Scelsi: String Quartet No. 4; Elohim; Duo for Violin & Cello; Anagamin; Maknongan; Natura renovatur

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COMPOSERS: Scelsi
LABELS: Kairos
WORKS: String Quartet No. 4; Elohim; Duo for Violin & Cello; Anagamin; Maknongan; Natura renovatur
PERFORMER: Klangforum Wien/Hans Zender
CATALOGUE NO: 0012162 KAI
Lover of myth and maker of it, Giacinto Scelsi (1905-88) bequeathed to posterity a controversial corpus of pieces and of ideas about them. In his youth a composer of quite ordinary achievement, he found in his middle age a gift for Zen-like paradox, which he asserted both in life and art.

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Paradox of person he expressed chiefly by means of a studied anonymity. An Italian count, a recluse and man of independent means, he suppressed all photos of himself, so that few images survive. Musical paradox he achieved by turning inside-out the single note. Zen again: a single pitch sustained till sense of time fades away becomes like the burning flame watched by the zealot till transcendence is obtained.

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So, in the Fourth Quartet (1964), there is no tempo, only duration. Microtones inflect and sour pure intervals of octave, fifth and unison, offering a kind of syntax but no resolution. Strings and bows were made for better use than this, you might think. But maybe these are visions, not compositions; though musical responses are still needed to perform them, as shown eminently by the fine readings of Klangforum Wien in Anagamin (1965) and Natura renovatur (1967), both for large string ensemble. Nicholas Williams