on music and beauty

Tag: Sebastian Schloessingk

Magma plan

Index of sections of the opera

1. Introduction (orchestra)
2. Cottongrass (Donna, Mezzosoprano, orchestra)

3. Girl Woman 1 (Soprano, Mezzosoprano, orchestra)
4. Naked (orchestra)
5. Girl Woman 2 (Soprano, Basso, orchestra)
6. Couple Talk (Donna, Uomo, Mezzosoprano, Bar., orchestra)
7. Girl Woman 3 (Soprano, Basso, orchestra)
8. Fuga (orchestra)

9. Spaesamento (Soprano, orchestra)
10. Journeys 1 (orchestra)
11. Ironic Chorus (Donna, Uomo, S, Ms, Bar, Bs, clar., perc.)
12. Journeys 2 (S, Ms, Bar, Bs, orchestra)
13. Donna, monologue (Donna)
14. Reawakening

Coming Back
15. Waves (orchestra)
16. Song of the Pool (Soprano, orchestra)
17. Wall of Voices (Donna, Uomo, Soprano, Msopr., Bar., Bs.)
18. Third Voice (Donna)
19. Finale (orchestra)

Magma reviews

Excerpts from published reviews of the opera

“Coccioli succeeding even in surprising us, thanks particularly to a skilful exploitation of electronic techniques. …Themes a little ambitious certainly, in the confines of a lyrical work, but which Coccioli seizes the essence of, with a certain poetry and beautiful suggestive moments.”
Nicola Gandolfi, Opera International, June 1998

“If there is one strength in particular that Magma can claim, it is the (one might almost say ‘Berianesque’) capacity of the composer to establish his own style, whatever the historical and ‘geographic’ diversity of the sonic means at his disposal. And a highly theatrical characteristic of this style derives from the dramatic skills of the score, which never allows the tension to lapse.”
Enrico Girardi, L’Opera, May 1998

“It is a music rich with its own strong, communicative immediacy, combined with a search seemingly for the roots of an original, primordial vocabulary. It refers to diverse experiences and languages, bearing in mind perhaps above all the lessons of Berio, but in an autonomous fashion, with a play of interactions where the tension never dips (for instance, in the highly effective ending)”
Paolo Petazzi, L’Unita’, 23 March 1998

“Last Friday, with astonishing simultaneity, two in different ways memorable premieres: at Genoa Venus and Adonis, by Hans Werner Henze, and at Lugo di Romagna by contrast the first opera of a ‘de luxe’ debutant, Lamberto Coccioli, pupil of Luciano Berio and Azio Corghi… An archetypal trajectory, oneiric, perhaps a nightmare that Coccioli, thanks also to Sebastian Schloessingk’s edged and aphoristic text, reads with wide open eyes, so multiplying vertiginously the languages and ‘materials’ of the performance: song, speech, acoustic sound, artificial sound, film, stage design, all rigorously deprived of their centre, their functionality. But loosened into each other by the most limpid and organised discipline of metamorphosis.”
Guido Barbieri, Il Gazzettino di Venezia

“Magma, or The See-Through Wilderness, a new opera by the young composer Lamberto Coccioli, presents a music of such lambent sensuality and richly dramatic colour that it cannot but convince even those weaned on an exclusive diet of bel canto…
But it is Coccioli’s music, from the shimmering soundscape of the Introduzione to the pounding heartbeat of the Finale, that insists that this work find a place in the international repertoire, redefining ‘Italian opera’.”
Adrian Dannatt, The Independent, 27 March 1998

Translated from Italian and French by Sebastian Schloessingk

Magma sources

Bibliography (mainly in Italian)

