Among wind instruments, the clarinet is certainly one of the most interesting for contemporary composers. It has a particularly extended range; its various registers have timbral qualities of their own; it allows for multiple experimental techniques to be created, tested and employed; one might even say that it possesses the flute’s agility, the oboe’s intensity, the bassoon’s mellow tone.
The clarinet has therefore represented a true laboratory where many of the greatest composers in today’s (and yesterday’s) musical scene have found new instrumental solutions, but also a source of inspiration which in turn influenced the composers’ overall research.
This Da Vinci Classics album is a magnificent display of what a single instrument can do, in the hands of composers who knew it well and of a performer who is familiar with its most hidden secrets. The seven composers represented here are all Italian. They were born within the space of thirty years, between 1905 (Scelsi) and 1936 (Anzaghi); they can be said, thus, to represent an entire generation. Whilst they are all among the most important names of Italian twentieth century music, their fates have been very different as concerns popularity and fame. Moreover, they show the various facets of musical research in their era, demonstrating an “Italian path”, in a manner of speaking, through the complex waters of contemporary music. What connects all of their works together, in fact, is the attention to how technique becomes sound; to how the quest for innovative means of sound production can transform itself in a “spiritual” experience. Many of these composers were deeply interested in and fascinated by spirituality, in its various and at times conflicting forms – in some case, this took the form of a nihilistic denial of reality and of all transcendence. However, they were by no means indifferent to the spiritual, in their adhesion to or negation of religion. Whilst they did explore most of the fundamental languages of the musical avantgardes, they also constituted (with their differences and in the absence of an explicit sharing of values) an “Italian” school, inspired by many sources, but unidentifiable with any.
Giacinto Scelsi probably embodies this quest in a paradigmatic fashion. Born in an aristocratic family, he received an international education in the greatest European capitals. He befriended many of the leading figures of twentieth-century culture (including Jean Cocteau, Virginia Woolf, John Cage and others). He became very interested in the East, following a first journey in Egypt, and he practised and studied Eastern philosophies, religions and disciplines such as yoga and zen.
Scelsi’s first major success took place in 1931, when he was 26 and his Rotativa was performed to great acclaim in the famous Salle Pleyel in Paris, under the baton of Pierre Monteux. In spite of his sympathy for Eastern religions, he was also attentive to the Christian tradition, and themes from various religions recur in his oeuvre.
His technique for composing was certainly idiosyncratic. He was mainly driven by improvisation, which mirrored, in his opinion, the “passive” attitude preached by many Eastern philosophies. His improvisations were recorded on tapes, which were then entrusted to his collaborators, who transcribed them under his supervision. This unusual working practice elicited many perplexities by outside observers, and, alas, fostered a fiery polemic after Scelsi’s death. However, it represents probably the ideal approach for a composer entirely alien to mainstream culture. Scelsi’s originality did not help a fair recognition of his value, and only in the 1980s a series of monographic performances brought to light his true standing within the panorama of contemporary music.
The title Ixor indicates four pieces written by Scelsi, but only the first of them was accepted within his official catalogue. The title sounds exotic and/or religious, but in fact the composer did not reveal any hidden programme behind it. The musical material is derived from a wide ascending gesture, but Scelsi’s interest in experimenting with sound and timbre is revealed in his use of microtonality (an aspect on which he constantly focused) and key noises. As happens with many other works by Scelsi, at the piece’s core is the struggle between rest and movement; long repeated notes are juxtaposed to quick and fleeting passages.
Microtonality was also a main interest for Valentino Bucchi. Coming from a family of Florentine musicians, he studied in his city, among others with Luigi Dallapiccola and Vito Frazzi. He was particularly gifted also in the field of literature, becoming the musical critic of Florence’s main newspaper at the early age of 22. His activity extended to the areas of music management, with important roles in great musical institutions, and of pedagogy (where he taught at Conservatories and directed one of them). This intertwining of music and literature is evident also in his musical output, characterized by continuing experimentation but with a specific focus on the communicative dimension of music.
