Giacinto Scelsi

1905 1988

Giacinto Scelsi

Composer • Poet


The Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi is known for being a proponent of Spectral music. Born in Liguria in 1905, his mother's noble background afforded him a privileged upbringing and opportunities to access the artistic and intellectual scene of 1930s Europe. Walther Klein, a disciple of Arnold Schoenberg proved particularly influential on Scelsi. Klein's lessons helped him to become an ambassador of the dodecaphony system in Italy, though this proved to be a relatively brief phase, and he abandoned it a few years later when he moved to Switzerland. Scelsi's musical style changed again after the Second World War, prompted by the departure of his wife. He became interested in improvisation, seeing the figure of the composer as a mere intermediary to the listener. During this period (1950-1960), his most distinctive compositions were based on one pitch altered through micro-tones stressed in harmony, but also the flexibility of dynamics, timbre and meters. A representative example of his technique is the composition 'Quattro pezzi su una nota sola' (1959) of which excerpts appeared in Martin Scorsese's 'Shutter Island' (2010). Despite his work being little-known during his life, Giacinto Scelsi's influence on the generation of composers who followed him is acknowledged. In 1987, less than a year before his death, he travelled to Germany to attend the premieres of several of his orchestral works in Cologne, as well as supervise their rehearsals. He died in Italy in 1988.