Ritratto di paese (1989/90)


Un’intervista con Sabine Breitsameter

How did You get the idea to make a composition like RITRATTO DI PAESE?

RITRATTO DI PAESE was born in one night. In that period in Gattaiola, the little country village where I live, there were some problems because the local administration wanted to build a new piece of highway to solve the problems of the traffic in Lucca (the main city), destroying some beautiful parts of the countryside and polluting everything; this was a nonsense operation because these problems of traffic wouldn’t be solved. I thought that I would have to write something about the landscape, something which would have described it as it was, something for future generations. I thought of all the stories I had heard from my father and my grandmother about Gattaiola, since a child; at the same moment I was looking for some ideas for a new opera, after the experience of IL TEATRO DEL FARO, which was a sort of fantastic tale for experimental theatre, an allegory, a metaphysical journey with knights, princesses, castles and so on; I thought that the idea of a documentary could be the best way to create a contrast with the previous opera, expecially because the text was based exclusively on interviews; for me this idea was something really new in my way of making music. Thus, RITRATTO DI PAESE was born. I must say that later, the works of the highway started, but soon they were interrupted because those politicians who wanted them were discovered guilty of corruption, thanks not to “Ritratto di Paese”, but to the villagers who started fighting against the administration.

Which material did you use and under which circumstances did you record it?

Most of all I used the interviews made to the elderly of Gattaiola. I asked lots of information to my grandmother and to her friends about their youth; they spoke to me about their life, their memories, their personal and collective stories; about the food and the religious festivities, and so on; at the end I realized that I had collected so much material that it wasn’t possible to use all of it.
And then I used sounds of churchbells, some vocal parts of “Ave Maria Gratia Plena” (a mottet by Josquin Deprez), some beats of gong, few tunes of piano, electroacoustic treatments.

What is your philosophy behind?

The formal idea of a documentary was only a pretext to create something different from my previous productions; really, I have to say that RITRATTO DI PAESE is an opera on the themes of memory, metamorphosis, cycles of life; at the same time it becames a sort of epos of Gattaiola, just because all the personal stories become universal stories, stories of all mankind. We can imagine that the villagers’ voices are like ghosts flying along the waters of “Ozzori”(the canal for the iirrigation of fields) and speaking of the history of Gattaiola, Italy, all the world. From the point of view of ethnography, I regard “Ritratto di Paese” as an importantdocument about old age and memory, just because it speaks of a part of modern history which books will never speak about. From the philosophycal point of view, the opera is based on the idea that history has got a circular path, but in eternal change; I want to mean that every time events are going to repeat, they aren’t exactly the same of before; as in Eraclito’s theory we change and we don’t change, everything we are doing is a little step for the subsequent level, in a neverending path. For me the artist is the one who has got the awareness of this process and who can describe it in his work. All the events and stories of RITRATTO DI PAESE not as a celebration of old good times, but as simple events of people who are going to be erased by history as everything. What does remain is memory. One day an old broken tape will be refound and this will be the proof of the existence of some people who once lived, worked, loved, died. And this will be useful for somebody else. In the whole opera it’s possible to feel the presence of death, at the beginning and at the end, where the chorus sings the word “amen”, and in the middle, where a weak voice is contrasted by misterious thumps of gong. And in the voices themselves, in the sentences speaking of charachters who are not with us anymore

How does this work fit into your general work?