His Concerto per clarinetto solo was composed during a break he took in between two stages of the composition of Il Coccodrillo, one of his major works. It is a large-scale piece in four movements, distinct but also very unified. As the composer himself wrote, “all musical articulations are born from a nucleus of three characterizing intervals proposed at the beginning”. The composer acknowledged the utter complexity of the piece: he worked in close cooperation with a particularly gifted student of the Conservatory of Perugia, Ciro Scarponi, with whom he experimented many unusual techniques. Technique, however, is not the goal of this music: he aimed at a “fecund discourse”, which had not to be emptied by a self-referential “linguistic experience”, but rather aim at “grasping the real and finding some fundamental values again”.
Scarponi would also be the performer of Franco Donatoni’s Clair: the first movement of this diptych is dedicated to Giuseppe Garbarino, who taught in that same Conservatory of Perugia, whilst the second was offered to Scarponi himself.
Donatoni had studied in some of the greatest Conservatories in Italy, but was a restless musician who could not find his own voice until his maturity. He was continuingly unhappy with the teaching he received – even though this was provided by some of the greatest composers of the era – and he would describe in harsh and very critical terms his own output from his youthful years. In spite of this, or perhaps thanks to this, he became one of the most influential teachers in turn, forming a plethora of composers, conductors and performers.
Like Bucchi, he had also a very conspicuous activity as an author, writing several books of thoughts about music and of considerations on composition. His truest vein was perhaps found when he adhered to a nihilistic approach to music, resulting in an overall playfulness and lightness. “Negativity” (as theorized by St. John of the Cross, but without any mystical religiosity) became thus his key for accessing positive composition.
The two movements composing the first Clair and the piece called Clair II are very different from each other. They explore the history of the instrument, with allusions to its use in military and folk music, but also the dissolution of sound through an exploration of delicate transparencies verging on silence. Great contrasts of sound take place, reaching summits of intensity and speed, but also touching the most delicate nuances. Typical for Clair II are the progressions of scales, trills, and ascending movements, perhaps pointing to an ascesis otherwise denied by the composer.
Donatoni had also taught Davide Anzaghi, who was, in turn the son of a musician. Like several other composers represented here, he studied and taught at the Conservatory of Milan. His early career as a composer was marked by the reception of many awards and prizes, assigned by juries whose members included Petrassi, Rota, Togni, Xenakis, Ligeti, Lutosławski and Messiaen.
His mature works are inspired by the desire to find new ways of eliciting an active form of listening, privileging more immediate language forms over the complexities of the avantgardes’ compositional methods. His activity extended to music management, promoting many new artists (not only in the musical field).
His brief Melodie are self-standing miniatures. The first is structured as a Theme with three variations, with the use of several daring performing techniques. The second is structured on a repetitive pattern with increasingly longer acciaccaturas which progressively diminish the space reserved for arpeggios. The piece closes with an ascending movement reaching a summit of pitch and intensity.
Little needs to be said about Luciano Berio, one of the most famous Italian composers of the twentieth century. After his experiences in Darmstadt, where he met with many other great musicians of the era, he undertook his own explorations, particularly as concerns electronic music and innovative uses of the human voice (also thanks to his relationship with Cathy Berberian). He wrote many Sequenze for several instruments: all are characterized by extreme technical complexity and by the exploration of new forms of sound production. His Sequenza IX (which he himself transcribed for alto saxophone) is, in his own words, “essentially a long melody implying – like almost every melody – redundancy, symmetries, transformations and returns”. At its core is the repetition of a single pitch, held for 10, then 8, then 6 seconds.
By way of contrast, Lied is much less complex from the technical viewpoint and possesses a singing quality. Its improvisational style requires great flexibility on the performer’s part.
Like Bucchi and Donatoni, also Flavio Testi was a prolific author besides his activity as a composer; in his case, his literary output focus mainly on music history, in which he produced several important works. Born in Florence, he studied with the Turinese musician Luigi Perrachio and taught at many important conservatories. Many of his works are conceived for stage performance, and his output is characterized by a powerful political inspiration, particularly as concerns the opposition to dictatorship.
His Jubilus I is remarkable for its capability to reconcile melodic inspiration with aggressivity, roughness with tenderness. Many diverse techniques are employed, and what particularly characterizes his writing is the exploration of a special “spatiality” of sound.
