Martina Seeber pens essay on composer Giacinto Scelsi

Martina Seeber
via Jethromo/Wikipedia

The music journalist and radio presenter has shared an essay on the life and works of Giacinto Scelsi.

Martina Seeber has issued an essay as part of a larger body of work for REMAIIN (Radical European Music and its Intercultural Nature), a project that’s co-funded by the Creative Europe programme of the EU. Building on REMAIIN’s core aim to investigate how non-European cultural practices have influenced music throughout history, Seeber examines how Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi questioned the concept of what music is, and tells the story of his travels.

“The Italian nobleman Giacinto Scelsi always asserted that he was not a composer,” Seeber writes. “The idea of composition has its origins in the occidental idea of musicianship and handicraft, where a piece of music is composed according to the rules of art from individual tones, to which the Latin verb ‘componere’ refers. Instead of putting things together, the offspring of a rich family, who never had to earn a living, often asked: What is music anyway? A fugue by Bach? An Arabic litany? The chorus of old pygmy women?”

Seeber goes on to explain that Scelsi, born in 1905, was raised at a time when non-European music was regarded as “insufficiently complex” and culturally “inferior” by professors and musicologists. “In his autobiography entitled Il Sogno 101,Giacinto Scelsi asks: ‘You want me to tell you what music is and what music is not? I can only say that instead of music one should rather speak of organised sounds, and sounds are organised in very different ways, from the Incas, the Tuaregs or the Chinese to electronic sounds that are recorded on eight magnetic tracks. So one should speak of different organisation of the sound. That is all.'”

“Instead of understanding music as a system of related pitches and intervals he started to explore the sound itself, a quality which had long been neglected by Western composers. A case in point: whereas western flute players work hard to eliminate every sound of air and aim for a sound free from any noise, the aesthetic ideal of eastern flutists includes all grades of noise.”

Read the essay in full on the REMAIIN website. The essay has been published alongside a homage to Scelsi, helmed by saxophonist André Vida and composer Augustin Maurs. Listen below.