on the occasion of the first presentation of the Salzburger Musikpreis 5 February 2006, in the Grand Hall of the University of Salzburg
Dear Salvatore Sciarrino,
Honorable Regional President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This is a moment of surprise. I, for example, am surprised to be here and to have the extraordinary privilege of delivering a speech in honor of a composer whom I consider to be one of the most important figures in music today. You, Salvatore Sciarrino, are probably surprised to be here receiving this grand and honorable prize, of whose existence you knew nothing until now – or at least not until the moment when my colleague on the jury, Joséphine Markovits, informed you that you had won it. And all of us, dear ladies and gentlemen, are rather surprised that this solemn occasion, in the beautiful city of Salzburg, is dedicated not to Mozart but to contemporary music and to the musical creativity of the present day. Herein lies the peculiarity of this musical prize, which the Region of Salzburg is awarding for the first time.
But the greatest surprise, as far as I myself am concerned, consists in the choice of Salvatore Sciarrino – not so much because of the decision itself as for the way in which it came about. And, dear Hans Landesmann, you, who have guided this jury with such grace and majesty, certainly won’t prohibit me from revealing this little inside secret. In our meetings, we first compiled a rather long list of possible candidates, which made our choice seem difficult. Nevertheless, being kindly invited by our President to do so, we hastened immediately to an initial, short, deliberation vote. Secret, of course. To our surprise, in first place on all three ballots was the same name, that of Salvatore Sciarrino. Ah, if only certain other meetings could come so quickly to a close! During the 1993 Salzburg Festival, when Lo spazio inverso, a 1985 chamber piece for five instruments, was performed at a local cinema as part of the unforgettable program Zeitfluss, it was still necessary to explain who Salvatore Sciarrino was. Today, as I have just shown, our Maestro is in the front rank. And why has this happened? I think it is due simply to his artistic profile, which in terms of clarity, uniqueness, novelty and multiplicity of form has few equals. Later, during the Klangforum Wien concert, you will be able to get an idea of it yourselves. Nevertheless, there also exists a kind of vademecum to the work of Salvatore Sciarrino, consisting of four CD volumes issued under the prestigious Austrian label Kairos. In the sweetly murmured Codex purpureus for string trio of 1983 and the opera in two acts Luci mie traditrici of 1998, in the single act Infinito nero about the mystic Maria Maddalena de’ Pazzi composed in the same year and the twelve songs from the 2003 title Quaderno di strada, which later on we will be listening to, you can make a good many discoveries.
Whoever casts an eye into the sound garden that presents itself to the listener of these four CDs will quickly recognize the peculiar characteristics of Salvatore Sciarrino’s musical writing and how this writing takes shape and develops through ever-different means and ways.
As an example, let’s take the opera Luci mie traditrici – which is to say: My Traitorous Eyes, or in its official German title Die tödliche Blume (The Deadly Flower). It is the story of Carlo Gesualdo, a
Renaissance prince and composer who discovers his wife in bed with his rival and moves quickly and unflinchingly to take a bloody revenge. What seems so much like lyric opera appears in Salvatore Sciarrino’s musical transposition like a purely interior event: “Poco succede, quasi niente,” says the composer. “Little, almost nothing, takes place.” Eight duets – which at rare moments expand into a trio and are structured with five instrumental intermezzos – represent the action in a nutshell. On the one hand there is no doubt that time is passing – both time in the story and the time of the story itself – and that furthermore an incredible tension is growing toward the fatal end. On the other hand, however, we believe we have grasped the story at one glance, as in a picture that shows us the state of things as they are and implicitly explains what took place before. Unlike many of today’s lyric operas, which gradually distance themselves from the narrative dramaturgy, Salvatore Sciarrino’s approach at the start of the opera is very familiar, but takes on a totally different and new life as it proceeds. The incredible tension of this piece, at a standstill in a manner of speaking, is mirrored very concretely in the musical fabric – thus manifesting some of those elements that render Salvatore Scirrino’s writing so unmistakable. The vocal parts, for example, are distinguished by a strangely psalm-like intonation, simple gestures that, for long stretches, are constructed in a similar way. Again and again, a sound (later brought to a quick movement) is placed upon an underlying base and developed, at first in small intervals and then in larger and larger ones. This seems like highly artificial recitation and at the same time like a modern counterpart to the practice of diminution elaborated during the Renaissance (that
is to say, the ornamental embellishment of a single sound). This reduction to the simple and its
development with the aid of small and gradual modifications would therefore be the first of the
