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Ombra mai fù: Giacinto Scelsi's Palm Tree

Giacinto Scelsi, composer (1905-1988)Last year, I reviewed a couple of CDs of music by Giacinto Scelsi. The interest in Scelsi continues to grow, and this year the Salzburg Festival offers a series of concerts dedicated to his music. Renaud Machart published a tribute to Scelsi (L'énigme Scelsi fêtée à Salzbourg, August 9) in Le Monde, which contains an anecdote from his visit in Scelsi's home shortly before the composer's death (my translation and links added):

His apartment, at no. 8 (it goes without saying) via San Teodoro, had an amazing view of the Palatine Hill, and Scelsi used to say, in all seriousness -- tempered, however, by a glimmer of malice in his eye -- that he was located at the exact meeting point of East and West. When we visited him in Rome, in 1985, we had sat down on the side of the sofa that he reserved for himself, under the diptych Couple with Clouds in Their Heads by Salvador Dalí (Scelsi was a friend of painters and poets). The little man suddenly got agitated: "Not there, I pray you, because from there I can see my palm tree, and it sees me." The local government had threatened to cut down the palm tree, and Scelsi had threatened the government in return. No one laid a hand on the special tree.
Xerxes had his platano amato, and Scelsi had his palm tree. (One of the apartment's windows overlooks the Foro Romano.) Machart, lucky fellow, is reporting on the Salzburg Festival at the moment. You can also read his rave review (Un concert exemplaire, à la limite du surnaturel, August 9) of the first of those Scelsi concerts, featuring Les Jeunes solistes, the Kammerchor Salzburg, and the Basel Sinfonietta. The program of Scelsi's music was introduced by Perotin's Beata viscera, a felicitous combination sure to yield interesting results. Yesterday's concert in the series of eight -- Scelsi's mystical number (he fell into a mortal coma on August 8, 1988, and died on August 9, 19 years ago today) -- included a complete performance of Espaces acoustiques, a cycle of six pieces by Gérard Grisey (1946-1998) that crescendo from a movement for solo viola to a conclusion for full orchestra and four horn soloists.

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