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Giacinto Scelsi

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La Spezia, Italy (1905 – 1988)

Giacinto Scelsi, Count of Ayala Valva (8 January 1905 – 9 August 1988), was an Italian composer who also wrote surrealist poetry in French.
He is best known for writing music based around only one pitch, altered in all manners through microtonal oscillations, harmonic allusions, and changes in timbre and dynamics, as paradigmatically exemplified in his revolutionary “Quattro pezzi su una nota sola” (“Four Pieces on a single note”, 1959). His musical output, which encompassed all Western classical genres except scenic music, remained largely undiscovered even within contemporary musical circles during most of his life.

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.

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