How to Analyse Scelsi’s Music? – Methodological Inadequacies and a Possible Approach

Mariachiara Grilli

GATM – Gruppo Analisi e Teoria Musicale, Italy



Scelsi conceives sound as a material and three-dimensional object: its sphericity means that it is inseparable in its constitutive components. This materic understanding finds its actualization through the development of a linguistic project for each instrument [Morini, 2001], where the performance technique itself is a compositional parameter. The centrality of timbre and instrumental peculiarities makes it impossible in analysis for us to restrict ourselves to the pitches alone, inasmuch as what we identify as gesture becomes itself a linguistic feature. It thus appears clear that the Scelsian score, with respect to the performative act, shapes itself as an incomplete object. In light of this, our position-paper shows how consolidated analytical methodologies are inadequate. Western musical-theoretical systems have almost always focused on two foundational aspects, namely structure and syntax, and are mostly based on the idea of a hierarchy of the relationships between sounds. However, the traits of materiality and inseparableness, which are upstream of the composer’s mindset, lead us here firstly to suppose an absence of hierarchy between structure and syntax and secondly to overturn and at the same time annul the difference between primary and secondary parameters. Indeed, intensity, speed and thickness of sound are neglected in the most commonly-applied analytical methodologies, evaluated as secondary. Such an attitude leads us to think of listening as the key moment of the analysis, as it seems to be the only means through which a genuinely closer approach to all the characteristics of sound is effectively possible, always keeping Scelsi’s philosophical-conceptual references alive in the background. Hence, we formulate the hypothesis that it is what is salient (and no longer primary) that can take on a grammatical value.

Lending centrality to the sound-instrument relationship finally leads us to speculate whether it is really necessary to look for any stylistic uniformity in Scelsi’s scores, even more if we bear in mind that much of the existing literature relating to these shows that where an attempt to apply consolidated methodologies is detectable, it involves only a part of the piece studied. This weighting also recalls the inadequacies highlighted above; some of the approaches arise from a sort of “analytical bias”, as a result of which each scholar tends to employ the methodology with which they are most familiar or, in the case of ad hoc approaches, to construct an analytical criterion on the basis of which they tend to search for exactly what they intend to find. Therefore in many cases the analysis appears to be of a “traditional” and “classical” kind, as traditional and classical are the elements and the situations sought after, often forcedly. Terminological inconsistencies and lack of homogeneity are the result of these attitudes, together with a tendency to consider as structured only that which appears to lend itself to definition through traditional terms. Ultimately, the sphere configures itself as a need for new analytical approaches, which cannot ignore the conceptualperformative framework that underscores it.

Keywords: Scelsi, Analytical Issues, Sphere



Mariachiara Grilli is particularly dedicated to the study and the interpretation of the contemporary piano repertoire. She has an active working life as a soloist in Italy and abroad, and within the Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto, with which she also took part in recordings for Decca and Stradivarius and in television broadcasts for national channels such as Rai5 and Radio3Rai. She works as a pianist/conductor, répétiteur, arranger and teacher at the Teatro Lirico Sperimentale in Spoleto, Italy. Her essays have been published by EUM-Edizioni Università di Macerata. She has previously been a speaker at: VIII Convegno di analisi e teoria musicale, Rimini, Italy-2010; Simpósio Internacional de Música Nova, Curítiba, Brasil-2016, XVI Convegno di analisi e teoria musicale, Rimini, Italy-2019; IV Encontro Internacional de Piano Contemporâneo, Porto, Portugal-2019. She will be a speaker at the 10th European Music Analysis Conference (EuroMAC-10) in Moscow, September 2021.