitrary; however, the nature of the music lends itself well to this division and in particular it is important to know the break between the first and second groups. In fact, Scelsi's music in his Second Period represents a dramatic departure from the trends of his time and is almost completely unconnected with the more traditional music of his First Period; some ideas do continue intact, such as his sense of form, but on the whole his output could easily (assuming the daunting technical skill involved, of course!) have been written by two different composers. Scelsi was to state with some pride that by the early-50s he had forgotten everything he ever knew about music.

The three discs were recorded in 1988, 1989 and 1990 – shortly following Scelsi's death – and then packaged as a set. The first disc [Aion (1961), Pfhat (1974), Konx-Om-Pax (1969)] is the most powerful and characteristic of the set. Here we find Scelsi's most abstract and symphonic work, followed by his most singular and specific, followed by his most majestic and effective. Starting with the awesome rhythmic power of the first movement of Aion, the disc ends in the peaceful triumph of the final om-ing of Konx-Om-Pax, an incredible journey in sound. The second disc [Quattro Pezzi (1959), Anahit (1965), Uaxuctum (1966)] is the most varied and experimental of the set. It begins with Scelsi's most revolutionary exploration of the power of a single sound – the piece which unlocks his great series of masterpieces during the 1960s, followed by his most beautifully lyrical orchestral work, and climaxing in the incredible mystic drama of his most complex and difficult creation. Finally, the third disc [Hurqualia (1960), Hymnos (1963), Chukrum (1963)] fills out the set. It begins with the epic return to full orchestra in Hurqualia, followed by the healing return to harmony in Hymnos, and ends the entire set with the symphonic 'quartet' Chukrum presenting all aspects of his mature style. Scelsi's music for orchestra is his supreme contribution to the most characteristic genre of western classical music – these are pieces which will be heralded far into the future of music.

The following list includes all CDs of music by Giacinto Scelsi of which I am aware and which are exclusively of music by Scelsi.

String Quartet No. 1 (1944)
String Trio (1958)
String Quartet No. 2 (1961)
Khoom (1962) with Michiko Hirayama (voice), Frank Lloyd (horn), Maurizio Ben Omar (percussion)
String Quartet No. 3 (1963)
String Quartet No. 4 (1964)
String Quartet No. 5 (1985)
Arditti Quartet
Salabert 8904-5
Canti del Capricorno (1962-72)
Michiko Hirayama
Wergo 60127-50
Triphon (1956)
Dithome (1957)
Ygghur (1961/65)
Ko-Tha (1967/78)
Francis Marie Uitti (cello)
Etcetera KTC1136
Kya (clarinet & 7 instruments; 1959) with Remi Lerner
Ixor (oboe; 1956)
Ko Lho (flute & clarinet; 1966)
Maknongan (bassoon; 1976)
Fleuve magique (cello; 1974)
Arc en ciel (two violins; 1973)
Pwyll (flute; 1954)
Pranam II (small ensemble; 1973)
Quattro Pezzi per trompette (1956)
Aitsi (prepared piano; 1974)
Poeme pour piano no. 2 (1939)
Ensemble 2E2M, Paul Mefano
Adda 581189
Triphon (1956) with David Simpson (cello)
Three Latin Prayers (1974) with John Patrick Thomas (countertenor)
Antifona (tenor solo & chorus; 1970)
Pranam II (1973)
In Nomine Lucis I & IV (1974) with Lundquist (organ)
Tre Canti Sacre (chorus; 1958)
FY 119
Suites Nos. 9 & 10 (1953, 1954)
Marianne Schroeder (piano)
Hat Hut Art 6006
Suites Nos. 8 & 9 (1952, 1953)
Werner Bartschi (piano)
Accord 200802
Quattro Illustrazioni (piano; 1953)
Xnoybis (violin; 1964)
Cinque Incantesimi (piano; 1953)
Duo pour violon et violoncelle (1965)
Suzanne Fournier (piano), Carmen Fournier (violin), David Simpson (cello)
Accord 200742
Elegia per Ty (viola & cello; 1958/66)
Divertimento No. 3 (violin; 1955)
L'ame ailee (violin; 1973)
L'ame ouverte (violin; 1973)
Coelocanth (viola; 1955)
Trio a cordes (1958)
Robert Zimansky (violin), Christoph Schiller (viola), Patrick Demenga (cello)
Accord 200622
Aion (orchestra; 1961)
Pfhat (orchestra & chorus; 1974)
Konx-Om-Pax (orchestra & chorus; 1969)
Accord 200402
Quattro Pezzi per orchestra (1959)
Anahit (violin & orchestra; 1965) with Carmen Fournier
Uaxuctum (vocal soloists, chorus & orchestra; 1966)
Accord 200612
Hurqualia (orchestra; 1960)
Hymnos (orchestra; 1963)
Chukrum (string orchestra; 1963)
Accord 201112
[The previous three orchestral CDs as a set]
Krakow Radio-Television Orchestra & Krakow Philharmonic Choir/Jürg Wyttenbach
Accord 201692
Reissued on Musicdisc

Edited from materials originally posted to the Internet in 1992 by Todd McComb
Copyright © 1992-2000, Todd Michel McComb.