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Giacinto Scelsi

Quattro Illustrazioni (1953)

The tightest (comprised of only four movements, compared to the nine of Suite No. 9, totaling under fifteen minutes in length) and most masterful of this piano music is undoubtedly the Quattro Illustrazioni which is for all practical purposes a classical sonata. Here the four illustrations depict four metamorphoses (or avataras) of the Indian deity Vishnu. This is Scelsi's first direct reference to Indian mythology in his music - something which was to continue throughout his output. Scelsi never uses Indian musical forms or instruments, but there is definitely an eastern current underlying the remainder of his music; here it asserts itself in a subtle and powerful use of rhythm built from ostinato notes and into chords.

The opening movement 'Shesha' shows Vishnu asleep as the body of the universe, and the opening chords are to form the basis for the whole work. The second movement 'Varaha' is a powerful and destructive scherzo-style movement depicting Vishnu as a wild boar ravaging the world. This leads to the majestic 'Rama' movement and then to the concluding meditative 'Krishna.'

This "sonata" shows much of Scelsi's mature style: an eastern mystic awareness (and it should be noted that in Indian tradition, sound or Nada-Brahma is the underlying basis of the universe) brought into western language on western instruments (though later incorporating less traditional instruments and combinations) and written in classical sequences. Later this is to combine with a profound feeling for the interior of sound and with it the use of microtones and glissandi (which again play an important role in Indian vocal music) providing even more violent and energetic outbursts surrounded by sublime harmony.

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

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