It is hard to avoid getting curious when a composer refuses to be depicted with a photo on a CD. When I first heard about this 15 years ago it was explained that Giacinto Scelsi was a Buddhist and that his religion was against depictions. I have not found anything about that since, but nowadays I have more understanding of him as a mysticist – no matter the religious grounds. Even now you will not easily find a photo.
Giacinto Scelsi was born 1905 as an aristocrat, and raised in a castle in Italy. He is usually described as a composer who explored the “single note” in his works. That may be true, but is nothing I have noted. He is also often mentioned as a composer with a great interest in old religions, mysticism and philosophy from the old world. Sometimes he is said to have improvised hour-long compositions that were recorded and transcribed by his pupils.
One of the most notable works by Scelsi is Uaxuctum from 1969. Inspired by the Maya city that were destroyed by its citizens for religious reasons, he roughly paints a sound landscape. He has never told the true story about the narrative he thought of in his composition. And the piece is still a riddle to me. When my teacher and I listened to this work we found out that we were listening to the wrong track after about 20 minutes. I thought that the piece sounded a bit unusual, but nevertheless I had made up a story in my mind.
As August Strindberg wrote, music is the highest art-form, because it doesn’t depict anything, it only represents itself. I am still wondering whether I was wrong when I found a narrative close to Uaxuctums in a totally different piece.
However, I actually found a picture of Scelsi on the Internet. The feeling of watching his face in a photo from his twenties was unpleasant. During his lifetime he refused all efforts to connect his music with a photo of himself.
I think that should be respected.