on music and beauty

Category: Music (Page 2 of 3)

…the sun is out, the sun is out

The title of this work for large orchestra is the last line from Boys And Girls Between The Wars, a poem by Sebastian Schloessingk that I also set to music. The original work for voice and four instruments is the starting point for …the sun is out, the sun is out . The instrumental gestures and the vocal line from the chamber music work are projected and expanded in a vast orchestral space, and acquire a completely new dimension. This process of transcription, of reading again and translating the same material in different forms, obviously inspired by the lesson of Berio, has always fascinated me.


Kamu-purrui (1992) is written for alto flute with open holes. The title refers to a specific type of South American flutes by the Cuna indians (Panama and Colombia) that allow the performer to produce two sounds at the same time. This is achieved in the piece by the simultaneous emission of the performer’s voice and the instrumental sound.

Kamu-purrui is dedicated to Italian flautist and conductor Carlo Ipata, whose knowledge and enthusiasm have proved invaluable in the realisation of this work.




This Study for piano explores fifth-based harmonies and the resonance of the instrument. It is inspired by Alexsandr Skrjabin’s highly original Studies for the piano, and contains a small homage to his Study on the same interval.

The Divine Claudius

Scored for narrator and an ensemble of four instruments (flute, clarinet, guitar, cello), The Divine Claudius employs the beautiful, powerful English translation by John and Bogdana Carpenter of the homonymous poem by Zbigniew Herbert, one of the greatest Polish poets of the last century. As it is the case with other ‘melologues’, this work has been written for Paola Roman and the Toujours Ensemble at the request of Nicola Campogrande.

First performed by the Toujours Ensemble in Turin in 1994.

Antidotes: Red-earth


Antidotes: Red-earth is the first of a series of works for ancient instruments and electronics where the purpose of technology is to amplify the different historical dimensions of the instrument. I like to employ electronics to reveal and clarify the meaning of what is happening in the music and on the stage. In Red-earth, the sound of the trumpet is transformed to emphasise various different aspects: the primitive shout to exorcise the evil spirits, the accompaniment to ancient rites of passage for boys, martial rhythms and war calls, the virtuosity of the Baroque era.

Antidotes: Red-earth is dedicated to Gabriele Cassone, who commissioned the work and gave me invaluable advice in writing for the natural trumpet. Gabriele gave the first performance of the work at Milano Musica Festival in 1997.



Touch represents an experiment in transparent electronics. I wanted to create a performing environment where technology expands, magnifies and projects the musical gestures of the performer. Four identical musical objects are observed from different points of view, each time using a different transformation tool in order to emphasise a different aspect of piano playing: touch, resonance, the harmonic and melodic dimensions.

The performer is completely in control of the technology and external intervention is kept to a minimum. I achieved this by creating an interface that reacts to the nuances of musical performance in a very subtle way. Specific attention has been given to the detection of the attack of the piano sound: the pianist’s touch triggers each time the whole transformation process.

Premiered by Laure Pinsmail in 2002, Recital Hall, Birmingham Conservatoire. Live recording of the performance given by Jonathan Powell in 2005.


This is the latest version of the live electronics of Touch. It has been tested on a MacBook Pro with macOS High Sierra 10.13.6 and Max version 8.1.4

Download the Touch electronics zip archive

Top-level patcher: Touch.maxpat
Electronics tested with Max 8.1.4
Created a Max collective: Touch.mxf

All files, including Touch.maxpat, contained in the Max8 folder.

External dependencies:

  1. tap.shift~
    from TapTools by Timothy Place, version 4 beta 2 26 April 2013
    source: https://github.com/tap/TapTools/releases
  2. iana~ and add_synth~
    by Todor Todoroff, ARTeM (Art, Recherche, Technologie et Musique), maintained by IRCAM, MaxSoundBox version 03-2018
    source: https://forum.ircam.fr/projects/detail/max-sound-box/
  3. bonk~ v1.5
    by Miller Puckette, port by Ted Apel and Barry Threw, 64 bit version by Volker Böhm 22 June 2018
    sources: https://github.com/v7b1/bonk_64bit-version, http://vboehm.net/downloads/
  4. vdb~
    abstractions by Benjamin Thigpen, part of the “bennies” collection, IRCAM Forum distribution
    source: https://forum.ircam.fr



LC, 7 June 2020

river teach me


river teach me sets to music the English version of ‘To the river’, a poem by Zbigniew Herbert (1924-1998), from the collection Report from the Besieged City, first published in Warsaw in 1983, and translated into English by John and Bogdana Carpenter in 1985. I’ve always been fascinated by the particular way in which Herbert pitches his voice, pursuing the truth with a language both simple and profound. Before writing river teach me I set to music another poem from the same collection, ‘The Divine Claudius‘, for narrator and small ensemble. river teach me was selected for the SPNM [Society for the Promotion of New Music] shortlist in 2003.

