Salvatore Sciarrino

Born 1947

Salvatore Sciarrino

Composer • Librettist


In forming his own style, Sciarrino spent much time pouring over the compositions of the past, eventually producing transcripts and elaborating on works by previous composers. The most obvious examples of this appear in two of theVenetian Canzoni da batello (1977), Aspern (1978) and Luci miei traditrici (1996-8). The most extreme example is found in his two-act balletMorte a Venezia (1991), which is composed exclusively from reworked compositions ofJohann Sebastian Bach.

He is also fond of using many similarly constructed gestures, of a simple nature, for an extended time. Further, his development of intervals is also noticeable as they become larger and larger. It is quite possible that this technique is a modern approach to the Renaissance practice of diminution, in which a single sound was embellished with ornaments. This reduction of elements to a much simpler form is present in all Sciarrino’s mature works.

Sciarrino’s use of silence is also very fascinating as it, according to the presenter of the first ever Salzburg Music Prize in 2006, forces ‘us to lend our ears to his music, we must attentively listen to it, indeed we must immerse ourselves in listening—and that means: becoming silent ourselves and turning our attention to the music. It hasn’t been written for quick consumption or conceived as a well-deserved rest after work’.

Another trait found in Sciarrino’s compositions is his appreciation of the classic American popular songs, of which he seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge. HisBlue Dream (1980), Nove canzioni del XX secolo (1991), Cailles en sarcophage(1979) and Efebo con radio (1981) provide a treasure trove of the delightful influence of the American popular song.

Self-taught Italian composer Salvatore Sciarrino has risen to the ranks of the leading composers of Europe. He is particularly enthusiastic about musical theatre, though it is his chamber music that is most frequently performed on a worldwide scale, due to practical reasons. Sciarrino’s music deals with many different aspects of the human sound-world, most striking is his use of silence and his ability to push both instrumentalists and vocalists into uncharted territory in terms of their range and dynamic.

Salvatore Sciarrino was born in Palermo, Italy on 4 April 1947. As a young child he already displayed a talent for the arts, particularly the visual arts. By the age of four his talent for figurative painting was obvious and by the age of ten he was already moving towards a form of informal abstraction. Salvatore’s abilities in the visual arts did not satisfy him completely, leading him to become increasingly drawn to music and composition. In 1959, he began composing with a bit of guidance from Antonino Titone. Within three years (in 1962) his music was publicly performed at the Palermo New Music Week. Sciarrino’s only formal musical training took place in 1964 with Tri Belfiore, but was short-lived. By the late 1960s, Sciarrino’sQuartetto II and Aka Aka to had also received public performances.

After moving to Rome in 1969, Sciarrino was able to pursue his unique compositional style with the support of Franco Evangelisti, whose course on electronic music he followed at the Accademia di S Cecilia. His compositional experimentations have resulted in a very distinctive voice, one that is widely imitated today. Sciarrino has succeeded in creating an ‘impeccably calculated language’ based on the sounds of previous generations, including both string and wind harmonics and secondary performance noises. These characteristics are noticeable inAmore e Psyche (1972), his first work for the theatre. His subsequent works use these unique traits in a subtler manner and rely more on the interplay between sound and silence. This new development is particularly abundant in the 45-minute adagio for piano, orchestra and chorus,Un’immagine di Arpocrite(1974-9).

Sciarrino escaped the hustle and bustle of the big cities in 1982, at which point he moved to the town of Città di Castello. He insists on living a stereotypical artist’s life, one in which he retains his individualism and dedicates himself solely to his work. Despite the fact that he, in his own words, ‘left the metropolises and sought the shadows’, Sciarrino taught at the conservatoires in Florence, Bologna and Perugia. He gave up his post at the Milan Conservatory at this time, a post he had held since 1977.

Sciarrino’s theatre works exploit the concept of dramaturgy, something that many of today’s lyric opera composers consciously refrain from. This, in and of itself, gives Sciarrino’s operas a different feel than those of his contemporaries. While the operas often begin with a feeling of familiarity, they take unexpected turns. His operas often feature vocal parts with an intonation that evokes a psalm-like sound.

As an in-demand composer, Sciarrino has composed for the Teatro alla Scala, Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Biennal di Venezia, Teatro La Fenice di Venezia, Teatro Carlo Felice di Genova, Fondazione Arena di Verona, Stuttgart Opera Theatre, Brussels La Monnaie, Frankfurt Opera Theatre, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, London Symphony Orchestra and Tokyo Suntory Hall.

He has also composed for a number of festivals including the Schwetzinger Festspiele, Donaueschinger Musiktage, Witten, Salzburg and New York Music Festivals, Wien Modern, Wiener Festwochen, Berliner Festspiele Musik, Holland Festival, Alborough, Festival d’Automne in Paris and Ultima in Oslo.

Sciarrino’s discography is impressive as it already contains more than 100 albums. His works were published by Ricordi for most of his life (from 1969 to 2004), however Rai Trade has had the exclusive rights to his works since 2005. In addition, Sciarrino has written a number of articles and essays, some of which appear inCarte da suono (2001) 2001. His book on musical form, Le figure della musica, da Beethoven a oggi (1998) is especially important.

In addition to his active career as a composer and his teaching posts at various conservatories, Sciarrino also taught a number of courses and masterclasses in Città di Castello between 1979 and 2000. He also held the position of Artistic Director of a number of institutions between 1978 and 1980, including the Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Academy of Santa Cecilia in Rome, Academy of Fine Arts of Bavaria and the Academy of the Arts in Berlin.

Salvatore Sciarrino has received many prizes for his work, of which the most recent are the Salzburg Music Prize (2006), Prince Pierre de Monaco (2003) and the Feltrinelli International Award (Premio Internazionale Feltrinelli, 2003).