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Music theory, Music -- Theory and criticism


Sciarrino’s writings describe a compositional philosophy that prizes multidimensionality and spatiotemporal discontinuity (1998, 2004). Yet his simultaneous allegiance to teleology, holism, and fractal hierarchies reveals an underlying unifying organicism with which these qualities may initially seem to conflict. I take Sciarrino’s 1999 piano concerto Recitativo oscuro as a case study for examining the composer’s gestural organicism and its various contradictions and double meanings. First, close analysis of the opening piano solo demonstrates how seemingly contradictory aesthetic priorities—organic unity and temporal multiplicity—co-exist within a single passage. Drawing from Kramer’s (1988) concept of “gestural time,” Hatten’s (2004) theory of gesture, segmentation theories, and scholarship on intensity and temporal function, I show how temporal multiplicity in the piano solo arises through conflict between gestural energetics and contextual segmentation. I then expand my analysis to the full concerto, arguing that the orchestra’s cyclic and naturalistic sonic ecosystem causes the piano gestures to take on representative functions in addition to their energetic syntax, creating what Sciarrino (2001) calls “dimensional intermittence” as they reference distant temporal realms both within and beyond the concerto. I conclude by arguing that while the intensity profile of the earliest gestures and phrases is eventually reproduced across the form of the entire work, the concerto’s form nevertheless resists reductive understanding. Instead, listeners are invited to hear form through the complex mechanics and idiosyncrasies of “gestural behavior” (Sciarrino 1998).


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