In memoriam Bussotti

In memoriam Bussotti

All those who knew Sylvano Bussotti will remember nothing but the delightful and refined man of culture, always animated by a sense of clever provocation and a biting wit. We are all saddened by the news of his loss, at almost 90. It’s impossible to sum up his artistic journey along the second half of the twentieth century, making a distinction between the composer and the painter, the poet and the screenwriter, the stage and the artistic director. Paradoxical innovator, with a look at the past and a rare and overwhelming theatrical vocation, Bussotti wrote some of the brightest scores of the last seventy years: a human and artistic legacy yet to be discovered.

We’d like to remember him with the text he wrote on the occasion of the release of his catalogue, published by Casa Ricordi in 1993.

An Editorial Envoy

Publishers often bring out revised editions of their catalogues, but from time to time there are some revisions which are dictated by special occasions and take on a particular significance. This is one such. It has made the composer feel the need to add his own comments, and he asks the reader to bear with him.

It might seem that, when listed together, the works and their variants assume a certain ambitious weight: the rather alarming impression is given of a monumental body of work. Such an impression should be refuted. In the past there was some encouragement to think in utopian terms, a concept which an acute and generous musicologist has revived in introducing this publication. This tendency was prompted perhaps by the shocking daily assault of ideas, and even more by the multiform intertwining of the disciplines whose grasp was deemed necessary for developing those ideas, at least in part. Today it seems that the register is politely but firmly rejecting this attractive concept and replacing it with something much simpler, more prosaic. The list is jammed with titles, subtitles, parentheses, and inverted commas, which give it the intricate appearance of undergrowth. In the same way that painters often make a number of variants on the same image, so the composer often finds it difficult, not to say impossible, to move on from a particular theme. This is the reason for the much-criticised proliferation of endless adjuncts in my work. At this point the demanding task of the publisher does become utopian. And if we did not wish to give even some passing weight to the various ways in which printing methods have recently been simplified, with the apparent goal of blind, obtusetacility, we shall stop and look back. We shall count up all that has appeared along the way, characterised by temporary solutions and brought into pale life on the grey paper of a photostat. This lacks the deep markings of the engraver, which arise, in contrast, from the patient use of marvellous, forgotten instruments.

"Printing, which has no penmanship", I was bold enough to write some time ago, only to be answered back by Massimo Mila, who defended the endless profusion of print characters which even the daily papers use. But more and more often one particular phrase appears at the foot of scores and parts: Reproduction of the composer's manuscript This practice is so commonplace nowadays as to be taken completely for granted, so that in some cases the phrase itself does not even appear. Are the publisher and the composer to admit defeat in the face of such a radical, drastic and unexpected change in modes of communication? Perhaps it will be fatal to do so. Can we conclude that the utopian ideal has been overtaken, blithely avoided, like an insignificant hurdle on the frantic race which speeds up every fleeting moment of thought? The supreme technology and mechanics of progress have turned into the blind, inexorable duties of the modern world. So what about the monument? Will we have the leisure to stroll around it? Or will it merit only a distant, frontal view from the distracted and busy performer? Perhaps some splinter has already fallen off; it only remains to pocket it furtively and consummate the lonely, consoling fetishism which makes us forget every farewell. The sculpture metaphor sounds more than immodest. It should be read as an attempt to move the attention on to different disciplines, which often appear more direct than that of sound: painting, literature, theatre. In none of these is there music-making per se; they all belong to a sort of entertainment that is often immediate, but far from the classic introspection of those who study, rehearse and rerehearse that abstract set oflaws which govern the art of music. Thus dismissing modernisation - thorough but still temporary, given the daily compulsion to compose - the composer has once again complied with publication as proposed.

After all these critical observations, which, however general, he has felt the need to express, it might seem the height of immodesty to use a recent sketch on the cover, as a self-portrait. In this case it is the publisher who has complied. An image as truthful as it is false, it is intended to focus on the physical significance in a fleeting expression of itself, just as the slender traces of Indian ink will later stumble into the same illusion in diagrams and staves. The ability to copy the living from the truth depends on how much the naturally selfish moment will allow. An important series of musical works, diligently listed, can, if we wish, fade into the cover design of an Album Leaf. It will seem banal to have wanted to draw any more personal line of reasoning from it.

Distracting the attention of theatres and concert halls in favour of art galleries and the amphitheatres of summer festivals is a rather childish trap. Music lives fully in the concentrated listening of the individual at the moment the sound is resonating; it then returns to its hiding-place in the home of metaphor. It is the expression of a Muse, as it would be called in ancient times. It dreams of the oral tradition. With gratitude to the publisher who nevertheless tries to bring its image partially into life.

Sylvano Bussotti, 1993

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Image: Self-portrait (1993) © Sylvano Bussotti / Excerpt from La Passion selon Sade (1965)