Horatiu Radulescu di Aldo Brizzi, English Version by Chiara Calabrese
Aldo Brizzi
The inaudible sound origins

English Version by Chiara Calabrese



The music of Horatiu Radulescu (1942-2008) is unique even when considered within a contemporary panorama. Although it is possible to find a connection between the development of his personality and the music of composers whose innovative work covered the whole 20th century (Bartok, Messiaen and Stockhausen), such a connection is hidden behind a kind of sacrality and rituality, which gradually detaches the young Radulescu’s language from that of the historical avant-garde.

Sacrality, which (as Eliade pointed out) does not represent one particular moment in the development of the history of conscience, being rather a structural element of conscience itself, in Radulescu’s music is free of symbolic and descriptive values. Therefore, on the one hand, this sacrality shows no connection with elements belonging to pre-existing musical languages, both European and non-European while, on the other hand, it draws from Romanian folk music, not in terms of quotation but as ancestral memory. Radulescu’s work is always characterized by a sophisticated use of the most advanced techniques in the field of acoustic phenomenology, seen as a natural principle, uncontaminated by language.

His early compositions, written in the years of his apprenticeship in Bucharest, foreshadowed the future development of his music but it was when he moved to France in 1969 that his true musical personality became evident. The most important aspects of the avant-garde were rapidly turned into an original sound world, very distant from the banality of contemporary debate. In dealing with Radulescu’s work, therefore, the only possible point of reference is the entire corpus of his work. The composer himself willingly rejected the dialectic and micro-dialectic which characterised the Neue Musik, and acquired a particular frame of mind in which ancestral past and future fused and had no clear-cut limits.

As had happened with Varèse a few decades before, it is difficult to relate Radulescu to the top composers of his own time and see him as part of the development of contemporary aesthetics. In the future, perhaps, we will regard him as a prophet, foreshadowing what will happen in the years to come. So far, however, we can only focus on the fundamental aspects of his production, especially the most interesting part of it, which is the one less connected to the work of his contemporaries.

Chapter 1 – The years of his apprenticeship
Analysis of Radulescu’s early work clearly shows how it foreshadowed the language of his later production and how his music is rooted in the past. We find connections with Messiaen’s language and Webern’s structures but also with Domenico Scarlatti’s forms and Gesualdo’s expressiveness. Despite these connections with the past, we also notice an equally important absence of points of reference because Radulescu methodically decided to shun the musical mainstream and widespread attitudes towards music expression and language.

Besides finding inspiration in European High Culture music, his music is also deeply rooted in Byzantine folklore and rituality, especially the rituality of Romanian pastoral music, characterized by a pure style, free from Turkish and tzigany influences.

The years of his apprenticeship in Bucharest marked the beginning of the development process which, in subsequent years, led him to write a kind of music where the sound sources are indistinguishable. A further development, later on, was the liberation of languages (or, better, from languages) leading to the exploration of the acoustic nature of sound itself.

Radulescu’s interest in the combination of upper partials, made him explore the interior life of resonances, that is, the way in which they are produced, modified in time and die away.
What for Berio and Stockhausen was a final goal in terms of sound and language was, for Radulescu, a starting point.

Chapter 2 – Theoretical conceptions
Frome the very early years of his exile, Radulescu showed no feeling of nostalgia towards his homeland. “His” Romania did not correspond to the real one but was created by his own imagination. It was a Romania imbued with a deep sense of sacrality, deriving directly from Byzantine rituality and the sacrality of natural cycles to be found in art, in folk music, in Sheppard’s musical instruments and in the environment where sound generates natural resonances.

There is a cultural tradition connected to the idea of lucid madness, as an escape from a barbaric world towards an imaginary, even absurd, one. This, though not openly, characterized Radulescu’s entire work and excluded every other possible influence.

His choices inevitably led to “sound plasma”, a complex sound in which all traditional ways of writing music were considered as “global resources”, leaving the cause and effect principle hidden within each composition.

Furthermore, in Radulescu’s work, rhythm does not derive from the score but from the micro-acoustic phenomena produced by the sound spectrum.

