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Giacinto Scelsi

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La Spezia, Italy (January 8, 1905 – August 9, 1988)

Giacinto Scelsi, Count of Ayala Valva (January 8, 1905 – August 9, 1988), was an Italian composer. He is best known for writing music based on only one pitch, such as “Quattro pezzi su una nota sola” [“Four pieces each on a single note”] (1959). He also wrote surrealist poetry in French.

Born in La Spezia, Italy, Scelsi studied music first in Rome, and later in Vienna, with a disciple of Arnold Schönberg. Subsequently Scelsi became one of the first adepts of dodecaphony in Italy.

At the end of the 1940s, he underwent a profound religious crisis that led him to the discovery of Eastern spirituality and also to a radical transformation of his view of music. He rejected the notions of composition and author in favor of sheer improvisation. Scelsi came to conceive of artistic creation as a means of communicating a higher transcendent reality to the listener. From this point of view, the artist is considered a mere intermediator. It is for this reason that he never allowed his image to be shown in connection with his music. He preferred instead to identify himself with a line under a circle, a symbol of Eastern provenance. Some photographs of Scelsi have emerged after his death.

Scelsi was a friend and a mentor to Alvin Curran and other expatriate American composers such as Frederick Rzewski who lived Rome during the 1960s (Curran, 2003, in NewMusicBox). Scelsi also “conspired” with other American composers including John Cage, Morton Feldman and Earle Brown who visited him in Rome.

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