Herbert concluded one of his sketches with these words: We are the ones who are poor, very poor. The great majority of contemporary art comes out in favour of chaos, gesticulating in vacuity or recounting the history of its own sterile spirit. All the Old Masters, without exception, could say with Racine: ‘We work in order to please the public’, which means that they believed in the sense of their work, and in the possibility of inter-human understanding… Praise be to such naiveté.

Live recording of the first performance by Christine Sjölander, mezzo-soprano, and the Thallein Ensemble conducted by Daniele Rosina. 11 December 2002, Birmingham Conservatoire, Recital Hall.

* * *

River__hourglass of water metaphor of eternity
I enter you more and more changed
so I could be a cloud a fish a rock
while you are the same like a clock that measures
the metamorphoses of the body and descents of the spirit
slow disintegration of tissues and love

I who am born of clay
want to be your pupil
and learn the spring the Olympian heart
o cool torch rustling column
bedrock of my faith and my despair

river teach me stubbornness and endurance
so in the last hour I become worthy
of rest in the shade of the great delta
in the holy triangle of the beginning and of the end

* * *

© Zbigniew Herbert
[English translation © John Carpenter and Bogdana Carpenter]

Il racconto delle nuvole

Il racconto delle nuvole was written for Nicola Campogrande and the Toujours Ensemble. The original version featured a narrator, and included three artistic layers – the narrated text by the writer and painter Marco Vacchetti, the music, and a series of seven paintings by Vacchetti himself relating to the texts, to be shown in turn during the various sections of the performance.

Subsequently I found the music to work very well on its own as a suite of seven instrumental scenes, and as such it is presented here.

First performance in 1995 in Turin by the Toujours Ensemble and Paola Roman as narrator.

flute (doubling alto flute)
clarinet (doubling bass clarinet)

* * *

1. Nuvole scure
2. Seleuca
3. Atamante
4. Pedro & Cristoforo
5. Segnali di fumo
6. Eolo
7. Nuvole chiare



Flectar, a Latin word meaning “to bend”, is dedicated to David Purser, whose help has been invaluable during both conception and writing of the work. In Flectar we set to explore how the physical gestures of the trombone player – and in particular the movements of the arm to change the slide position – can be made to control in a subtle and musical way the electronic transformations of the sound of the instrument. The trombone becomes a sort of hyper-instrument reverberating in space, with the performer in control of shaping and projecting the sound all around the audience.

Flectar is in four parts. In part 1 and 3 a series of cues correspond to individual electronic events. In part 2 and 4 a verbal description identifies the link between the performer’s gesture and the resulting sound. In most cases the position of the slide, combined or not with sound attacks, controls the triggering of electronic events or the nature of the transformation. Therefore, it is very important to use always the slide positions indicated in the score.

First performance by David Purser on 19 January 2005, Birmingham Conservatoire, Recital Hall.

* * *

Technical requirements for the performance

The performance of Flectar requires a person to operate the computer and control the sound diffusion.

Computer (Mac or PC) running Max software
2 in/8 out audio interface
Kroonde Gamma wireless UDP sensor interface with flexion sensor (now deprecated, equivalent systems may be used with minor modifications to the Max/MSP patch)
1 miniature microphone, DPA 4061 or equivalent
Reverb unit
6-point sound diffusion system with 6 speakers: front L/R 1-2, sides L/R 3-4, rear L/R 5-6.

A Poem para Gloria


Composed in 1992, for a small a cappella choir, on a poem by e e cummings, no. 3 from 95 Poems (1958)

* * *

now air is air and thing is thing:no bliss

of heavenly earth beguiles our spirits,whose
miraculously disenchanted eyes

live the magnificent honesty of space.

Mountains are mountains now;skies now are skies
and such a sharpening freedom lifts our blood
as if whole supreme this complete doubtless

universe we’d(and we alone had)made

-yes;or as if our souls,awakened from
summer’s green trance,would not adventure soon
a deeper magic:that white sleep wherein
all human curiosity we’ll spend
(gladly, as lovers must)immortal and

the courage to receive time’s mightiest dream

© e e cummings

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