Salvatore SCIARRINO (b. 1947, Italy) - Il Legno e la Parola (2004)
“Not all instruments can sing – only some are capable – but which ones can speak?”
– S. Sciarrino
Il Legno e la Parola (the wood and the word) was composed for solo marimba and one bell plate. It is rather unique to the marimba repertoire because it treats the instrument not as a simple wooden descendent of the clavichord, but rather as an object with sonic potential. The piece is centered around the marimba’s capacity to take on different vocal characteristics, such as murmuring, calling, moaning, shouting violently or speaking in tongues. Sciarrino creates these effects by focusing upon extreme registers and dynamics, writing schizophrenic passages for the very highest and lowest notes of the marimba, as well as both the loudest and softest sounds the instrument can produce. In addition to these extremes, Sciarrino introduces the technique of rolling using only the right hand on one key at a time in the low register of the marimba while pressing a hard mallet with the left hand and sliding the mallet, thereby modifying the pitch and changing timbre of the bar, perhaps evoking a voice that is trying to escape from the instrument.
Throughout Sciarrino’s compositional output, he has shown interest in disturbing or disturbed historical figures such as Gesualdo – the prince of Venice who murdered his cheating wife and her partner – and Maria Maddalena da’Pazzi, after whom he set the text to his Infinito Nero. Da’Pazzi was from an aristocratic 17th Century Italian family, and she began experiencing ecstatic visions in her early teens. She became a nun by age 16 and apparently was eventually followed around by at least eight scribes at all times in order to copy down her ravings in hopes of capturing some divine vision when she would burst out in a form of glossolalia. Perhaps in this sense, Il Legno e la Parola, like da'Pazzi in Infinito Nero, calls forth the notion of the marimba as a possessed entity constantly struggling to communicate its otherworldly ideas.
Jonathan Hepfer, 2009