Last but not least, Bruno Bettinelli was also both a student and a teacher at the Conservatory of Milan, and in turn taught many of the greatest performers, composers and conductors of the second half of the nineteenth century. His rich compositional language draws from a variety of inspirations, including Gregorian music, atonality, seriality, aleatoric music, but also traditional songs and choral practices. His Studio da Concerto juxtaposes many different approaches, with a constant rhythmic and tempo wavering, an almost hesitant pace, but also a very brilliant and idiomatic writing. Together, these works represent a magnificent view on the Italian way to the clarinet, and a welcome addition to the panorama of twentieth century music.
Chiara Bertgolio © 2021
Pietro Domenico Magri
He studied and graduated with honours at Accademia di belle arti in Brera and at Civica Scuola di musica C. Abbado in Milan, he completed his clarinet studies with Prof Giovanni Iuliano in Milan, in Paris with Prof Guy Deplus and, finally, in Rome at C.I. He teaches history of art at the Liceo Statale G. Galilei in Caravaggio. As a musician of chamber music, he has performed in Italy at Teatro alle Erbe, Rosetum, Auditorium Asteria, Circolo della Stampa and la Piccola Scala in Milan, Teatro Ponchielli in Cremona, Verdi in Trieste and Donizetti in Bergamo and in France, at Rencontres Européennes de Clarinette and IRCAM in Paris. He has increased his repertoire as soloist and chamber musician of the XX century, devoting himself in particular to music for unaccompanied clarinet (Stravinskij, Stockhausen, Boulez, Denisov, Penderecky, Arnold, Carter), concentrating on Italian composers of the second half of XX century, in this CD. Such never-ending research work and interpretation of contemporary music has been carried on thanks to the highly valuable teachings of M° Giovanni Iuliano, first clarinet in the Ensemble Garbarino, a witness and outstanding performer of the New Italian Music movement, including memorable premieres that featured the direct participation of the composers themselves. The performance of such a contemporary repertoire requires from the classical performer an extreme suppleness in their execution, including a careful research of the instrument’s fullness of sound. Not only, it also requires an extraordinary instrumental technique, which is sometimes taken to the extreme limits of expertise. In these compositions contemporary clarinet writing is perfected and where ‘glissati, vibrati, frullati and soffiati’ alternate with vocalised sounds or multiphonics or are even obtained with the simultaneous percussion of the instrument’s keys or yet again resorting to the added alterations of the rising or descending quarter tones within modern day renewed semiography. Bruno Bettinelli, in the introduction of his renowned Studio da Concerto for solo clarinet, wrote, referring to the ‘Nuova Musica’ writing: “Questi effetti come vibrati di vario genere, voce più suono dello strumento, quarti di tono, quadricordi che stanno entrando nell’uso corrente, hanno tutti un preciso significato musicale e vanno quindi ‘interpretati’ e non considerati come sovrastrutture amorfe o come virtuosismi tecnici di maniera (“These effects, such as different kinds of vibrato, voice plus the sound of the instrument, quarter tones, tetrachords, are becoming more common. But they all have a precise musical meaning and are therefore ‘interpreted’ and not viewed as amorphous superstructures or as mannered technical virtuosity.”). The words of the Milanese composer confirm, therefore, that the exquisitely musical nature of these effects, represent further nuances available from the technical-expressive palette of the modern clarinet.
Bruno Bettinelli (b Milan, 4 June 1913; b Milan, November 2004). Italian composer. He graduated in piano at the Milan Conservatory in 1931, and in choral singing, conducting and composition, studying with G.C. Paribeni and Bossi, in 1937. In 1941 he won the Accademia di S Cecilia prize in Rome and in 1955 the Busoni prize in Trieste. He began to teach theory in 1938 and harmony in 1941 at the Milan Conservatory, and he was professor of composition there from 1957 to 1979. His students included Corghi, Abbado, Chailly, Gentilucci, Muti and Pollini. He has been a member of the Accademia di S Cecilia, Rome.
