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Bosco Gilberto

Gilberto Bosco (Turin 1946) completes his musical studies in Turin and later at the Ferienkurse of Darmstadt. He is professor of Harmony, Counterpoint, Fugue and Composition at the Conservatoire of Turin. He also taught Musical Theory at the DAMS of Turin. 
He receives several prizes both in national and international competitions; his compositions are performed in prestigious places and occasions, like Teatro alla Scala, Teatro Comunale in Florence, RAI Turin and RAI Rome, Settembre Musica, IRCAM in Paris, Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, Académie de France in Rome, Cantiere d'Arte of Montepulciano, among others.
Works dealing with text and its relation to music form a consistent part of his output. The matter of how a text can suggest and determine musical structures and compositional processes, by 'sympathies' and 'betrayals', has been faced in many ways and from various perspectives: from Cantata (1984), characterised by the presence of fragments taken fromLe Bateau Ivre by Arthur Rimbaud, to the recent Cantico del Gallo Silvestre, third cantata set to lyrics by Giacomo Leopardi; from the remote Dedica, which uses excerpts from Gaspara Stampa, to the more recent Zwei Brecht-Lieder, through compositions on texts by Saba (Lettura), Tennyson (O Sorrow) and Pavese (Il mattino). The last example of this particular research is a work for twelve instruments, that has a virtual text: Fumo e cenere, inspired by the reading of some e-mails written by New York citizens during September 11th, 2001; a conclusion perhaps, although a temporary one, to the long series of works dedicated to this matter.

