Scelsi Festival is an annual celebration of the beginning of the New Year: Compositions, improvisations and musical / philosophical facets connected to Giacinto Scelsi (8 Jan. 1905 – 9. Aug 1988) are presented at Gare du Nord, Basel’s “train stop for new music”.
The city of Basel owes this cultural jewel to the composer’s own unique legacy, and to the outstanding pianist – Marianne Schroeder – to whom he left his entire piano repertoire. It is she who is the initiator, mastermind, driving force and artistic director of Scelsi Festival, organising the ensemble, which is made up of internationally renowned musicians, and inviting recognised experts to offer insights into Scelsi’s work and its contexts.
The composer and his work offer ample stimulus for inquiry: Scelsi’s output is outlandish and in opposition to the European traditions of compositional practice, which insists on clear authorship; his compositions are not based on traditional structures or relate in any way to concepts present in musical modernism. Scelsi developed an impression of spectral sounds, which he aimed to recreate in his music by the means of microtonal elements. Furthermore, he despised counterpoint. The majority of his works therefore came into being through some sort of intuitive improvisation, which he played on the piano or ondioline (an early electronic instrument). These improvisations were then transcribed onto manuscript. More than 900 such recordings make up part of Scelsi’s estate, many of which remain to this day un-researched. His engagement with Far-Eastern, particularly Indian, philosophy, had a great influence on Scelsi’s work. In 1953, he wrote his Quattro Illustrazioni, or “four enlightenements”, on the different manifestations of the god Vishnu.
It was particularly in France and Germany that Scelsi achieved some level of fame in the 1980s. The Giacinto Scelsi Foundation is today located at his former home in Rome.