Photo: Luca Carrà


Salvatore Sciarrino: Vanitas (1981). Analyses, Contexts, Traditions

Deutsches Historisches Institut in Rome, Italy


The examination of Salvatore Sciarrino’s Vanitas. Natura morta in un atto (1981) is intended to bridge a gap in research and, for the first time, provide a monographic record on this key Sciarrino work. The text contributions date back to the study conference held on 11/23 and 24/2015 at Rome’s German historic institute Deutsches Historisches Institut, also supported by the EvS Music Foundation, which focused on Sciarrino’s composition "Vanitas", its interdisciplinary links and its premiere in Rome. In many ways "Vanitas" is a central work in the oeuvre of this Italian composer who counts as one of the most important living composers of our times. On the one hand, the piece can be seen in intrinsic creative terms as a typical example of Sciarrino’s concepts of inner dramatics. On the other, it embodies – in a special way via the musical texture – the interplay of disciplines always demanded by the composer himself, in which the isolation of the music is to be broken down. In "Vanitas" Sciarrino’s initiated transdisciplinary links reach far beyond the composition itself, creating multiple references which the planned publication aims to highlight as a priority. Sciarrino’s work is marked by notions of emptiness, transience, silence or darkness – parameters that can be seen as a common basis for all previous compositions by the Italian. The publication presents an overview of the broad-based Vanitas theme alongside this individual compositional disposition that counts, and has indeed always counted, as a central focus in European music. At the same time, attention turns – across the disciplines – to the fine arts and literature, disciplines where Vanitas motifs also develop significant impacts in conjunction with reflections on phenomena of temporality. Further contributions locate Sciarrino’s "Vanitas" within the context of new European music around 1980 and its resources. The publication will be supplemented by the first translation of the composer’s work commentary on "Vanitas" which despite its enigmatic encryption can lead to the understanding of the piece in an open and poetic way.
After this a central focus of the book will be the analysis of the composition itself. To this end a number of the contributions will examine the musical form of "Vanitas" and will, for the first time, explore Hoagy Carmichael’s song "Stardust" of 1927 as a germ cell of the composition. It is only by referencing this source (which until now had not really been convincingly included in the interpretation of the musical structure) that the term "anamorphosis" used by Sciarrino with regard to this piece can be properly understood. It is from this that the genre discourse will also follow – one that categorizes the work either as a "work for stage" or, from another perspective, as a "Lied". The blurring of the boundaries between genres will be particularly evident. Hybridizations of this kind in Sciarrino’s composition are primarily linked with concepts of stage and theater and are guided by the dramaturgical strategies of an "internalization of the theater into the music" and by concepts of a "poor theater". A further intention is that the composer himself should also have a voice in the forthcoming publication, that he should report on the genesis of the work and also discuss questions about the artistic inspiration process. Overall, the book texts are to be assembled into a kaleidoscopic whole in which Sciarrino’s composition "Vanitas" is analyzed as part of its multifarious and fascinating musical references while the cultural history aspect should also include those neighboring disciples impacted by the Vanitas theme. Supported by the EvS Music Foundation the publication is planned for release in late 2017.


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