Task, uneasy destiny, effort of art or craft, ethical and intellectual commitment, composition is for Gilberto Bosco a question of Skill and Mastery; an arduous commitment now that the dissolution of the post-Webernian avant-garde has bequeathed its burdensome inheritance, now that afterthoughts and reflections have turned to focalising the directionality of today's music, be it presumed, postulated (or still in predicate).
Among the composers of the new generation, Bosco may well be one of the few that, thanks to an intensely moral vision of music-making, have succeeded in breaking through the narrow confines of the polemics and querelles that populated musical life in the decade from 1975 to 1985.
The little big clashes that have swept through the rather élite circles of contemporary music, and have bounced back from the pages of newspaper and journals, have set in opposition two radical and at first glance irreconcilable positions: the remains of the post-World War II avant-garde movements and a handful of very young musicians engaged in the sensational work of sundering the ideological chains set up by those avant-garde movements; tertium non datur, it was said, at least in statements of music heard on public occasions. And in fact, some people did attempt something different: thinking not only about the cemeteries of History, but also about the more intimate and daily - and therefore, perhaps, all the more important - cemeteries of Memory.
Thus for Bosco, the composer of certain 'manifesto' scores of recent years, Memory and Nostalgia, the pietas-laden glances with which we view the past, are the shores upon which modern culture, in its incessant transferral (and, here we have another theme characteristic of the Western intellectual heritage: the idea of the Journey), has landed. But before these themes, Bosco's position is not a 'passive' one; on the contrary, it is full of sympathy and humanitas: his Nostalgia holds within itself a highly ethical content that represents, even before its musical outcome, an astute escape route from the 're-ideologizing' experiences and shackles of the trans-avant-garde that have re-introduced the virus of intolerance. The Ego (which is both History and Memory), works as a catalyst of the past, and questions itself on the necessity and substantial legitimacy of posing the question of the 'return' at the end of the 'journey'. Stemming from this reflection, Return and Nostalgia are transformed into Desire. The will and need to understand (to comprehend within oneself) the past, simply by turning it inward; making it one's own. This is obviously a risky path, strewn with traps, uncertainties, balances always on the verge of instability; but the result can be extremely 'poetic' and 'human', in the broadest sense of the term; as, for example, in Cantata or Serenata III.
It is not by mere chance that the map of Bosco's works has in recent years placed vocal compositions in the limelight. Focusing on Cantata and Serenata III, written in the two-year period from 1984 to 1985, we find the earlier Dedica, set to lyrics by Gaspara Stampa, and Espressivo, a 1978 composition influenced by techniques associated in a certain sense with the madrigalisms of the past avant-garde movements, albeit in fact, in a context of a substantial return to expressiveness.
The extraordinary lucidity of Bosco's language in these pivotal works has attained dynamic fusion with the expressive element, sometimes as the result of a long and tormented gestation, and sometimes as the product of a structural grid, closely monitored but enjoying freedom of choice. These are points of arrival and of reflection, after a journey; this reflection involves not so much the subject as the object. The artist, therefore, speaks not of himself, but of the object of his art, music, through music itself - which is, after all, the only sensible way. The journey, be it History or Memory, or both together, follows. Here, then, is the absolute importance of the relationship between musical and verbal language - between text and music, in short, with its resulting 'frictions'. From the suggestion of Rimbaud's Le Bateau Ivre, an intimate journey of the poet and, for Bosco, a metaphor for the road travelled by music in the last hundred years of the history of thought, to that O ew'ge Nacht, wann wirst du schwinden? ("O eternal night, when wilt thou end?"), from Mozart'sThe Magic Flute, comes the text-pretext for Serenata III.
After Serenata III we have Interludio, Aria delle Carte and, finally, Allelujah. About this fulcrum other themes pivot; notable is the inexhaustible thread of instrumental music, from the 'remote'... c'est la clarté vibrante... and In Nomine, to the filing of typical Neue Musik forms in Again, up to the first group of SerenateSerenata I and II (interrupted, not accidentally, by a Notturno). And if the Serenate form a 'series' in which Serenata III, by its specific nature, also represents a meeting point with the vocal thread, 1983 brought the 'series' of Improvvisi (Improvviso for clarinet and piano, Improvviso a cinque for flute, violin, viola, cello and harp, Tre Improvvisi for double bass, Sesto Improvviso for clarinet, viola, cello and piano) in which the automatic mechanisms of memory, intensely conscious of the historic parabola of improvisation and placing composer and performer in a direct relationship to the point where they 'coincide', critically replace the automatic mechanisms of the avant-garde.
Once again it is Memory (arm in arm with Imagination) that plays an essential role in the definition of Bosco's poetry; thus the memory of a melody, the reflection on this element in the very piece entitled Melodia, is revived, mediated by time and experience, in Aria delle Carte (Varianti a Melodia) and in Tempo di Quartetto (Altre varianti a Melodia), through a procedure of decantation and enrichment of the horizontal material that transforms the concept of development and/or variation into a true outstanding exhibit of intelligence. And yet we taste the bitterness of pessimism, there is something mortal in these works.
The works for piano and those for orchestra, while still within the frame-work of 'rethinking' the past, almost merit, respectively, two separate examinations.
Per pianoforte is in a certain sense a hallucinatory re-thinking of the classical and romantic sonata, and Quaderno proposes the juxtaposition of two pianos, another vast and venerable tradition.
Movimento is the re-thinking/re-appropriation of the symphonic rondo-sonata form, deprived of tonal guidelines and ably disguised by a noticeable slowing of the metronome and consequent temporal and formal dilation. Ouverture represents a true opera overture, with ghosts of characters and situations which, at the very moment of their 'concretion' on the stage, at the rising of the curtain, suddenly fade out, denying their own existence.Poema, like other pieces in the 'group', reveals its ties to the symphonic poem but - careful! - it's a narrative project, programmatically destined to frustration, describing absence more than presence, tension more than fulfilment, melodic wishes and intentions, isolated or recomposed, of an extremely and variously evocative orchestral fabric; a large little orchestra that evokes 'only' dreams of symphonic poems. And here is Concerto, made up of conflicts, of wrinkles provoked by individual discrepant semantemes or placed in linguistically heteronymous realities: a sonata form without a development - which is to say, the composer warns, "nothing but development", and within the mystery of harmony in motion, between the violin and the orchestral complex, generated as if by coincidentia oppositum - a coincidence of opposites which reins in the tension created by the climate of continuous transferring the memories contained in the piece.
Bosco's compositional history thus appears unitary in its progress through various periods and accomplishments. The intellectual diaphragm erected between the present, subjective and otherwise, and the near or distant past, is tempered through the constant search for a very high level of emotional tension (which is, incidentally, very clearly perceived and 'experienced' by the public), which always informs the work concerning itself; at times feeding on remote echoes, at others on fascinating moods, between reason and sentiment.
It is therefore in the constant, detailed and at times longsuffering attention to the expressive datum, that we find one of the deep meanings of Bosco's oeuvre: "And without a public, music is silent", he warns us; ideas and music risk a sad death, by suffocation. An enormous risk, if music is an exercise in freedom. To be 'practiced'with talent, and with Mastery; a "divine gift, not attainable through persistence and practice", a secret science which "is nothing an alchemist would refuse to teach you; it is a science that cannot be taught at all", as Schoenberg says. Which is like warning us against talking about how a musical composition is made, about how the composer constructed it, rather than talking about what it is.

Stefano Leoni, 1992

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