Marc Augé, Nonluoghi
Walter Burkert, Mito e rituale in Grecia
Joseph Campbell, Il potere del mito
Elias Canetti, Massa e potere
Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines
Georges Lapassade, Stati modificati e transe
Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes tropiques
Claude Lévi-Strauss, Du miel aux cendres
Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae, Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson
Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Donne che corrono coi lupi
Julien Ries (a cura di), I riti di iniziazione
Gilbert Rouget, Musica e trance
Curt Sachs, Le sorgenti della musica
André Schaeffner, Origine degli strumenti musicali
Marius Schneider, La musica primitiva
Stith Thompson, La fiaba nella tradizione popolare
Victor Turner, Antropologia della performance
Victor Turner, Dal rito al teatro
Valerio Valeri, voce Rito nell’Enciclopedia Einaudi
Arnold Van Gennep, I riti di passaggio
Elémire Zolla, Aure

Magma, or the See-Through Wilderness

Magma is about ritual and our relationship with nature. The traditional rites of passage from nature to culture – once powerful instruments of social integration and knowledge – do not exist anymore. Yet, humans still need rituals. To be meaningful today a rite of passage needs to take the inverse route, and go from culture back to nature.

In Magma a woman lives through different experiences that bring her close to an unexpected understanding of nature, as a frenzied, violent and irrational force, as a living magma perpetually regenerating. When her “inverted” rite of passage is over, the woman realises that her new awareness cannot be shared, and that there is no going back.

An old Nordic folktale introduces and frames the action. It sets the mythical mould that forms the basis of the woman’s behaviour, and allows a better understanding of the ritual dimension of the plot.

The idea for this work came from my personal experiences in a faraway country, while music and narrative evolved from the desire of setting up a reaction between different cultures, using – in a kind of inverted ethnology – the cultural criteria of so-called primitive societies to analyse and unmask our own behaviour.

The text of the libretto is by the Germano-Irish poet and writer Sebastian Schloessingk.

In Magma there are a number of musical and theatrical issues that I wanted to explore:

  • The relationship between speech and song, and the way to convey meaning in operatic writing: there are two actors on stage, and their speech is measured, without being rhythmically altered. At the same time key words from their text are sung by two singers for each actor. The singers are like added dimensions to the stage characters, and project musically the meaning of the words.
  • Real-time control of electronics in performance. The production of Magma took advantage of a new tool for live electronics, the MSP set of audio objects for the Max programming environment for the Macintosh. MSP had just come out in 1998, and in Magma it is used among other things for real-time convolution of voices and percussion with different sound sources. Magma is the first major Italian music production to use MSP.
  • Research in dynamic harmonic fields: they become elastic entities that follow closely the dramatic structure of the work. While writing an opera for the stage, compositional procedures should be closely related to, and even dependent from the dramatic structure of the work. Harmonic fields become here elastic, continuously self-modifying entities, that adhere as a second skin to the dramatic surface of the opera. On top of their fundamental harmonic identity, these fields may acquire – according to the dramatic situation – other dimensions. A historical one, in the shape of a direct intersection with patterns of notes clearly belonging to a given style, or a geographical one, where musical elements from distant cultures are integrated in the harmonic structure of the fields.

* * *

Commissioned by CIDIM, the Italian National Music Committee, together with the Rossini Theatre in Lugo di Ravenna and the Toscanini Foundation in Parma, Magma was premiered in Lugo in March 1998, with the following interpreters:

Alessandra Cecchini, Soprano
Margherita Salio, Mezzo-soprano
Maurizio Leoni, Baritone
Danilo Serraiocco, Bass

Francesca Brizzolara, Donna
Gabriele Volpi, Uomo

Denise Fedeli, conductor
Gigi Dall’Aglio, stage direction
Tiziano Santi, stage design
Tempo Reale, live electronics
Orchestra del Teatro Rossini di Lugo

Magma libretto

This is the original libretto of the opera by Sebastian Schloessingk. An Italian translation of the libretto, by Susanna Basso, Sebastian Schloessingk and myself, was used for the performance in Lugo di Ravenna.