His earlier music (e.g. 2 invenzioni and the symphonies nos.2 and 3) owes much of the discipline of its rhythmically clear contrapuntal lines to the neo-classical approach of Hindemith. After the subsequent harmonic and timbral experimentation of the Sinfonia breve and the Second Concerto for Orchestra, he abandoned tonality for atonal chromaticism (e.g. in Musica), and a reconsideration of Webernian principles, as in Episodi, Varianti, Studio and the symphonies nos.5–7. His exploration of avant-garde elements led him to the use of electronics, for example in Count Down; but works such as Sono una creatura, Quadruplum and Contrasti demonstrate the emphasis he has continued to place on constructive rigour and on communication with the listener.
Son of the musician Luigi Oreste, Davide Anzaghi started his musical career as a very young performer in 1950 and since 1952 he won a number of international competitions feeling at an early age his vocation for composition. At the beginning of the 1970s, Anzaghi renewed his concept of writing music, and in 1972, he was proclaimed the winner of the National Composition Competition of Treviso by a jury presided over by G. F. Malipiero. In 1974, he was the winner of the International Composition Competition Olivier Messiaen proclaimed by a board consisting of G. Ligeti, Ton de Leeuw, W. Lutoslwski, and I. Xenakis and presided by O. Messiaen himself. Anzaghi's adherence to the poetics of the late twentieth century was not ideological: in his compositions, the author did not cease to believe in the emotional and aesthetic components of musical language instead of musical experiments and sterile creations. The author's orientation is evidenced by the motto "The denial of communication is solved in the communication of negation." Anzaghi's music originates from being a composer by vocation and not by volition. His new CD shows significant results in Anzaghi’s piano solo composition. This CD offers a meditated anthology of the compositional itinerary of the Milanese author whose music aspires to be loved before being evaluated.
(b Florence, 4 Jan 1923). Italian composer and musicologist. He studied with Gedda and Peracchio at the Turin Conservatory, and took an arts degree at Milan University (1951). He then worked for Suvini Zerboni and Ricordi while also composing, pursuing his interest in music history and working on various radio projects for the RAI. From 1972 he devoted himself to educational activities, teaching music history at the Padua Conservatory and then taking up teaching posts at the Milan and Florence conservatories.
Testi’s first vocal and instrumental works date from the mid-1950s. In La crocifissione, whose première at La Scala in 1954 attracted considerable attention, the influence of Stravinsky emerged strongly, along with an already personal dramatic sensibility, evident equally in such orchestral works as the Concerto (1954) and Divertimento (1956). The expressive vein of La crocifissione was taken up again in the Stabat mater (1957) and, much transformed, in New York: oficina y denuncia (1964). This García Lorca setting, with its rough-hewn blocks of sound, denounces the dehumanizing environment of the modern metropolis. The work coincided with the Testi’s conversion to the Marxist cause, and was followed by other compositions highlighting social and political concerns, including the Neruda setting Canto a las madres de los milicianos muertos (1967) and Cori di Santiago (1975). Testi’s operas evolve towards junctures of violent scenic-musical realism. L’albergo dei poveri (1966) displays a clearly characteristic attitude of rough dramatic purpose, confirmed in Il sosia (1981) and Riccardo III (1987), works which probe intensely into the psychology of their characters. In general Testi’s style, rather than adhering to the radicalisms of the post-Webern avant garde, re-elaborates and reflects, not without eclecticism, certain crucial 20th-century achievements, from Stravinsky and Bartók to early Schoenberg.
