MANCHMAIL, foglie che il vento non tocca (chamber and choir music 1964-1978)


Manchmal geschieht es in tiefer nacht, (1978) 2’11’
for Solo Choir

Klangfarneb, (c1970) 5’23”
for String Quintet after Riccardo Malipiero’s series

Sunyata, thema con varianti, (1970) 6’24”
for Soprano and String Quintet

Pour Les Paradisiers de Peverelli, (1976) 1’28”
for String Quintet

Isoritmi II, (1972) 7’46”
for Magnetic Tape

Lirica, (1964) 2’56”
for Soprano and Piano

Elegie pour un enfant, (c1964) 4’25”
for Soprano and Piano

Evasione, for Choir, (1963) 2’14”
Tenor and Piano

Popule meus, (1963) 1’39”
for Choir – from “10 composizioni degli anni liceali a tema religioso”

Tre Litanie, (1963) 4’32”
for Three Voices

Suite Balletto, (c1964) 2’39”
for Piano

Corale, (-) 2’40”
for Piano

Coro Lirico Siciliano
Francesco Costa, maestro del coro e direttore
Clara Polito, soprano
Galina Ovchinnikova, soprano
Alberto Munafò Siragusa, tenore
Francesco Allegra, piano
Bellini String Quintet


Gravina di Catania – gennaio 2022

1° Edizione in CD DaVinci Classics – C00585  –EAN Code: 7.46160914268 – (1 cd) – durata 46′ 01″ (p) 2022 – Digitale DDD


The Sounder of the Unnameable by Dino Villatico

The idea for this album came from a concert which took place in Taormina in 2021, and in which the Coro Lirico Siciliano dedicated to Giuseppe Sinopoli the works recorded here, on the twentieth anniversary of his death. In order to understand the sense and the origins of the works which can be heard there, and then the ensuing sudden silence, one needs to look far. Giuseppe Sinopoli certainly was a man of today, but his roots dug deep into mythical memories, and he had the awareness of being at the turning point of a cultural process which began at least five centuries earlier.

Giuseppe Sinopoli happened to live deeply, radically, inexorably, in this situation of stalemate, between the exasperated exhibition of an almost automatic formal control and the need to re-establish a perceptible communication with the listener. He painfully sought a solution with his stubborn will to find a way out, whilst knowing that such way out did not exist – except, perhaps, as silence. By reading and listening to his youthful works, one gathers in the most efficacious fashion the reality of that cul-de-sac from which it was impossible to find any rescue. His trials before 1970 are apprenticeship notes, but they already demonstrate an extraordinarily clear awareness of the limits of that itinerary. This is found even in the exercise of a Chorale, which we could imagine as being written in the style of Bach, but which nonetheless refuses both the Neoclassicist rewriting and the academic calque. The manuscript cannot be dated, but demonstrates a noteworthy mastery of counterpoint. It is an irony-free “à la manière de”. Poulenc and Stravinskij, but even Casella, were shrewder. And, most importantly, more ambiguous. Still, it is precisely this lack of astuteness, this act by which the composer offers himself fully, that on the one hand renders him liable to a sterile attempt of reconstruction, but, on the other, and precisely because he lays his cards on the table, demonstrates his uncompromising knowledge of the game.

I will not discuss a piece such as Evasione (but Sinopoli was just 17 then!), with its still Mascagni-like vocality, but also with a greater rigour and control of the harmonic processes: they may be more conventional, but also more consistent. Already from the following year (1964) we have the articulated melody of Lirica per soprano, on lyrics by Sinopoli himself:

“When love will no more be there, what will we do?

We will be leaves that the wind touches not, it neither dares nor wills to brush them.

We have to fall.

Song will be an axe beating the sand,
kisses will be the rites of an accomplished rite, and we will be the priests.

But if the love that goes is less than the one that remains,
that is the truest,
we will be the oaks that the wind neither dares nor can tear down”.

The poem’s lexical ingenuousness and metrical awkwardness do not hide the influence of the author’s readings, updated to twentieth-century poetry. And there is already the secret, sacred sense of life’s acts. However, the contrapuntal skill of Popule meus also reveals a certain familiarity with polyphony. In the other three pieces from the same year, we notice other very meaningful aspects, provided that one has, of course, some knowledge of what would come later. In Momento we appreciate the reduction of the generating cell to a mere three notes; it is a pity that, in the last bars, the effect of concision is destroyed by the sudden appearance of something extraneous to the sense of the first part. In Suite Balletto we may observe Berg-like harmonies, but they are not supported by a consequential harmonic thought. In sum, young Sinopoli is attracted, fascinated by diverse suggestions; he wishes to employ them and to take profit from them, but he seems to have not yet chosen the road to tread. Indeed, how could the boy foresee the shock which would have changed his life soon afterwards?

