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Giacinto Scelsi

Aki plays Scelsi

Sonate No. 3, Quatro Illustrazione, Cinque Incantessimi, Suite No. 10 'Ka', Aitsi and Un Adieu

Aki Takahashi

Mode DVD 159 - The Piano Works 3
Filmed in Berlin, 2006

This is the first DVD devoted to Count Giacinto Scelsi d’Ayala Valva (1905-1988) and it is treasurable.

As a young pianist, Aki Takahashi had been invited by Scelsi to play for him at his home in 1972 & 1974 and he endorsed her interpretations warmly.

This is an ideal selection of the piano music from the period before he abandoned the piano because of the limitations its equi-tempered keyboard and went on to create those works which in his last years made him become a controversial, cult figure.

As Mode summarises the situation, he remained
"- - eccentric and iconoclastic, notorious for authoring entire classical pieces built around one pitch (or note), and for his embracement of improvisation in lieu of more traditional melodic composition - - ".

The filming of Aki Takahashi at Telex Studio, Berlin is notable for its sensitivity - a business-like recording session, with multiple microphones much in evidence, and unusual shots held steadily so that there is never distraction from the music itself (c.p. Barenboim's Beethoven DVDs with "numerous arbitary camera changes, which did nothing for the music (e.g. 20 changes plus a couple of zooms and rotations in the six-minutes first movement of Op. 101").

The study of Scelsi's piano music in its entirety constituted a centre in my musical life throughout the 1980s. In 1981 Adrian Jack on BBC Radio 3 had presented the Ka Suite and Third String Quartet of this unknown composer; they bowled me over.

Realizing their originality began a long pilgrimage; I bought the scores of Ka and the Quatro Illustrazione, studied them to the best of my limited pianistic capability, and published one of the first UK studies of the music of this elusive composer "DISCOVERING SCELSI" (Piano Journal 7/21: 1986).

Giacinto Scelsi applauded my analysis of his piano music and we had a cordial correspondence, after which I eventually had the rare privilege of being invited to meet him at his home overlooking the Forum in Rome, where I played to him one of the Illustrazione and he gave me rare copies of his privately published essays and poems. He warned me that photos were forbidden and that he insisted instead on being represented by his symbolic circle and line, as on Mode's cover (he had told a Vogue journalist who came to interview him with by a photographer that if a photo of himself was taken, they would not leave alive!).

So I did not dare to take a snap when I spent time with him later at the Almeida Festival in London; had he lived into the time of mobile phones with cameras, there would have been no escape... The only two photos I have come across are an indistinct one as a young man on the cover of the miniature score of the first string quartet, and that reproduced here in the insert booklet with Aki Takahashi, together with testimonials as to her wonderful playing; probably taken at a symposium for musicians and musicologists about "sounds and signs" in Rome 1972.

Scelsi remains a controversial figure, and efforts to broker a book about him in English with Harry Halbreich (he provided liner notes for the Accord CDs) foundered. Uncertainties and discrepancies still need to be resolved; the broadsheet reviewers were far from unanimous when he was featured composer at the Almeida Festival in London 1986: "music of little consequence" (Telegraph); "piercingly effective - - positively electrifying - - wholly original" (Nicholas Kenyon, Observer) and it is only right that you should be aware of some of the hostility which has reigned - see Paul Moor (Berlin).

I have reviewed many CDs of Scelsi's growing discography, with undimmed enthusiasm, and, to conclude, would refer you to Scelsi, a memoir - Natura Renovatur, which brings many of them together and with photos of his Rome palazzo; and to my Obituary in The Independent.

Mode's DVD is recommended unreservedly as essential listening/viewing for everyone interested in the curious case of this important creative musician who always denied being a composer.

Peter Grahame Woolf