(b Verona, 9 June 1927; d 17 Aug 2000). Italian composer and teacher. His childhood was passed in the constricted ambience of provincial life during the two decades of fascist rule. The only child of a council employee in Verona, he was an isolated and friendless boy, and although studious, seemed to possess little flair for language and argument. His parents circumspectly concluded that he was best fitted for a career as a bank clerk, but also thought it prudent to let him study the violin, hoping that he might earn supplementary income from the Arena di Verona orchestra in due course. Indeed, it was the family's annual excursions to operatic performances at the arena that provided a highpoint of artistic excitement during his youth, though the bands that enlivened the family's long Sunday afternoon walks also exerted their fascination. Even so, a musical vocation at first seemed implausible: he made no striking progress on the violin, and failed to pass his first solfeggio examination at the Verona Liceo Musicale. Yet despite these setbacks he seemed determined to gain a technical grasp of music. Guided from 1942 by Piero Bottagisio at the Liceo Musicale, he managed to pass the entrance examination for the composition course at the Bolzano Conservatory. But the final years of World War II obliged all prudent teenagers to stay indoors: schools were open one day a week at best, and the SS patrolled the streets, ready to consign those who aroused suspicion to concentration camps. When in 1945 the Americans liberated Verona, Donatoni was able to complete his school diploma and commit himself to studying composition. He enrolled in the Milan Conservatory, but found himself in the doldrums since his professor Ettore Desderi, accused of collaboration, did almost nothing. Advised to transfer to the Bologna Conservatory in 1948, he at last found a sympathetic environment, and his studies under its director, Lino Liviabella, prospered. An ancient radio allowed him to confront the challenges of the previous 30 years through the broadcasts of Guido Turchi: though not engaged by Stravinsky or Schoenberg, he was profoundly impressed by a transmission of Bartók's Fourth Quartet, and fascinated by Petrassi's First Concerto for Orchestra. Travelling to Venice to attend the first performance of Petrassi's Noche oscura in 1951, he plucked up courage and introduced himself. Petrassi told him that he might resume contact once his composition diploma at Bologna was completed later that year.
Giacinto Scelsi (b La Spezia, 8 Jan 1905; d Rome, 9 Aug 1988). Italian composer. Scelsi's extraordinary life encompassed many aspects of the intellectual, spiritual, social and musical life of the 20th century. He was born into southern Italian aristocracy, inheriting the title Count D'Alaya Valva, and as a young man travelled extensively, moving within Europe's most elevated social circles. His English wife, Dorothy (whose nickname ‘Ty’ figures in the titles of two of Scelsi's works) was a distant relative of the British royal family; their wedding reception was held at Buckingham Palace. His music attracted a number of prestigious performances, particularly in Paris where Pierre Monteux conducted the première of Rotative in 1930. During World War II he lived in Switzerland; after the war his wife returned to England, never to contact him again. He spent the latter part of his life in Rome, where his apartment overlooked the Forum.
Much of the detail of Scelsi's life is shrouded in mystery, something he himself did much to encourage. It seems, however, that after some initial successes as a composer, he suffered a devastating mental breakdown between the composition of La nascita del verbo (1947–8) and the Suite no.8 ‘Bot-ba’ (1952). Scelsi's early compositional career had been a progression through some of the principal aesthetic tendencies of 20th-century music – futurism, neo-classicism, dodecaphony, surrealism – preoccupations fed variously by periods of private study with Respighi and pupils of Skryabin and Schoenberg, and by his friendships with Henri Michaux, Pierre Jean Jouve, Paul Eluard and Salvador Dalí. The later works reveal a new preoccupation with an obsessive reiteration of individual sounds, a legacy of the lengthy period of rehabilitation from his illness. Scelsi described how he would spend days repeatedly playing single notes on the piano, developing a new, intensely focussed mode of listening. The multi-movement form of many subsequent pieces can also be heard as an extension of this reiterative exploration – sequences of movements are intended not to provide contrast but to offer a repeated re-examination of the same sound object.
Although Scelsi's music continued to attract occasional performances in the 1950s and 60s, his career was eclipsed by the emerging Italian composers of the post-war period, and his compositional concerns, as far as they were known, were regarded as of marginal interest. It was not until the 1970s that the significance of his work began to be recognized by a new generation. Younger composers, including the American Alvin Curran, the Prix de Rome guests Grisey and Murail, and the Romanian exile Radulescu, discovered in Scelsi's work aspects of the musical world which interested them, struck particularly by the concentration on gradual timbral transformations.
