Born in La Spezia, of noble descent, Giacinto Scelsi shows already as a child extraordinary musical gifts while improvising freely on the piano. He studies composition in Rome with Giacinto Sallustio, while keeping his independence from the music community at the time.
Between the two World Wars and until the beginning of the 1950’s, he travels a lot in Africa and East; he also stays a long time abroad, mainly in France and Switzerland. He works in Geneva with Egon Koehler who introduces him to the composition system of Scriabine and studies the twelve-tone technique in Vienna in 1935-1936 with Walter Klein, student of Schoenberg.
Scelsi goes in the 1940’s through a long and serious personal and spiritual crisis of which he gets out, at the beginning of the 1950’s, animated by a renewed view of life and music. Therefore, the “sound” will be the key concept of his musical reflexion. The composer, a title Scelsi refuses by the way, becomes a kind of medium whom messages from a transcendental reality come through.
Back in Rome in 1951-1952, he lives a solitary life devoted to an ascetic quest of the sound. At the same time he enters the Roman group Nuova Consonanza which gathers forefront composers like Franco Evangelisti. With the Quattro Pezzi su una nota sola (1959, for chamber orchestra), ten years of experimenting on the sound come to an end; from now on, his works achieve some kind of withdrawal inside the reinforced sound, broken down in small components.
More than 25 years of creative activity also follow, during which Scelsi’s music is rarely played: we have to wait until the curiosity (and admiration) movement towards him from young French composers (Tristan Murail, Gérard Grisey and Michaël Levinas) during the 1970’s and the “Ferienkurse für Neue Musik” of Darmstadt in 1982 to see his work exposed to the light.
Author of aesthetic essays, poems (with 4 volumes in French), Giacinto Scelsi died on the 9 August 1988. Strong controversies occurred in Italy shortly after his death about the authenticity of his composer activity. Most of his works are published by Salabert.