   Once upon a…
princess princess 
  Look she’s 
playing, I’m   
 in the meadows  
near home   
  the lovely meadows 
in my little white gown   
 her crown and her  
  gold heart on a chain 
   When out of
the forest, look!   
 an elk!an elk!an elk!
an elk!   
  no fear 
It’s coming! Look   
 How big!  
  and its muzzle 
I’m stroking! Mum! I’m…   
   the big strong elk
Can I go with you?Can I go with you?  
   but all the dangers
but I want to see   
 the worldthe world 
   the dangers
and you   
 will protect me  
  the elk thought and saidthe elk thought and said
Mum! The elk   
 says so  
   the elk
and me   
 go on a journeygo on a journey 
   into the forest
 the hills  
  and softlands 
 going through all  
funny places   
  a tufted marsh 
   Careful princess
 it’s full of  
funny people   
   Careful dear
What are they, elk?   
   Elves. They’re elves
 they’re not there  
  Who are you, who…? [quiet] 
   Careful now
 what’s your name?what’s your name? [getting louder] 
 Come on, what’s…?Come on, what’s…? 
   Careful princess!
 your name?Who are…? 
Hey, help, my crown!   
 Got it [delayed echo]Got it [delayed echo] 
 And keep itAnd keep it 
 First Time AroundFirst Time AroundFirst Time Around
 The Princess Lost Her CrownThe Princess Lost Her CrownThe Princess Lost Her Crown
 Then in the marsh  
  an island where 
My Elkie lives   
let me sleep   
 the princess put  
near to you   
 her gown on a tree  
  and sleptand slept
because the elk   
 is keeping  
 and the next day  
 the princess saidthe princess said 
I’ll go bare   
all day and   
 hold the gown  
  in her hand 
   Careful dear
I want to see   
 more and more  
  of the world 
and up   
 she goes  
   and the elk runs
 like the windlike the windlike the wind
  into the wood 
   your head down!
 so fast  
  watch the branches!watch the branches!
  the branches 
 whip the princesswhip the princess 
slow down, elk!   
 down slows the elk  
   [audible breath]
  moss and lichen 
 on the stones  
  like a rug 
all the coloursall the coloursall the coloursall the colours
   [audible breath]
but it is   
what’s that   
 there and  
  there, it’s 
   haunted, deary
behind the trees   
 its eyes  
  ice green 
   A haunted wood
and mouth   
 blood red  
  witch [flat quiet] 
   of the wood
   what’s your name?
   little girl!
 It’s Cottongrass  
   And what a lovely
 careful (whisper)careful (whisper) 
   dress. Do let me
   the material
 Don’t! (whisper)Don’t! (whisper) 
   Go on
   Just let me
   touch, look, just
Go on then   
Now give it   
   not bad
back, I said   
   ha! ha! [violent, harsh]
  too late 
   ha! ha! [diminuendo]
 And the second time aroundAnd the second time aroundAnd the second time around
 She lost her gownShe lost her gownShe lost her gown
 She didn’t like that  
Not fair   
   Even the elk
 was angry about it  
  But they pressed on 
Not fair   
 till night  
  ever deeper 
   into the forest
 and when the sun  
  found them out 
 the girl is asleep  
  trusting and naked 
 and the elk  
   keeping an eye
wakes me up   
 wake up!  
where we going?   
  It is the time 
   the pool
What pool?   
  No human 
   has ever
 seen it  
What pool?   
  in the forest 
  the leafy poolthe leafy pool
 we’ll soon be there  
it’s so dark   
 what is?  
the water   
 all the princess  
  is wearing now 
   her golden heart
 on a chain  
  I gave to her 
my little chain   
   careful dear
Look if I look   
 down into the pool  
   you can see
my little heart   
 getting closer  
  to the dark 
 I knew it  
  I gave it 
my little heart!   
  sidling down 
   to the bottom
my little heart!   
 of courseof courseof course
I want it   
  it’s goneit’s gone
where is it?   
  forget it 
it’s there!   
 forget itforget it 
somewhere, Elk!   
   what is it?
Find it!   
Elk! Elk!   
   What is it?
Don’t go   
 Then comeThen comeThen come
But elk!   
  Then come [quieter] 
But elk!   
   What is it?
But elk!   
But elk…[quiet]   