At the beginning of the 1960s many avant-garde composers had begun to explore the inner life of sounds, writing music which focussed on small fluctuations within sustained sonic bands. What distinguished Scelsi's work from Ligeti or Cerha's scores of the period was the profound subjectivity of Scelsi's engagement with his material, an engagement in which abstraction seemed to play no part. In his most wholly characteristic works pitch, timbre, register and dynamics are heard as the inherent expressive potentialities of each sound, rather than as separate parameters to be controlled more or less independently. The Quattro pezzi (su una nota sola) (1959), for example, use microtonal pitch inflection, timbral transformation and rhythmic reiterations to animate the ‘note’ on which each movement is based, stretching its identity far beyond that of a mere frequency.
Subsequent works explore this plasticity of sound yet further, drawing a handful of musical strands out of an initial tone and allowing them to diverge. Usually such divergence covers an interval of no more than a third, but it makes possible a beguilingly unpredictable harmonic architecture in works of the mid-1960s such as Ohoi (1966) and the Fourth String Quartet (1964), arguably Scelsi's finest music. Inevitably, given his microscopic examination of instrumental sound, intervals derived from the harmonic series predominate. His intuitively composed work can therefore be heard to anticipate later, more systematic developments: not only the ‘spectral’ music of the Itinéraire group but also the exploration of the pitch-timbre continuum in computer music.
As word about this extraordinary, neglected music spread, performances and then recordings began to multiply. The critic Harry Halbreich was a persuasive advocate; promoters such as Adrian Jack at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, Wolfgang Becker at WDR and Ernstalbrecht Stiebler at Hessische Rundfunk organized portrait concerts of Scelsi's work. The Arditti Quartet took up the string quartets, Marianne Schroeder and Yvar Mikhashoff the piano music, and conductors such as Jürg Wyttenbach the orchestral works. This period of rediscovery culminated in the mid-1980s with belated first performances of many of Scelsi's largest scores, and triumphantly acclaimed presentations of Scelsi's work during the 1986 Holland Festival and the 1987 ISCM World Music Days in Cologne.
The spiritual world of Scelsi's mature works is rooted in an exotic mix of pantheism and theosophy, derived from Gurdjieff, Blavatsky and Sri Aurobindo, but also stimulated by Scelsi's own visits to India and Nepal. Scelsi saw his work as straddling the aesthetic worlds of East and West, using the instrumental resources of the West in music whose meditative focus on individual tones has obvious links to both the monastic traditions of Tibetan Buddhism and the ison principle of Byzantine Orthodox worship. Elsewhere, particularly in the works of the late 1950s, there are elements of arabesque reminiscent of the folk music of the eastern Mediterranean. Scelsi claimed that ‘Rome is the boundary between East and West. South of Rome the East begins, and north of Rome the West begins. This borderline runs exactly over the Forum Romanum. It runs right here, through my drawing-room’. His titles offer further evidence: Aiôn (1961) is subtitled ‘Four Episodes in a day of Brahma’, Anahit (1965) is ‘A Lyric Poem dedicated to Venus’, Pwyll (1954) is a Welsh druidic term, while the title of Konx-om-pax (1969) brings together the ancient Assyrian, Sanskrit and Latin words for ‘peace’.
Scelsi's approach to composition was itself hybrid: for him music was not a communicative medium but something immanent, revealed through the creative process. His reluctance to describe his working methods as ‘composing’ stemmed from the belief that music passed through him; it was not something ‘put together’ by him. Indeed the working method of his mature years was unusual, depending primarily on the selective transcription of improvisations made in a quasi-meditative state. He would perform these improvisations generally at the keyboard, either the piano or, in later years, the Ondiola, a three-octave electronic instrument with a rotary attachment for producing microtonal inflections. Scelsi would also invite performing musicians who showed a particular affinity for his work to improvise for him, painstakingly refining their instrumental resources for the sound-world he wanted, so that works such as the Canti del capricorno (1962–72) or the cello Trilogy (1956–65) became intimately associated with their first interpreters, the singer Michiko Hirayama and the cellist Frances-Marie Uitti.
