Giacinto Scelsi


mode 92

Scelsi Edition 1-Piano Works 1



mode 92 Giacinto SCELSI, Vol.1: The Piano Works 1- Sonata No. 2 (1939); Sonata No. 4 (1941); Suite No. 9 “Ttai” (1953) – Louise Bessette, piano

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Scelsi Edition 1-Piano Works 1
Program notes linked to from resource. Louise Bessette, piano. Recorded in 1999.

Sonata No. 2 (1939)
1. Con estremo impeto, agitatissimo  (5:21)
2. Lento meditativo  (8:21)
3. Vivace tempestoso  (4:24)

Sonata No. 4 (1941)
1. Con moto  (4:59)
2. Lento  (7:22)
3. Con impeto estremo, violento  (3:40)

Suite No. 9 “Ttai” (1953)
1. Calmo, senza espressione  (3:56)
2. Lentissimo  (5:05)
3. Uguale, senza espressione  (2:51)
4. Non molto legato, ma sempre appoggiando profondamente  (5:14)
5. Uguale, scorrevole  (3:09)
6. Lento  (3:14)
7. Uguale, inespressivo  (3:48)
8. Lento  (5:45)
9. Molto p eguale, non troppo legato  (3:18)

Louise Bessette, piano

This marks not only the first volume in Mode’s new Scelsi Edition, but also the initial disc of the traversal of his piano works.

Written in 1939, Scelsi’s Second Sonata was premiered by Yvar Mikhashoff on 1979 in London. Marking a new compositional tendency, Scelsi suspended thematic development and frequently introduced various kinds of repetitions: reiterated single tones, chords, and patterns, often suggesting the sounds of bells or Oriental gongs. Scelsi chose extreme dynamics and timbres, extensively exploring the piano’s rich harmonics in its low and treble registers.

The Fourth Sonata of 1941 was written at the end of Scelsi’s first creative period and also premiered by Yvar Mikhashoff in 1986 at the Almeida Festival in London. Mikhashoff considered it a “beautiful and dark elegy, one of the composer’s most deeply felt creations.” Employing principles from his Second Sonata, it focuses on single pitches and their reiteration.

Scelsi characterized Ttai as “a succession of episodes alternately expressing Time and Man, as symbolized by cathedrals or monasteries, with the sacred sound of – Om.” Emphasizing the suite’s calm, meditative and mysterious character, Scelsi wondered if this piece should be played at conventional concerts at all, and advised in its preface: “This suite should be listened to and played with the greatest inner calm. Nervous people stay away!” It features low contrasting musical material, repetitive elements, stationary tones and chords, and blurred sounds due to the frequent use of both pedals. The music manifests both constant flow and inertia, and since Scelsi rarely used bar-lines, it seems to unfold in an almost unrestrained manner. Like the Second and Fourth Sonatas, it received its premiere more than two decades after its origin in 1976 by Frederic Rzewski in Rome.


Scelsi Volume 1 – The Piano Works 1
Louise Bessette, piano
Mode 92
Scelsi Volume 2 – The Orchestral Works 1
The Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic & Concert Choir
Juan Pablo Izquierdo
Mode 95
Scelsi Volume 3 – Music For High Winds
Carol Robinson, Clara Novakova, Cathy Milliken
Mode 102
Scelsi Volume 4 – The Piano Works 2
Stephen Clarke, piano
Mode 143