elements that distinguish Salvatore Sciarrino’s music; and it confers a very specific comprehensibility to his musical language. It has nothing to do with restorative tendencies and only a little with resisting the exasperating complexity of a good deal of contemporary music. What it does have to do with, on the other hand, is a return to roots, as also took place – although in a completely different manner – in the compositions of György Kurtág. There is a second element that we immediately notice: the incredible consistency and at the same time the extraordinary virtuosity with which Salvatore Sciarrino concentrates on silence. It is necessary for us to lend our ears to his music, we must listen attentively 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. In this fundamental
respect, the music of Salvatore Sciarrino links up with a compositional trend of our times which is of primary importance and which has been advanced by some important names. To mention a few: Luigi Nono, with the spirituality of his mature work; Helmut Lachenmann, with his language oriented toward noise; Beat Furrer, with his filigree sounds. For me it is out of the question that this culture of silence can also be interpreted as criticism in the social sense: as a denunciation of the roaring racket of our world, as a protest against the atrophy that young people inflict upon their hearing with their earphones, or against the loss of the ability of people to listen to one another, which we can clearly see
in TV talk shows and in many political debates. To silence we add, thirdly, noise. Music unfortunately is connected with noise, as Wilhem Busch once said, without considering this connection the way it is meant here, however. In fact, music is in every instance connected to noise, every sound comes about through a noise. Like Helmut Lachenmann – who draws primary energy for his compositions from this premise – but at the same time in a different way from his German colleague, who purports to smash music’s beautiful aspect with the aid of noise,
Salvatore Sciarrino also takes music’s noise character as an element that can be subjected to a conscious formation and to playful structures. In this way he arrives at a world of sound production that is completely new, extremely wide ranging and as yet little explored. In this sense, more representative than the opera Luci mie traditrici is the single act Infinito nero, where the pauses between Maria Maddalena de’ Pazzi’s sentences, pronounced quickly and with vehemence, are accompanied by regular percussion noises that bring to mind the beating of the human heart. And in the chamber piece Lo spazio inverso, flute, clarinet, celesta, violin and cello play at times as if the wind were blowing through their chords. In fact, we find ourselves taking our cue, as we often do, from literature and thinking of the Sicilian Aeolus with whom the Sicilian Salvatore Sciarrino grew up. Simplicity, Silence, Noise – and finally, the fourth element, Timbre. Salvatore Sciarrino, born in 1947, demonstrated precociously that he possessed distinct talents, a figurative as well as a musical one. Perhaps precisely because of this he started out as an autodidact. Naturally, he received many stimuli, for example, from Franco Evangelisti; certainly, from 1966 to 1969 in Palermo, his native city, he immersed himself in the history of music, but he found his path as a composer driven initially by a personal impulse. For this reason we can understand why for him the hotly debated questions of contemporary music – in particular, as to the structures that music ought to adhere to – were not and are not of primary concern. In Salvatore Sciarrino’s music sound pitch is not at the forefront, the main parameter, and timbre a side element, a frill with respect to the central component. On the contrary, timbre is just as basic to and constitutive of the musical events as pitch – indeed, at times, we seem to have the impression that the pitch practically derives from the timbre. That can be seen in a very special way in Infinito nero, where to Maria Maddalena’s singing a piano is often added, not with its pitch, absolutely imperceptible, but simply with the colors of its timbre. Much of what has been touched upon here – and naturally this is just a brief indication – can be heard in Quaderno di strada, an extremely beautiful composition, among Salvatore Sciarrino’s most recent. Basically, it is made up of twelve textual fragments and a means of expressing them – casual things, as frivolous as they are urgent, from which the composer has taken inspiration. “Getting lost is not an exception with the Italian postal service.” Well, who wouldn’t agree with him – here, however, it’s not actually a modern-day statement but rather a line from a 1903 letter of Rainer Maria Rilke. Salvatore Sciarrino has put his sensors up very high, and over broad horizons; he gathers in what is shown to him and appropriates it. If he runs into Gesualdo, well then, that has profound consequences for his compositions. But this is Mozart’s year, and although we cannot elaborate on this aspect here, just a nod toward Mozart. Or rather to the cadenzas that Salvatore Sciarrino wrote for an entire series of instrumental Mozart concerts and which in 1991 he gathered together in Cadenzario, another completely autonomous piece. As for the present, his ears are attuned to that too, to the omnipresent trills, rings and alarms, and to one in particular – you will hear it in Archeologia del telefono, performed for the
first time last autumn in Donaueschingen. And also Quaderno di strada, written in 2003 and dedicated to the Klangforum Wien and to the baritone Otto Katzameier. The fact that today we will be able to listen to this marvelous piece in their interpretation of it is a very special joy. My dear Salvatore Sciarrino, I thank you for your music, for the stimuli that you create and for the experiences that you offer us. And I also congratulate you from my heart for this prize. And I thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your attention.
(translated by John Satriano)