Each improvisation was recorded (the process of cataloguing the tapes was begun after Scelsi's death) and the most successful improvisations were then transcribed and realized as instrumental scores. Exceptionally, some improvisations were used more than once: the Fifth String Quartet (1984) and the amplified piano work Aitsi (1974) are both transcriptions of the same tape. The actual writing of the scores was undertaken by an assistant, working under Scelsi's direction. After Scelsi's death his most frequent collaborator, Vieri Tosatti, revealed the extent of his involvement in the making of Scelsi's scores, claiming that he had worked with Scelsi since 1947 and had written out all his major works since then. The discovery that Scelsi was not the sole author of his scores has troubled some critics who, associating it with his lack of a conventional compositional apprenticeship, have accused him of dilettantism, even of a sort of artistic fraud. Scelsi's collaborative approach was, however, consistent with his compositional philosophy, as was his reluctance to make public appearances at performances of his work, and his refusal to be photographed. By the time of his death his music had achieved an eminence which its composer resolutely rejected for himself.
(b Oneglia, 24 october 1925; d Roma, 27 may 2003). Italian composer. At a relatively early stage in his career, he succeeded in transcending the closed world of the European avant garde to address a wider public. The vivid, gestural idiom that he developed in the 1960s, and the creative consequences that he drew from other, often extra-musical aspects of the culture around him, established for him a world-wide reputation that has sustained his subsequent exploration of a wide, and sometimes challenging, arc of musical resources. Of formidable creative energy, he has proved one of the most prolific composers of the later 20th century.
Valentino Bucchi(b Florence, 29 Nov 1916; d Rome, 9 May 1976). Italian composer. He studied with Frazzi, Corrado Barbieri and Dallapiccola at the Florence Conservatory, where he was awarded the diploma in composition in 1944; he also took a degree in philosophy at the University of Florence. From 1945 he taught in the conservatories of Florence, Venice and Perugia, and he was later artistic director of the Accademia Filarmonica Romana (1958–60) and director of the Florence Conservatory (from 1974). He worked as a music critic for various daily newspapers, including La nazione and Avanti!.
Non-conformist in character with an ironic burlesque streak, Bucchi has occupied a unique position in Italian 20th-century music. Equally removed from the avant garde and from tradition, he developed a compositional technique based on the play of permutations, a collage of elements drawn from a broad, heterogeneous spectrum, mixing classical and popular, old and new features. Following a series of pieces inspired by the tragedy of World War II and the Resistance (La dolce pena, Pianto delle creature, Cori per la pietà morta) characterized by vehement vocal phrases and violent juxtapositions of voices and instruments, Bucchi went on to use more moderate means of expression. In 1952 he turned to early music, re-writing Li jeus de Robin et de Marion by Adam de la Halle and Laudes evangelii, a kind of sacred stage work which draws on the melodies of medieval laudes. With these works, Bucchi made a decisive move towards simplifying his musical language; this led both to further achievements in the theatrical domain and also to a small number of instrumental compositions of a concertante type, essentially playful in character, for example the Concerto grottesco for double bass and strings (1967). From this point on, Bucchi formed his own personal style based upon an aesthetics of simplicity, defined by d’Amico as using ‘minimum means’.
Bucchi’s interest in the theatre, which marks all his work, had a particularly fruitful result in the one-act Il contrabbasso (1954), based on a Chekhov short story. The strange narrative is matched by Bucchi’s acute sense of irony, together with an underlying bitterness and a disconcertingly simple musical language. In his next operatic piece, Una notte in paradiso (1960), a treatment of an Italian folktale collected by Italo Calvino, the humorous style reflects popular culture: an approach already seen, if with a surrealist character, in the evocation of folk myth in Il giuoco del barone (1939). In Una notte, Bucchi experiments with a fusion of technical devices and stylistic ‘levels’ – popular song, jazz, art music – which is also fundamental to Il coccodrillo (1970), after Dostoyevsky. In this, his last work for the theatre, Bucchi eschews a conventional dramatic sequence. Instead the action is split into 32 episodes and matched by a multiplicity of artistic means: spoken sections, rhythmic recitative, song, orchestral music, recorded sound, the projection of filmed sequences, mime and dance. In his works of the 1970s, Bucchi abandoned montage techniques, and devoted himself to exploring new sound worlds, including microintervals and clusters. His final compositions, Lettres de la religieuse portugaise and Colloquio corale, draw the threads of all his previous works, including the expressive tension of the postwar operas, together.