Cantiere del poema (Salvatore Sciarrino)
(The Forging of Poetry)
The title of the work is an allusion to the strict discipline required of language, whether musical or poetic, as well as the unpredictability of the link between music and text. I have been repeating for years that singing becomes powerful when we succeed in combining two forces: the emotion of singing and the intensity of the words. As a composer, I regard the comprehensibility of singing as a matter of first importance.
Even before I composed it, this work was to be a pendant to my favourite Trois Poèmesby Ravel. Both works use the same instruments (with the addition of double bass in Cantiere). However, today I find distant echoes of Ravel’s first Poèmeonly in Caravans. I interpret his Soupiras a sudden lifting of the head, a dizziness, a blue rending apart, a shimmer of watery mist, returning at the end as a short sob, a farewell memory.
On the other hand, the ecstatic character of Caravans reveals itself in the expansive breath of colours and in the nocturnal spaces being travelled by the voice. The whole is so piercing that you could not be further from Ravel in terms of mood, of the strophic shape of the singing, floating in the upper octave. We also distance ourselves from Ravel through aesthetic austerity: looking at the conscience of today’s Italy, Caravans rejects the celebratory rhetoric. Turning to ancient themes, Caravans is a reflection of today’s frenzy, anonymity, the randomness of encounters and events. This may be irritating, but it reveals something which we try not to see. Is our environment contaminated by dirt, or by lack of love? Life should be observed in order to be comprehended and loved in spite of everything. In order not to fall victim to it, not to expose ourselves to banality, which kills faster than brutality, one has to subject life to a kind of exorcism. Those who reject clarity of vision, who stereotypically delude themselves that they live outside their own time, will remain unnatural and alienated in the depth of their souls.
The two items that follow are the rejected numbers from Superflumina, an opera on a modern subject: its heroine is a homeless woman. When we observe her, we participate in a reconstruction of reality. A number of themes of urban life are interwoven here, such as garbage, bullying in a peer group, the torpidity of large social masses, the arrogance of bureaucrats – in other words, the various elements of the meaninglessness of the modern world. When, after a number of years of tedious work on this project, I was tidying up my drafts, I found something interesting in an old folder destined for the rubbish bin. The provisional titles of the works formed a dizzying stellar constellation: two vagrants are gibbering, they seem to answer each other in some form of Chinese whispers, but they do not conduct any dialogue. I also introduce here a verse from Petrarch, a quiet commentary, centuries old but still always relevant. How this mess turned into music is a mystery even to me; it demonstrates the unexpected possibilities which one always discovers in a forge.
Having been raised on Dante’s ideals, I still nurture my fragile illusion, surrounded by the empty, chaotic carnival of Italy, of little aesthetic and social value.
Recalling the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy, one should remember the choice made by Ugo Foscolo, the incorruptible visionary who freely chose exile, risking poverty.
Like Homer, he was a passionate wanderer, and an intense lover; as he himself admitted, passions burned him, but did not enlighten him. The work of his life, the poem Graces, was to be a reflection on the subject of poetry as the driving force of humanity. Written at a time of political and military struggle, today it has become sublimated and transformed into a quest for ideal beauty, for the clarity of vision which must not be lost.
This reminds me of the attitude of Luigi Nono, a committed composer, who was accused of seeking refuge in belated Platonism; whether we agree with this accusation or not, his path is similar to that taken by Foscolo.
The Forging of Poetry makes a reference to the arch mentioned in Graces.My interpretation takes up the theme of the provisional and fragmentary nature of Foscolo’s masterpiece; it is like a musical perpetuum mobile, sparkling with instrumental and vocal colours. I apologise if I am going beyond my narrow emploi here. My own self rebels.
Italian criticism, always guilty of sterile academicism, agrees in describing Graces as the poetry of episodes and interpolations. Yet the situation is just the opposite: any work that has a wide-ranging aim requires some method of assembly. Undoubtedly, Graces remained unfinished not because of the interpolations, or the author ’s lack of talent or inspiration, but because of the immanent features of its fast-flowing, intuitive narrative flow, which evokes images in a way that is quite incomparable. Some objects, seen in motion and not at rest, foreshadow cinematic sequences; for example, the figure of a female dancer who a hundred years later will also become a central thread in Rilke’s poetry. Foscolo’s poem is unique in world literature. It is technically a dizzying feat, full of free, untrammelled episodes which do not submit to any system, and which follow each other by reason of association or digression. A free space opens up before us here, one that is the greatest achievement of modern artistic thought. To free oneself from rules and to overcome the existing models, each must create his or her own kind of cohesion.
Salvatore Sciarrino (2011)
Piazzuole di sosta
s’incontrano gli occhi
Mi volevi con te
ho esitato un istante:
troppo per chi ha sete di partire
Piazzuole di sosta
s’incontrano gli occhi
ci sognammo avvinghiati come belve, anzi, neppure.
Ti volevo con me: anni hai da riflettere
poi che son sparito
2. Due titoli e un verso
Toutes les nuits je compte les jours
Povera e nuda vai, Filosofia.
3. Cantiere del poema
Recate insieme, o vergini, le conche
Dell’alabastro, provvido di fresca
Linfa e di vita ahi breve a’ montanini
Gelsomini, e alla mammola dogliosa
Di non morir sul seno alla fuggiasca
Ninfa di Pratolino, o sospirata
Dal solitario venticel notturno.
(...) lo dal mio poggio,
Quando tacciono i venti fra le torri
Della vaga Firenze, odo un Silvano
ospite ignoto a’ taciti eremiti
Del vicino Oliveto: ei sul meriggio
Fa sua casa un frascato, e a suon d’avena
Le pecorelle sue chiama alla fonte.
Chiama due brune giovani la sera,
Né piegar erba mi parean ballando.
Esso mena la danza. (...)
Il mirteto e i rosai lungo i meandri
Del ruscello, versate sul ruscello,
Versateli, e al fuggente nuotatore
Fate inciampi di fiori, (...)
Fioritelo di gigli. (...)
(...) Ma se danza
E chi pingerla può?
E le carole che lenta disegna
Affretta rapidissima, e s’invola
Sorvolando su’ fiori, appena veggio
Il vel fuggente biancheggiar fra’ mirti.
text: Salvatore Sciarrino, one verse by Francesco Petrarch (Canzoniere: VII),
excerpts from poems by Ugo Foscolo (Le Grazie: II, I, II, II)