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Giacinto Scelsi

Hurqualia (1960)

Scelsi's Third Period begins with the great orchestral masterpiece, Hurqualia. The work is in four movements, lasting under eighteen minutes, and scored for piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, two trombones, two tubas, timpani, four percussionists, strings excluding violins, and three sets of amplified instruments: microphone one: oboe, English horn, Eb clarinet; microphone two: horn, tenor saxophone, musical saw, viola, double bass; microphone three: two trumpets, trombone. Hurqualia was not performed until June 18th, 1986 at the Holland Festival in Amsterdam directed by Arturo Tamayo - Scelsi attended every rehearsal.

It has been impossible to trace the origin of the term 'Hurqualia' to this point; a Sanskrit origin was conjectured, but now abandoned. It would seem to have some sort of dramatic (or perhaps rhythmic) connotation - Hurqualia is a tensely dramatic epic in sound. As opposed to the Quattro Pezzi of the previous year, intervals play a definite role here, particularly the third: hence there are harmonic references, though true harmony has to wait until Scelsi's later orchestral music. Still there is an underlying unity of sound, at times admitting contrasts contained therein. Hurqualia reaches a new level of rhythmic sophistication - Harry Halbriech likes to take every opportunity to compare Scelsi's massive sound and seemingly immense lapses of time with Bruckner, though this comparison is quite overdone by the second mention of Bruckner's 9th Symphony. Scelsi's rhythmic constructions emerge out of breathing rhythm, even when quite intense; and the sophistication with which he constructs episodes outside of time and subtle time relationships within the piece is far beyond Bruckner. The closest comparison is with the extreme rhythmic complexity of South Indian Carnatic music. So, in Hurqualia we have a massive (despite its length) orchestral masterpiece, an epic in sound. It is subtitled simply as "A Different Realm" and one could probably read into it various dramatic interpretations: here the epic of choice will be the Ramayana, the world's leading epic.

The first movement is a sort of overture, beginning with low and quiet sounds reminiscent of the syllable 'om', and gradually building into a massive fanfare of foreboding on brass and percussion. The world is in chaos as the Demon King is extending his power - yet there is a glimmer of hope expressed by the woodwinds as it is decided that the great god Vishnu will descend to earth in the guise of the Prince Rama to defeat the Demon. The fanfare continues, ending abruptly to start the story in the next movement.

The second movement is the beginning of the epic proper: Rama and his wife Sita leave for the wilderness, Rama is tricked into leaving Sita alone for a moment at which time she is kidnapped by the demons; the movement ends in quiet, tense realization of this event, hanging on the major second.

The mysterious and contemplative third movement is a time of gathering information for Rama and forming alliances; Sita's whereabouts are discovered and her serenity is played on flutes. Overall, though, there is an extreme fatalism about the horrible battle which lies ahead, and of course Rama knew all that would come to pass before he was even born.

The fourth movement gradually gains momentum, complete with a march to battle starting pizzicato on the strings, and the first part ends with a composed confidence resting on Rama's incredible prowess as the battle proper is about to begin. The second part of the fourth movement is the battle, complete with intense percussive outbursts and brass fanfares - it ends with the total defeat of the demons, and a view of the horrible carnage. This rather far-flung interpretation might act to undermine the absolute quality and unity of thought behind Hurqualia, however it is included simply as an entrance which one might take into this 'different realm' which certainly admits of an epic interpretation of one kind or another. Regarding the instruments which are provided with specific amplification, it is unclear from the recording exactly what role they play: whether they are meant to represent characters, or simply to be heard above the din of brass and percussion.

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