Girl Woman 1
soprano, mezzo-soprano

body body body body
body body body
body body
body goes to the head
to the head
head head
add! add!
oh heart
body body
to the head
and! and!
heart regret
body regret
and! and!
add! add!
head sex
head sex
her sex

Girl Woman 2
soprano, basso

body body body body
body body

hope hope
weight sex
sex weight
her sex
head sex
sex sex sex
her sex
weight hope
sex sex sex
her sex
sex weight sex weight
weight sex weight sex

Couple Talk
Woman, Man
mezzo-soprano, baritone

Let’s play that game…

Can I come in?
It suits you, it really…
Let’s play that game…
I prefer you
Amazing meal
Leave me alone

Ooh cold feet
Course I do
Let’s talk, right?
Big or little?
Just give me some reasons
You’re so good to me

About when you were a child…
You go
So? So?

If you ever fucking…
Remember that time…

She’s pretty, isn’t she?
Don’t be like, don’t…

Is that supposed to be a joke?
Come on, we’re late
You’re mad, you’re fucking…
Put your hand
Where you ringing from?
OK you can look
Do you never ever stop to think…
Because you are an exception
Is it for me?

Relax, take it easy…
Your father would turn…
So what did you make of them?
Because I’m crying

You’re so impolite
But I like to touch

If you’ll let me finish…

Darling, don’t worry, OK?

He’s only my friend
Nothing, nuh-thing

You talk so much crap
Sleep now, sleep

Your turn, go on
And shut the door
Feeling better?
Here we go, over and over
The keys, where the pissing…?
It’s your lover
And don’t wake me up
Give me time, OK?

I don’t believe it
Can we turn over?

Yeah yeah

So where to this year?
Shut the fuck…
I like it when you…

Who says?
It’s cosy
Listen, you have your friends and…
Look at that view
I could fucking sue..
Let’s stay in bed
You do what you want
Don’t answer it
No need to shout
‘Cos I’m fond, I’m really…
Keep doing that
For you or for me?

Yes, I do care
Stop looking at yourself, will you?
And your first boyfriend?
I’m reading. Reading.
Look at me will you
So. Did you like the film?
Where’ve you been?
Who was that?
Peace I want peace

You’re just a bastard.
Tell them the story
Words words words
Don’t give me that
Just a goodnight kiss
I like your body
You’re looking tired
Don’t change the subject
I’ve always known
Go fuck somebody else
Why are we stopping?
What about your mother?
Because I say so
Look, it’s still dirty
Are you being sarcastic?
The old wonderbra
You’re so stupid
How much did it cost?
Don’t ever use that word in my hearing…
At least I tried
Not like that
It’s your bare tummy, drives me…
How could you
Words words words
Well, look after yourself
Don’t be pathetic
Your hands. Is what I noticed first
Is this a wind-up?
Typical fucking woman
You’re getting fatter
Didn’t you once said you loved me?

O.K.! O.K.!
I was worried about you

You fucking try
Let’s, yeah, come on, let’s…

The things we…
Go. Go. Go. Go!

And then?

Those legs of yours
Get out of my life
Answer the question
Just like your fucking family
You look so young
Just piss off, leave…
We can’t afford it
It’s my body
You never talk like…
You’re lying again
And then you rang
Don’t touch me
Shush, I know, I know
The night we were talking…
Men just need to
Let me breathe
That’s great, that’s perfect
Inside or out?

You choose
No really you were the best-looking…
Don’t pressurize me OK?
A bit higher… a bit lower…
You’re all arseholes

Girl Woman 3
soprano, basso

heart heart
heart heart
body regret
sex regret
body regret
body body body
body body body
body body
body body
body body
body body
body body
and! and!
sex and!
heart weight
trees sex
trees heart


Ironic Chorus
Woman, Man

So, the woman has started.
Fat hope.
What’s she after?
She is ill-advised.
But she is not happy.
Strange to say.
And will she get happy like this?
Who can tell?
Who can say?
But we say , fat hope.
But she is not happy.
And who can blame her?
We can, we blame her.
Who are you?
We men.
Which men?
The new men.
Who try.
We’ve read about you.
And about her?
She’s out there and who knows?
Search me. Search me. Search me. Search me.


