Giacinto Scelsi


mode 102

Scelsi Edition 3 – Music for High Winds



mode 102  Giacinto SCELSI, Vol.3: “Music for High Winds”. Ixor for clarinet; Suite for flute & clarinet; Pwyll for flute; Tre pezzi for Eb clarinet; Rucke di Guck for piccolo & oboe;  Preghiera per un’ ombra for clarinet;  Ko-Lho for flute & clarinet; Three Latin Prayers for clarinet – Carol Robinson, clarinets; Cathy Milliken, oboe; Clara Novakova, flutes, piccolo

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Scelsi Edition 3–Music for High Winds
Aufnahme: Chatillon (F), 2001? Clara Novakova, flute, piccolo ; Cathy Milliken, oboe ; Carol Robinson, clarinet. Recorded in 1998.

Carol Robinson, clarinets
Clara Novakova, flute, piccolo
Cathy Milliken, oboe

1. Ixor (1956)   for clarinet (3:01)

2-5. Suite (1953)   for flute & clarinet (2:37, 2:01, 2:35, 1:29)

6. Preghiera per un’ ombra (1954)   for clarinet (8:41)

7-8. Ko-Lho (1966)   for flute & clarinet (3:07, 2:37)

9. Pwyll (1954)   for flute (4:31)

10-12. Tre pezzi (1954)   for Eb clarinet (2:45, 2:51, 3:10)

13-15. Rucke di Guck (1957)  for piccolo & oboe (2:28, 3:00, 3:17)

16-18. Three Latin Prayers (1970)   for clarinet
Ave Maria (3:15), Pater Noster (2:25), Alleluja (3:09)

Clarinetist Carol Robinson had the unique opportunity to work directly with Scelsi on his music: “I discovered this music in 1981. Captivated, I began including pieces in concerts the following year. A friend of the composer who attended a concert gave him a recording of my performance. As a result, Scelsi invited me to Rome. In his apartment overlooking the Roman forum… On numerous occasions we worked in detail on all his music for clarinet, an instrument particularly important for him… We often worked until late in the night, to reach that moment when the music became more accessible… After having played this music for many years, I feel ever closer to the sources of these sounds, and yet at the same time, I am constantly gaining new insight.”

Though virtuosic in the ordinary sense of the term, the true difficulty of the music lies on another plane. In addition to playing the text accurately, the performer must strive to produce vibrations which take on another dimension.

This recording presents pieces for woodwind instruments played solo or in duo. The majority date from the 50’s, when Scelsi abandoned his classical and 12-tone training to undertake a relentless and solitary quest toward the interior of musical sound. The listener will notice elements such as conflicting harmonic centers, sustained notes, brief frenetic passages, tempo changes by section, and tremoli, that are reinforced by constant dynamic activity, to create a characteristically heady, non-static quality.

Scelsi preferred that his music be played by women, finding them generally more supple and less encumbered by competitive exhibitionism than male performers. Robinson, born in the U.S., studied with clarinetist Michel Portal in Paris, where she currently lives. Equally at ease in the classical and experimental realms, she specializes in chamber and contemporary music. Her superb partners are Cathy Milliken (a founding member of Ensemble Modern) and Clara Novakova (principal flutist of the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris and member of Ensemble Entretemps).


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 Scelsi Edition, Volume 3: Music for High Winds.”

Giacinto SCELSI: Ixor (1956); Suite (1953); Preghiera per un’ ombra (1954); Ko-Lho (1966); Pwyll (1954); Tre pezzi (1954); Rucke di Guck (1957); Three Latin Prayers (1970).
Carol Robinson (clarinets); Clara Novakova (flute, piccolo); Cathy Milliken (oboe).
Mode 102

Mode’s third volume of Scelsi focuses on chamber music for clarinet, flute and oboe, definitive performances all. Clarinetist Carol Robinson, who worked with Scelsi in the 1980s, is the major force behind this recording. A special treat for Scelsi fanatics is the inclusion of a photo of the Roman forum taken from the oddball composer’s apartment.

I especially enjoy this recording’s immediacy. The Suite’s flute and clarinet will be there in your living room. This surprisingly conventional duet has the flute and clarinet frolicking together like bubbles in a fountain. The opening hints at something bucolic, even Mahlerian (think Third Symphony).Bounding ahead 13 years to another flute and clarinet duet, Ko-Lho, Robinson and flutist Novakova play as one, with teasing and insistent microtones, flutter-tonguing, multiphonics, and passionate phrasing. These two duets alone demonstrate Scelsi’s variety: the expressive, traditional melodist vs. the avant-garde sculptor of single-tone music emphasizing timbre and color.

Flute alone revels in Pwyll, a short, acrobatic piece. Some of Scelsi’s titles, such as Ko-Lho, are pure inventions, but there is a Pwyll in Celtic mythology. Scelsi’s Pwyll revolves around several pitches and a limited set of modal harmonies. Rucke di Guck, the third duet, a raucous and busy set of three emphasizing the instruments’ shrill and piercing qualities, is scored for piccolo and oboe. If I remember correctly, “rucke di guck” is a taunting refrain sung by birds in a Brothers Grimm fairy tale.