RITRATTO DI PAESE is the first level of a work in progress about four moments in man’s life. In the whole project I’m trying to explore the possibility of using classic structures applied to themes ofwhose inspiration is generally taken from everyday life, using the voices of common people instead of using voices of actors and singers.; these voices are speaking not of great events and passions as in melodrama, but of common events, including also all these facts which can be not interesting. This idea of listening to people’s voices has gradually changed my points of view and has put me in contact with people sometimes very different from myself. For example, a song or a story have got the power to connect very different people and to make them feel “together”. As I said before, RITRATTO DI PAESE is the first level of a work about four moments in man’s life; this cycle is counterclockwise. RITRATTO DI PAESE is the opera dedicated to old age and community; the second part, I VIAGGI DI BEPPE (“Beppe’s Travellings”) is an opera about middle age and loneliness, through the experience of Beppe, a dear friend of mine, speaking of his travellings, his women, ecology, and singing his songs; the third one, LEZIONI DI MUSICA, projected for the next year, will be about the experience of people twenty years old, particularly students, an opera on the themes of youth and the couple; finally, I am projecting LA CITTA’DEI CARILLONS, a work which speaks again of community, but this time about the community of European children, with their voices speaking languages from different parts of Europe, combined into a big multi-lingual poliphony.
We can add to these works CANZONI NATURALI, a piece which summarize all these ideas; this work is based on the concept that old age and childhood are divided by the ocean. And many other pieces, chamber music, electroacoustic compositions, songs and lyrics… The themes I am interested in are rather constant in my works; what does completely change is the form.

What does music mean to You and what is your concept of music?

Well, I think that music is my life, I can’t divide myself from music. About my concept of it, I think that music must not renounce to its magic power of bringing listeners into other dimensions. I am thinking about many pieces of contemporary music, made by the composers only for themselves, music which doesn’t want to communicate anything and which is so far from people; I don’t want to say that music must give easy emotions, this would be surely a big mistake; but art must offer some keys of interpretation; we can use any form we like, we can invent and explore new technologies, do the most experimental things with all the instrument existing… but at the end, what we want to say musy be clear and recognizable. For me music is much more than a language; as Sainte-Colombe says in Corneau’s film “Tout les matins du Monde”, music is something capable of awakening dead people; music must come back to people and enter our life. An example: in 1992, with the collaboration of the administration of Lucca, but expecially with the disinterested help of the village people, I made up the installation of “Ritratto di Paese” in a zone of Gattaiola, a beautiful field of olive trees; it was possible to hear the history of the village from villagers’ voices just in the places where the events had happened many years before. Several people worked in this project, with great satisfation to do something concerning past history of their families; it was not important for them that this was experimental music. But the most incredible fact was that since this event, they have started to organize a country festival which takes place twice a year in that place; there, people can spend time together, organize pic-nics and bicycle-races, listen to concerts of popular music, spend a different day inside nature; people who once were divided by ancient quarrelings now work together to the social life of the village. What’s incredible is that everything was born from a project of contemporary music.
So, I can say that art for me must be educative; music is like we are.

Which type of expression is your individual mode? Why?

My best expression is to create something which is not only involved with sound, but also with images, poetry, action or something else, as in theatre and cinema. Every time I have conducted a work using extra-musical material, as for example in “Il Teatro del Faro”, where I have used dissolving slides, or in “Canzoni Naturali”, where I have done a scenography made of photographs and live water sounds, I have followed the same methods of proportions I use in music. Generally I use the counterpoint technique applied to all the elements (sound, images, poetry, etc.) and I have to say that the final results really satisfy me. Every time I have finished a work and I have listened to it, I have the feeling that I can find similar rhythmical proportions in nature, in rivers’ flowing, in forests’ waving, in earthquakes’ trembling and so on; whichever instrument or sound I decide to use, violin or resounding stones, electric guitar, water sounds, voices of people or computer-music, I try to imitate the big counterpoint of nature. I’m not interested in artificial structures which are the result of an abstract calculation. I can offer another idea to answer the preceding question; when I am composing I feel myself not as a composer, but much more as a director or a painter, and when I’m making photographs, or directing a performance, I really feel myself as a real composer.
I am full of admiration for Stanley Kubrick, because he can put together very different operas, without renouncing to its personal style; noir-films, science-fiction, documentaries, historical dramas, and so on, but you can always recognize his hand inside; in a certain way, as in Reinassance, where the artists composed sacred and profane operas, songs and symphonies. This mode has been lost during Romanticism, and today we are trying to recover it. This is also my mode. I want to create a series of different works, exploring the different forms which art offers to me, and to put them into a new context of avantgarde. Different expressions, but in my own style.