I’m speaking to no-one
It was so hard to go that I couldn’t.
It was goodbye to all that built…
Inviting, protecting and unreal.
I didn’t fit, I did not fit.
What I came up with was mostly nothing.
The way it went, I was the enemy.
To them and to me and…
An enemy learning to see, I suppose.
In the night, or asleep.
I could see but I couldn’t move.
You’d say it had the shape of trees.
When I went, which I did.
If it wasn’t such crap.
I’m told it’s crap.
What I was after.
And a long time till their voices…
Gave me the space.
Space, and difficulty.
Trees for women, is different.
But not to say, that’s not to say…


Third Voice

I don’t know, I’m so far behind it
You’re very quiet. I like that
But it’s not easy to have been
You won’t see many, of the things, you just won’t
Don’t look at me like that, like all alone. We both are
Anyway you wouldn’t appreciate … where
You’re so far away, your eyes are all big and hurt. No, stay there, I’m thinking
I’m thinking. Later, later. I won’t be like this forever
Come here

Song Of The Pool

Beyond the woods
Whichever way you come
With a harder looking face
There is a pool
Surrounded by woods.
Divided by ripples
If any.
Scarcely broken by
the ripple, or lit.
Loosened ties,
wooden tears
stain my face and spear the water
slum it and clear it.

Wall Of Voices
Woman, Man

Went of her own free will.
Trees shed leaves because of wind.
Didn’t desert him.
Because of the wind otherwise hitting
and knocking the whole body down.
Now I doubt if he exists.
Alone in the forest and going
all animal or one sad human?
Never want to see her again
unless she comes and knocks and says
and not even then.
Think you’ll be snapped out of it
soon enough by B-roads crossing
the wood, saved and saddened? Think again.
It’s not something done with other women.
The B-roads and stretches of sodium lights
have slunk away forever.
I never had the attention span
to read enough into the difference.
A month in nature becomes grotesque.
After a month do you still say ‘I’?
Until I was suddenly casually ready
to sort for myself the moon size problems.
If he calls me here, will I pick it up?
Or pity the repetitive sound
of a small creature no worse than the rest.
It’s not the shadow of the heart you fool.
Group nature? Group nature?
There is less reason to be afraid
even in the night than in the suburbs.
And it’s an outrage when from way off
a face with the right hair turns and refuses.
The wilderness so matter-of-fact.
I am not for him and not against him.
The automatic spurts of animal fright.
If they ever ganged up, but they don’t.
Sunlight is an omission by clouds.
If my footsteps make no noise, what then?
Trees and nerves and lungs and needs…

© Sebastian Schloessingk 1998

…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.

Boys And Girls Between The Wars


In Boys And Girls Between The Wars I wanted to use Sebastian Schloessingk’s poem – both its phonetics and content – as the source of all the musical ideas. The text generates a form for the composition, and the music occupies a vast territory between onomatopeia and metaphor, bringing to life contrasting musical objects held together by subtle harmonic relations. This piece serves also as the model for a later orchestral piece, …the sun is out, the sun is out.

Finally, Boys And Girls Between The Wars is also a profoundly felt homage to the wonderful Chansons madécasses by Maurice Ravel, one of the highlights of vocal music of all times, written for the same instrumental ensemble.

Written in 1994 and revised in 2001, Boys And Girls Between The Wars was premiered by Sarah Busfield, voice, and the Thallein Ensemble conducted by Liz Johnson on 27 June 2001, Birmingham Conservatoire, Recital Hall.

* * *

Clouds move in parallel rows
granting the sun stern terms,
So when the clouds pull off in all
directions, like torture horses,
a camera’s shutter,
birds from shot, salt water
from a rock, this is childish.
A big child in a garden of bouncy
foliage. Look.
Original sky, fat bombers slog
across it, the child is a boy. Great flowers
dash up to the bombers’ lumber and pry
decorating round their legs, the child is
a girl, the sun is out, the sun is out.

© Sebastian Schloessingk

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