There are four works for solo clarinet: Ixor, a tiny gestural invocation that bounces out of a few repeated notes; Preghiera per un’ ombra, a cry of suffering and rage at the death of a loved one; the virtuosic Three Pieces for E-flat clarinet; and Three Latin Prayers, originally composed for voice. Scelsi is a gifted composer of melodic lines, and his music empowers performers to tell a story or target an emotion. Robinson gives the Three Pieces a dramatic edge, and the latest composition, the Three Latin Prayers (Ave Maria, Pater Noster and Alleluja), is buttery and wistful.

The quality of performances and recording sweeps aside other releases (e.g., Ixor played on oboe, Ko-Lho, and Pwyll, with the Ensemble 2e2m on Adda 581 189). Mode promises more Scelsi and more of Robinson, who switches aesthetics for Feldman’s late works with clarinet on Mode 119.
— Grant Chu Covell, la folia on-line review,

Scelsi, Giacinto(1905-1988)
The Scelsi Edition (Volume 3): “Music for High Winds”
4 stars

A l’époque où l’avant-garde européenne s’employait à imaginer une musique anguleuse ot discontinue, Scelsi, sans etre moins novateur pour autant, ne rêvait que de retour circulaire et de transitions lisses. Dans ce troisième volume de l’anthologie consacrée au compositeur par l’éditeur américan Mode, ce défi est d’autant plus captivant que la manière qu’avait Scelsi d’imaginer le son semble à première vue contradictoire avec la technique et l’écriture des bois. Aux pédales et glissandos microtonaux qui font la spécificité des quatuors de Scelsi répondent ici les unisons qui bifurquent dans Ko-Lho, les intervalles à la fois purs et estranges de Three Latin Prayers (don’t on peut préférer, à cette version pour clarinette, la version originale pour voix de basse, plus ambiguë) et surtout les motifs non tempérés qui tourment sur eux-mêmes. Déjà, dans Preghiera per un’ombra (1954), le compositeur affirme sa volonté d’imposer un nouveau statut de l’ornement.

Le detail a une importance particulère chez Scelsi. C’est ce qu’ont compris la clarinettiste Carol Robinson (Ixor devient dans son interpretation le terrain des suggestions obscures, codifies par le spectre sonore) et la flûtiste Clara Novakova, grace à la claret des intentions et à la luminosité du timbre.
—Costin Cazaban, Le Monde de la Musique

Giacinto Scelsi
Vol. 3 Music for High Winds
Mode 102

All but two of the works on this disc date from between 1953 and 1957 (the exception being “Ko-Lho” from 1966 and 1970’s “Three Latin Prayers”), but while his younger contemporaries Boulez, Stockhausen and Nono were still thrashing out the ideology of total serialism and agonizing over whether to include Cageian chance procedures in their work (they eventually did, but ended up excluding Cage himself), Count Giacinto Scelsi had gone way beyond the confines of dodecaphony and arrived at an utterly unique, intuitive and inspired compositional aesthetic. Scelsi was, to quote his longtime friend Joëlle Léandre, “not a card-carrying Communist”, and spent much of his life in total obscurity – not poverty, though: the family fortune from Sicilian olives allowed him the luxury of being able to devote himself totally to composition. Though perhaps best known for his extraordinary orchestral meditations on single pitches (“drone” is far too static a noun to describe his work), Scelsi’s writing could be extraordinary playful and light when he wanted. The clarinet pieces “Preghiera per un’ombra” (1945) and “Ixor” (1956) and the solo flute work “Pwyll” (1954) are delightfully supple, almost improvised in feel – Léandre is convinced that Scelsi’s piano works were often transcribed from his own piano improvisations, and the same might be the case for these wind pieces. In later life, Scelsi worked closely with his interpreters – clarinetist William Smith introduced him to certain microtonal inflections in the 1960s (used to great effect in “Ko-Lho”), and Carol Robinson, the performer here, worked with the Count during the final years of his life. Her readings of his works are authoritative and utterly convincing, as are the contributions of flutist Clara Novakova and oboist Cathy Milliken. While many of the pieces played at Darmstadt back in the fifties now sound hopelessly dated and dusty, these magnificent little vignettes are fresh enough to have been written yesterday.
—Dan Warburton, Signal to Noise, Spring 2002



Scelsi on Mode:
The Piano Works 1 (mode 92)
The Orchestral Works 1 (mode 95)
The Orchestral Works 2 (mode 176)
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
(mode 31)

Cathy Milliken on Mode:
Howard Skempton: Surface Tension – with HCD Productions (mode 61)

Carol Robinson on Mode:
Alain Bancquart: Le Livre du Labyrinthe (mode 120/121, 2-CDs)
Morton Feldman: Late Works with Clarinet (mode 119)
Luigi Nono: A floresta é jovem e cheja de vida (mode 87)

Cathy Milliken Profile
Clara Novakova Profile
Carol Robinson Profile
Giacinto Scelsi Profile