Please, tell me about your curriculum-vitae and your musical education.

I was born in Lucca in 1963; I have studied music since I was 11 years old; I have studied classic guitar, and at the age of twenty, after the scientific Liceum, I started to play concerts all over Europe with the chamber group “Trio Chitarristico Lucchese”; since a child I used to compose songs and experimental pop music; my favourite groups were Pink Floyd, Genesis, Van Der Graaf Generator, Gong; step by step I started listening to contemporary music; but the examples I enjoied more were taken from experimental contemporary music. Since the age of twenty until thirty, I studied composition at the conservatory of my city and I have taken my degree under the guide of Pietro Rigacci. In 1988 I met Alvin Curran, I had some lessons with him, and soon I became his assistant in his two works “Crystal Psalms” and “Tufo Muto”; this was for me the beginning of a new itinerary, because finally I had the occasion to work with one of my favourite composers; I want to say that this contact was very important for me, not only from a cultural point of view, but also for the human one; I consider Alvin as a teacher nad as a friend.
About my compositions… I have written plenty of music, expecially electroacoustic and multi-medial works; I have partecipated in Festivals in Italy and abroad. “Ritratto di Paese” got the first prize at the International Forum of Radio-Art “Macrophon’91″ in Poland. Actually, I make concerts, projects for the radio, and I teach guitar and composition at the “Civica Scuola di Musica” in Capannori.

Do you have sentimental connetions to the radio? Tell me about it.

I like radio, I consider it a sort of magic box which can stimulate people’s fantasy. I remember how it was interesting and amazing for me listening to the radio concerts of contemporary music, ten years ago, and how Audiobox, the experimental sound-art program, sounded strange to my hears, the first times I heard it; all the things I have learnt listening to the radio… but I can’t say at the moment that I have such a strong sentimental connetion with it, because I have discovered its potential recently. Ten years ago, when I listened for the first time to “A Piece for Peace”, by Alvin Curran, I didn’t realize the true meaning of radio, I only listened to it and thought “I like it”, or “I don’t like it”. I have more connections with records and tapes, which for many years have been my best teachers of composition, also because when I was younger they were the best way to diffuse pop music, which was my and our music, the music which I listened to when I was a student of Liceum, together with my friends.
There is also another important reason; for me radio is a good means of expression, but I need contact with people; I prefer concerts and theatre, or cinema, where…O.K. there is no contact with people in cinema, but there are images, and I feel it as something really complete.

Maybe you want to say anything else.

I would like to spend some words more about the structure of “Ritratto di Paese”. The work is conceived as “variations” on a theme; the few elements which I spoke about before, that is people’s voices, storm noises, churchbells, the choral parts, are repeating and combining themselves in a big counterpoint. At the beginning, in the first section, three women, Iolanda (my grandmother), Uliana and Nelia are speaking about the cultivations of apple-trees in thefields along Ozzori, and about the methods of irrigation used at that time; voices fade in and out as wandering ghosts, on storm noises and the choral word “amen”, which constitutes a sort of “leitmotiv”. In the second section, Severino (the shepherd) speaks about his life and particularly about the religious festivities like “Festa del Gesù Morto”, a sort of procession in which Calvary was rebuilt and there was the pantomime of Christ’s crucifixion, at Easter time. The third section is characterized
Finally, I would like to say the names of these people: Iolanda, Uliana, Nelia, Severino, Ernesta, Marino, Eni, Liliana; many of them are not with us anymore; sometimes when I walk through the fields of Gattaiola I hear their voices, I feel their presence. They are still living in the collective memory of our village.
The history of Gattaiola is the history of a place like many others, a place where people live the cycle of their existence. I remember a sentence in the film “Barry Lindon” by Stanley Kubrick, which struck me particularly, and which we could adapt to “Ritratto di Paese”; this sentence sounds more or less like the following: all these people, good or bad, nice or ugly, rich or poor, now are equal.
That’s all.

SFB Hörspiel Abteilung 1995/04/03