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Giacinto Scelsi

Chukrum (1963)

Chukrum seems to have been first performed in connection with preparing Accord's set of Scelsi's orchestral music. It is in four movements, lasting under eighteen minutes, and in many ways is conceived as a string quartet written for extended forces - and as such would be Scelsi's only late quartet in four movements. Chukrum is written for a full-sized string orchestra, and since it was prior to his employment of string by string notation, the complexity of sound is likely quite similar to the later pieces for smaller forces, discussed above. The origin of the word Chukrum is completely unknown at this point (though the nature of the piece leads me to associate it with 'kernel' or 'fulcrum' and seek the origin in the middle-east.) The piece presents a distilled microcosm of Scelsi's interior harmony: the basic referent is A major, though there is never any vertical harmonic writing.

The first and fourth movements are the longest of the set: the first is a strict palindrome beginning on A and reaching to the fifth, complete with dramatic rhythmic elements; the fourth movement is a repetition and recapitulation of the first, not exactly the same, in a way such that an asymmetric form is introduced. The second movement is limited almost entirely to the major third, with a luminous rise to the fifth in its last moments; it contains several percussive effects, interspersed with ethereal microtonal and resonant writing. The third movement, the shortest of the four, is a violent rhythmic surge from the minor third to the fourth, largely obliterating the preceding harmonic references, and ending in an emphatic rhythmic gesture. The varied repetition of the opening in the fourth movement lends a peculiar re-entrant effect (already begun with the strict palindromic form of the first movement) to the piece: on repeated listening it seems to close in on itself, a procedure which actually heightens the timeless quality of this singular work, and is provided a precedent by Scelsi's previous redefinition of material in compositions such as the first and second quartets. In addition, the large group of strings gives at times an overwhelming, massive intensity of sound.

Chukrum really stands alone in Scelsi's output, an encapsulation of much of his sense of harmonic form - though neglecting vertical writing - but of course including his handling of microtones, his strong sense of rhythm, and his ability and desire to alter his material at the conclusion of a piece.

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