Referring to Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988) as Italy’s Charles Ives is both on and off the mark. Like Ives, Scelsi’s brilliantly radical and idiosyncratic music only gained recognition at a late stage in the composer’s life. Both were ultimate inner-driven composers. In other respects they are polar opposites. New England’s solidly bourgeois Ives studied music at Yale and became an insurance executive. Scelsi was an independently wealthy Count who trained in a very eighteenth-century way via private mentoring. After thriving as a virtuoso pianist, composer, poet and essayist in interwar Paris, Scelsi turned intensely private. While Ives drew inspiration from American vernacular music, Scelsi learned music and religion in India. He then created a deep hybrid of Asian and European musical structures. Three of the four phases of Scelsi’s compositional path, plus one shining selection from the final period, are represented to date in Mode’s important series of Scelsi recordings. Phase one (1930-43) involved Scriabin, futurism, atonality, and dodecaphony. The Piano Suite 2 (1930) on Volume 4 already presents an attention to overtones that would inspire Scelsi’s microtonal, “three-dimensional” music. Phase two begins with an extended nervous breakdown and Scelsi’s creation of a new musical system as a vehicle for self-healing. He focused on complex nuances that could be generated from a single note. Scelsi’s practice of Buddhist meditation and Yoga was integral to the attentiveness that attuned him to microtonal consequences of individual sounds. Beyond pitch and duration, this was music’s third dimension. Through 1956, Scelsi composed mainly for piano. Real-time composition was part and parcel of his new musical system. In the late 1940’s, Scelsi tape-recorded piano improvisations. His ample wealth permitted paying assistants to transcribe recordings. Once Scelsi supervised revisions, however, there was little intended room for performers to interpret works. Then the half-tone limits of piano keys moved him towards woodwinds, strings, human voice and electronic keyboards as vehicles for realizing micro-tonality. By 1959, Scelsi arrived at his mature musical system. The third phase of the 1960’s extended this system to orchestras, choruses, and a variety of chamber ensembles. This was the decade when Darmstadt recognized that a great composer had been quietly at work. Among Mode’s discs, the best entry point is “Music for High Winds”. Clarinetist Carol Robinson worked intensively with Scelsi during the 1980’s. Her impressive disc gives us the Scelsi parallel of Pears singing Britten. Then I would turn to Toronto pianist Stephen Clarke’s performance of Action Music (1955), a piece that synthesizes what Scelsi achieved for the piano. “Orchestral Works” stretches, literally, what can be done with power of the big instrumental beast that we’ve inherited from the nineteenth century Romantic tradition. It also includes striking samplings of Scelsi’s writing for voice. The solo clarinet version of Three Latin Prayers (1970) on “High Winds” announces phase four of Scelsi’s compositions, reworking tonality into his three-dimensional system. The clarinet sounds classically gorgeous and yet unfamiliar, as does the stately but varying tempo. Given the exemplary performances of Scelsi’s music in the four Mode discs at hand, let’s hope for future volumes dedicated to the composer’s final endeavours.
— Phil Ehrensaft, WholeNote, February 2006

Giacinto Scelsi
The Piano Works Vol.1

Louise Bessette
Mode 92 CD

This is a most welcome release which shows clearly that Giacinto Scelsi di Ayala Valva (1905-88) didn’t just beam down to planet Earth from Saturn like Sun Ra (who didn’t either, as it turns out) but in fact grew organically from the compositional soil of late nineteenth-century Romanticism like so many others. Scelsi was in the habit of recording his own improvisations and subsequently having them transcribed by assistants (though to what extent this practice was already the case back in the late 30s and early 40s when the first Piano Sonatas were written is not clear). In describing himself as a mere “vessel” through which music passed, he also aligns himself with that quintessentially Romantic concept, inspiration (a much-maligned word nowadays, sadly) – late Liszt comes to mind (compare Scelsi’s sonata slow movements with the Abbé’s “Nuages Gris”..), but also Beethoven. The second movement (“Lentissimo”) from the Suite no. 9 “Ttai” with its resonating major chords recalls in no uncertain terms the finale of Beethoven’s Op.110, though whereas Beethoven incorporated such moments of “Ur-Musik” (in the sense of the term as employed by Busoni) into a rigorous formal scheme including two extended fugues, Scelsi tends to let his imagination run wild, thereby blowing the form wide open and anticipating the intense meditative style of his later works. It remains open to question whether a more conventionally disciplined “composer” would have fashioned this magma into a cool marble sculpture, but as this is just Volume One of a projected Scelsi cycle on Mode, I await further elucidation with great interest. Strongly recommended listening for fans of Scelsi and Beethoven alike.
— Dan Warburton,,
February 2001

The Piano Works 1
Louise Bessette (pf)

Terminally boring for some, fascinating an ear-cleansing for others. Giacinto Scelsi sought minimum contrast, maximum concentration on pure sound, ending with works that explore endless inflections of a single note. Here he is en route: still writing tunes, beautiful ones, but obsessively returning to the same note. Stunningly played.
Michael Oliver


Giacinto Scelsi on Mode:
The Orchestral Works 1 (mode 95)
The Orchestral Works 2 (mode 176)
Music For High Winds (mode 102)
The Piano Works 2 (mode 143)
The Piano Works 3 (mode 159)
The Works for Double Bass (mode 188)

Haydee Schvartz: New Piano Works From Europe and
The Americas
(mode 31)

Giacinto Scelsi Profile
Louise Bessette profile

Louise Bessette web site