The Music of Francesca Verunelli

Songs without words. A twenty-minute composition about a dysfunctional machine. A floral arrangement that explodes. What may at first appear to be bizarre about this image – like looking into the closet of an anarchist clown – is in fact the output of a rich musical fantasy and of highly poetic constellations that have grown out of an attempt to solve compositional problems. For Francesca Verunelli, composition is the throwing up of artistic questions which find their preliminary answers in the resulting works. It involves the formulation of paradoxes that can only make sense in an artistic context, and not least the representation of aesthetic experiences for its communication unto others.

Thus, Verunelli’s 2018 orchestral work Tune and Retune gives life to her earliest concert memories and the impression the orchestra gave of being a living, breathing body that opened itself up to its audience. In Five Songs (Kafka’s Sirens), the question is asked: what vocal impressions remain when nobody sings? The allusion to Kafka’s The Silence of the Sirens reveals the direction in which the music wishes to go: the paradox of a silent, yet simultaneously spoken, song is explored by Francesca Verunelli in five sections, which function like snippets of an overall, undefined whole, and thus oscillate between memory and expectation. And when in the first section, entitled ‘Clockworks and Arias’, the saxophone begins to sing with the expressivity of the almost mute, the listener is taken aback not only by the articulation of the voice but also by the gentle salute to the ‘scene and aria’ musical form. Only that, there is no scene prior to the saxophone’s aria, but rather – in contrast to the expressive singing – a depiction of the precision of clocks along with their destruction.

This playing with quasi-mechanical processes – being destroyed or simply collapsing through an imbalance – can likewise be found in other works of Francesca Verunallis. In Cinemalio (2014) for flute, clarinet, piano and string trio, the music focusses in large part on the depiction of a malfunctioning film projector, hence the piece’s title. But it would be wrong to conclude that such textures, which appear throughout her works, serve to provide a direct illustration: in fact, regardless of their imagery, they simply represent themselves and their particular presentation of time. For this is what composition is for Francesca Verunallis: the designing, combining, intersecting and confronting of different forms of time within the medium of music. And because, for her, every single sound has an individual temporality due to the individual way it is struck and stopped, her work appears on both the detailed as well as on the aggregate level to be a fantastical and consequential depiction of time.

An extreme example of this can be found in the piece Ultimi Fiori for cello (2017). An almost unceasingly slow harmony of unstable partial tones forces the ear into a micro perspective in order to discover the rich, differentiated melody. It is – regardless of the frugality of its medium – breath-taking. But even Francesca Verunellis’ larger works offer such enthralling moments. Her music pulls you into a spell and demands attention when it sounds.


Markus Böggemann