Giacinto Scelsi, count of Ayala Valva (born 8 January 1905 in La Spezia, Italy; died 9 August 1988 in Rome) came from ancient Italian aristocratic stock. Little is known about his early years. Scelsi himself was always careful not to publicly share any details about his life; only a few authentic photographs exist, and he consciously created counterfeit images of himself. The following facts, however, have been proven:
As a child Scelsi learned to play piano, probably by teaching himself. In his late youth, he studied composition and harmony under Giacinto Sallustio in Rome. He moved to Paris in the latter half of the 1920s, where, he lived the life of a dandy and married an English aristocrat and relation of the British royal family. His wife separated from him at the onset of the Second World War. Scelsi was in close contact with the French Surrealist movement around Paul Éluard, Salvador Dalí and Henri Michaux. In the early 1930s he studied under Egon Köhler, a follower of Skriabin, in Geneva as well as learning 12-tone harmony under Schoenberg’s pupil Walter Klein in Vienna. He travelled extensively, including journeys to Africa and the Far East.
During the latter half of the 1940s, Scelsi began suffering from a psychological crisis which led to a lengthy stint at a sanatorium in Switzerland. Between 1947 and 1952, his compositional activities ceased completely. He finally returned to Rome and settled there in 1952, and his creativity returned. It was only now, at around 50 years old, that he began to develop his unique, personal style. He lived as a recluse and his music initially attracted little public attention. More regular performances of his works only began in the 1980s, triggering an eager reception and discussion of his works.
Amongst others, his piano works were premiered by Frederic Rzewski, Marianne Schroeder and Ivar Mikhashoff.
The Giacinto Scelsi Foundation is today located at his former home in Rome.