Salvatore Sciarrino: Musiche per il 'Paradiso' di Dante. © 2022 Kairos

CD Spotlight

Dante's Paradise in Three Parts

GIUSEPPE PENNISI listens to music by Salvatore Sciarrino

'... the three soloists depict the protagonists of the journey to the top of Paradise very well.'


The internationally best-known Italian poet, Dante Alighieri, died in Ravenna, during the night between 13 and 14 September 1321. As our readers may recall, for three years the Ravenna Festival was dedicated to his major work: La Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy), each year dedicated to a canticle (Inferno-Hell; Purgatorio–Purgatory. Paradiso – Paradise).

Ravenna's was not the only or most notable musical celebration of seven hundred years of Dante's death. They were, no doubt, those most elaborate and that attracted the largest audience. Of the many others, a remarkable one was the staging of the Anagoor avant-garde group of the third Canticle Paradise in Padua where there is the best Italian ensemble working on contemporary music, l'Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto, directed and also conducted by Marco Angius. One the best known Italian contemporary composers, Salvatore Sciarrino, was invited to provide the stage music, and this is now available on a Kairos CD.

In this magazine, as well in its predecessor, Music & Vision, Sciarrino's work for the stage has been reviewed several times. [See the Sciarrino link below.] Born in 1947 in Palermo, the young Sciarrino was attracted to the visual arts, but began experimenting with music when he was twelve. Though he had some lessons from Antonino Titone and Turi Belfiore, he is primarily self-taught as a composer. After his classical studies and a few years of university in his home city, in 1969 he moved to Rome, where he attended Franco Evangelisti's course in electronic music at the Santa Cecilia National Academy.

In 1977, Sciarrino moved from Rome to Milan, where he taught at the conservatory until 1982. By this time, his compositional career had expanded to the point where he could withdraw from teaching, and he moved to Città di Castello, in Umbria, where he has lived ever since. He nevertheless has continued to teach occasionally in Florence and Bologna.

Sciarrino's discography is extensive: there are over one hundred CDs, many of which have won awards. Apart from being author of most of the librettos of his operas, Sciarrino has written many articles, essays and texts.

A stranger (also for reasons of age) to the pointillist-structuralist phase of the New Music, Sciarrino, along with Iannis Xenakis and György Ligeti, has been among the voices most lucidly critical of the Darmstadt orthodoxy, its contradictions and its limits, animated by that concrete desire for 'sound' that some other composers were developing in those years.

This stage music for Dante's Paradiso is a very good sample of Sciarrino's style, also because he worked on it for a number of years. The central part, L'invenzione della trasparenza (The invention of transparency), lasts well over an hour, nearly the duration of a one act opera.

Listen — Sciarrino: L'invenzione della trasparenza (Musiche per il 'Paradiso' di Dante)
(0015119KAI track 2, 0:00-0:51) ℗ 2022 paladino media gmbh :

It was composed originally in 1993 for a Dante celebration in Ravenna. However, Sciarrino re-elaborated it and added a prologue, Alfabeto oscuro (Obscure Alphabet) of six minutes and an epilogue, Postille (Footnotes), of five minutes. There are no singers. However, there are characters: Dante is a flute soloist (Andrea Biagini), Beatrice a viola d'amore soloist (Garth Knox) and Virgilio a violin soloist (Lorenzo Gentili-Tedeschi).

From the prologue, the listener feels a writing at the same time very simple and very complex. The opening recitative phrasing recalls the initial verses of La Divina Commedia and the three soloists depict the protagonists of the journey to the top of Paradise very well.

Listen — Salvatore Sciarrino: Alfabeto oscuro (Musiche per il 'Paradiso' di Dante)
(0015119KAI track 1, 0:00-0:40) ℗ 2022 paladino media gmbh :

The central part is a large fresco where the most salient aspects of Paradise are depicted and shown by the orchestra and by the soloists. The transparency of the title is a visual and poetic term that the composer renders in musical terms through a vertiginous theme that envelops the entire composition as well as a very skilled use of counterpoint.

Listen — Sciarrino: L'invenzione della trasparenza (Musiche per il 'Paradiso' di Dante)
(0015119KAI track 2, 33:33-34:31) ℗ 2022 paladino media gmbh :

The epilogue recaptures the central part but in a more intimate manner; after all, reaching the top of Paradise is a very intimate matter.

Listen — Salvatore Sciarrino: Postille (Musiche per il 'Paradiso' di Dante)
(0015119KAI track 3, 4:23-5:06) ℗ 2022 paladino media gmbh :

In short, this is a CD that all contemporary music lovers should listen to and study.

Copyright © 23 September 2022 Giuseppe Pennisi,
Rome, Italy








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