The shock happened around the 1970s. It was due, not by chance, to Sinopoli’s encounter with the avantgarde, to his acquaintance with the works of the so-called Second Viennese School. We find here already the discovery of an imagination which will leave him never more, the discovery of the abyss underlying all existing things, or rather, all perceptible things. In 1970 he wrote Sunyata, Thema con varianti per quintetto d’archi e soprano. It was premiered at the Frankfurt radio on April 17th, 1971. Sinopoli affirms that Thema is assumed in the meaning attributed by Quintilian to that word: “a subject to be treated for a rhetorical exercise”. The exercise is the musical task deduced from the premises affirmed at the beginning: a thick contrast among timbres and modes of sound production. But this is not all: the opening motto is taken from the Hridaya Sutra (pronounced with an aspirated H). Now, Hridaya Sutra could be translated as “aphorisms of the heart”, but the Sanscrit word sutra literally means “thread”, and has the same root as the Latin suere, sewing; so sutra means leading, teaching. It is a book of Mahayana Buddhism, consisting of a mere 14 lines. Hridaya is the heart, Hrid, from the same root as the German Hertz and the English heart, and means “center”; ayam is the demonstrative pronoun “this”: “this center, heart”. The lines cited as a motto read:

“Form is not different from void,
void is not different from form.

Form is precisely the void
the void is precisely form”.

The Chinese Tao, at the root also of Japanese Zen, begins thus: “Being and not being are the same thing”. This is shocking for us Westerners, who are used to distinguish the real from the imaginary, the concrete from the abstract, and whose logic is grounded on the Aristotelian principle of non-contradiction. The real has not one single face, and the tongue saying it is ambiguous, elusive, just as reality itself. Words, for Aristotle, say and signify nothing by themselves, and are arbitrarily juxtaposed to the object they indicate. They acquire meaning only in a sentence or discourse. “Father” means nothing. “I am a father” has a meaning, and has it because there is a verb, an action. But we must not anticipate the itinerary which will be Sinopoli’s terminal path. What we aim at pointing out here is that Sinopoli encountered Eastern philosophy – which was fashionable in those years, let one merely think of The Beatles or of Cage.

In those same years, Sinopoli attended university courses in medicine, in particular as concerns brain functions. He discovered Freud, Nietzsche; and, through Nietzsche, the Greeks, who appeared to him as his ancestors. “A Venetian by birth, I connect my origins to that very ancient culture that was the society of the old Greek masters, from Anaximander to Empedocles”. Thus he jotted down his self-portrait in the publications of the Donaueschingen Musiktage, the “musical days”. And so the circle closes. The isolated, rarefied sound, the timbral variability, the irregular pace of Sunyata constitute the first work in which Sinopoli faces the void, the nothingness, the cul-de-sac of the avantgardes. Beyond that is the unsayable, the unpronounceable, the unknown, the void, the nothing. Or, to say it in Samuel Beckett’s fashion, the Unnameable.

From the same period is Klangfarben, per cinque archi solisti su una serie di Riccardo Malipiero. Here we have the sound’s colours, a melody of timbres, as had been theorized by Berg, but not without the suggestions of Debussy. Timbre acquires the thickness of a building element of musical form, or rather is its founding element. This happens to the point that the most radical among the serialist composers serialized it, building a scheme of obbligato timbral sequences: the page is preformed since its very construction scheme. Nothing of this happens with Sinopoli. The implicit reference remains to Berg and Webern, as if music rebelled against the delegitimization of the signifier’s obligations. It is, yes, an abstract music, but it still transmits meanings that do not coincide with its own structure. The expressive elan is evident, just as the sudden violence breaking the discourse. But still there is a discourse. There are even melodic cells: very short ones, but they are there. This is to speak before remaining silent, to propose some meaning before one loses control of it, before sinking into senselessness.

