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Giacinto Scelsi

Pfhat (1974)

Scelsi's his final piece for large orchestra, again including chorus & organ and excluding violins, is Pfhat. Pfhat was premiered by Jürg Wyttenbach and the Hessian Radio Orchestra in Frankfurt on February 6th, 1986. It is in four movements, totaling under nine minutes. The subtitle reads: "A flash… and the sky opened!" and the title is apparently chosen for its onomatopoeic quality. This is an extremely concise depiction of mystical revelation for full orchestra, divided into four brief movements each of which presents a single gesture in sound.

The first movement is based on the choir's breathing sounds, supported by only thirteen instruments. Here we have the emergence of sound from immobility, leading into an 'om'-ing from the tubas, and anticipating the upcoming surge of power. The very short second movement consists of a sudden ringing cluster for full orchestra and chorus, gradually fading away. The slow third movement begins with a quiet fanfare punctuated by ringing intervals, and gradually builds with the om-ing and sighing of the chorus into a large complex of sound elaborating a single note. The eerie fourth movement presents us with revelation from the open sky: the piccolo, flute, celesta, piano and organ play a very high ostinato on a semi-tone while the rest of the orchestra and chorus quickly ring high-pitched dinner bells. The glittering, crystalline and static sound is certainly unique in the symphonic literature. This work (and the last movement in particular!) is Scelsi's most singular attempt at ushering the listener into his sound universe. The succession of movements is highly dramatic, and listening to Pfhat for the first time is certain to be one of one's most intense listening experiences.

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

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