Between 1971 and 1972 Sinopoli also considered electronic music. For the Centre de recherches musicales de la Wallonie in Liège, founded in 1970 by Henri Pousseur, he composed Isoritmi I and Isoritmi II – VOLTE for magnetic tape. In this album the latter is recorded; its premiere took place on April 16th, 1973, at the Festival of Royan in France. Sinopoli himself wrote: “Over each fundamental a series is built, determined on the basis of a variable ratio, of complementary harmonics chosen so that the values of different series of complementary harmonics coincide as concerns their value in Hz, but differ as to the number of their series”. This is a journey into the utopia of impersonalism, of music’s absolute objectivity. Still it must influence the very intimacy of the hearer’s mental processes (otherwise this would not be a work by Sinopoli), in an absolute loneliness. This music is to be listened to while being secluded in oneself, even in the midst of an audience, with closed eyes in order to isolate oneself from the world, open to nothing else than to the flow of the soundwave. The isolation from the world thus becomes almost a Leopardi-like naufragare in the sea of Being, rather than a negation of oneself. The minimal starting cell is similar to a Big-Bang of sort, which suspends the hearer between a beginning and an ending, between being and nothingness. The primordial is mixed with the terminal, the beginning with apocalypse.

On this way toward draining, on the road leading to silence we find a very short (1’27’’) piece for string quartet called Pour les Paradisiers de Peverelli. Dating from 1976, it is dedicated to painter Cesare Peverelli, within the framework of a Parisian exposition, called L’atélier de l’artiste, at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la ville de Paris; other musicians such as Donatoni, Koering, Mache Méfano were also there. The works were performed by the deserving and extraordinary Parrenin Quartet. Even Italo Calvino, who at the time was living in Paris, took part in the initiative. This is already almost a masterpiece. Each sound is gathered into itself; music is entrusted to the intonation of isolated sounds, of tremolos, of imperceptible intonations, as if every sound phenomenon were autonomous. Indeed, what connects them is the pattern of the intervallic ratios: it is a hidden, inaudible scheme, even more elusive than a series’ configuration, but one that still is present and acts.

And lo, in 1978, this motet of sort, a musical aphorism: Manchmal geschieht es in tiefer Nacht, on lyrics by Rainer Maria Rilke.

At times it happens in the depths of night
that wind wakes up as a child,
and he comes alone in the alley,
light, light into the village.

But, just as one cannot hear an uninterrupted melody, so here the lyrics are broken among the four parts of soprano, alto, tenor and bass – the four parts of a Chorale. One has almost the feeling that the text is dissolving, together with the singing, in order to be better understood, precisely because it is a fading which aims at communicating. The wind occupyin the village’s roads is almost a premonition of the opera Lou Salomé, which would be performed in 1981 at the Staatsoper in Munich. After that, Sinopoli would write no more, not even a single staff of music. Rather than writing a non-music, it is better to write no music. Of Rilke’s poem, Sinopoli sets to music only the first stanza.

What had happened? Sinopoli had by then become an acclaimed conductor worldwide, but he was particularly appreciated in the German-speaking countries. In the end, that was his foundational musical culture, the one he could not renounce. His predilection for certain composers was meaningful – Alban Berg above all, but all the late German Romantics, Bruckner above all (another composer who challenged silence by shouting). The landing is in Bayreuth, at the Wagner festivals. First came a Tannhäuser in 1983. Then in 1991 came The Flying Dutchman, in 1998 Parsifal, and in 2000 The Ring. However, he also approached the Italian repertoire, above all Verdi and Puccini. In Verdi he found a total, reciprocal penetration of music and meaning. Puccini was more problematic, but, as in Berg, Sinopoli found there an emotional elan, an anxiety for death, suspending the loss of meaning of that new music. This meaning was reacquired by Sinopoli precisely when he conducted Wagner, the one who theorized that the meaning of music is not musical. By conducting Wagner, Verdi, Puccini, and Berg, Sinopoli realised that the path of Western music was closing, or rather had already been closed. Precisely by Berg. Musicians such as Boulez, Stockhausen, and Nono were the epitaph on the gravestone of Western music. Its history ended there. Or so did Sinopoli think. After the avantgardes, after the tabula rasa of the past, one can see nothing more: one can only repeat and interpret the past. But it is impossible to rewrite it. One needed to re-establish a new, meaningful music. And, for Sinopoli, European culture – his own culture – was able no more to do this. He sought refuge at its roots, at its beginnings, by the Greeks, by the Eleatics. He was perhaps seeking the end of a lost skein, a new beginning. But he did not find it. We do not know whether he was about to find it; we do not even know whether he was really seeking it. Down, deep down, in the unnameable unconscious of his own self, in the abyss where all begins and all ends (and had Nietzsche not written that even the roots of language, by which we believe we are rationally explaining the world, actually dig into the irrational, into the unknowable subsoil?), inside, into the most terrible part of himself, in the part which is uncapable of lying, Sinopoli believed that the fermata written by Debussy on the bar line, depicting Mélisande’s death, was in fact the death of music.

Fiano Romano, April 6th, 2022