Chapter 3 – Playing techniques
Capricorn’s nostalgic crickets is a particularly interesting example of a conceptual piece of music. Here timbre micro-phenomena no longer derive from free experimentation, being primarily produced by the playing technique. Everything is transformed: every single pitch forms harmonic density and harmonic blocks mark the development of time. Micro and macro rhythms lead to timbre and this determines the dynamics. This process led to spectral music where sound sources are indistinguishable.

Chapter 4 – The acoustic space
In Radulescu, the playing techniques lead to a constant transformation of timbre in which rhythm is part of the sound matter itself. It is the spectrum pulse. The combination of notes is here replaced by timbre variation.

A further characteristic is connected to the orchestration where instrumental sections are dealt with in a contemporary way. The contrapuntal alternation between two sections is replaced by the migration of a specific frequency amongst instruments often placed at a distance from one another. Nevertheless, the instruments in the orchestra are arranged in a traditional way. The consequent phase shift produces incredibly powerful energy.

Chapter 5 – Towards spectrality
Radulescu’s music is therefore based on secondary acoustic phenomena, and the notion of spectrum, where all the sound characteristics are included and indistinguishable, acquires primary importance. Due to the secondary role played by pitch in spectral music, the partials contained in a timbre spectrum make a fundamental contribution and become an autonomous language. While his earlier output had been full of timbre devices, in a few years he gradually reduced the sound media to the minimum. At the same time, there was an incredible increase in the number of frequencies in the spectrum, including extremely short intervals.

In his music we find, as real sources, partials I and II which, in their turn, generate further modulations, in a kind of self-analysis of all the elements belonging to a single sound dominated by its own rules. This is obviously possible in each area of the spectrum. The number, width and intensity of the harmonic elements, together with their relationship with the ones produced by the instruments employed, form the overall timbre nature of what we must always consider as just one sound. This is also true when a multitude of frequencies is simultaneously present in every possible audible register. In a sound universe like this, the concept of dissonance disappears.

Op. 30 and Op. 33, of 1984 and 1987 respectively, are extreme spectral works of high musical and poetic value. 1976 and 1977 were very difficult years. In addition to material and health problems, it was difficult to find interpreters spiritually dedicated to his music and to find commissions for new works, which was the more problematic since he lived on his music throughout his life. This aspect undoubtedly demonstrates his integrity as an artist but there was a more personal problem. The real danger was isolation from reality which could follow from having concentrated too much on details. It was impossible to go back and the future was uncertain. Radulescu was ahead of his time but in a few years, rapid technological development allowed the partials which had been theorized a decade before to be calculated, and special acoustic-devices could check and highlight every minimum detail. Furthermore, in the years up to the mid-eighties, Radulescu, with approximately thirty compositions, had acquired an exceptional fluency in writing and a perfect correspondence between the musical idea and its realization. We can therefore refer to op. 30, op. 33 and a few other works, as masterpieces.

Chapter 6 – Spectrality and spatiality
The works from Op. 44 to Op. 47 look back to the past, though using the most advanced spectral techniques. In them, there is a great deal of experimentation in terms of acoustic specialization but, nevertheless, we do not find the emphasis and grandeur which characterized the compositions of the 1970s and there is a more introspective exploration of the acoustic space.

With Op. 30 and Op. 33 Radulescu found a timeless dimension where sound exists in time without history, and whatever happened was immanent. Do emerge ultimate silence is connected to shamanist exorcism and Sufism through the incantation of a sound matter plunged into silence, and through the numerical symbolism, sacred to the Sufi, involved in the creation of the formal structure; and yet it is an hymn to the abstract nature of the sound matter. Infinite to be cannot be infinite/infinite anti-be could be infinite is a kind of reinterpretation of Shakespeare question ‘to be or not to be’ and Lao-Tze’s statement in the Tao Te Ching ‘to be and not to be are created reciprocally’.

In Radulescu, functions are self-generated and belong to a universe where the dialectic between dissonance-consonance is no longer a point of reference. The distance between pitch functions is unchangeable and cannot be either inverted or transposed.

When external sounds are introduced into a spectrum there is the impression of a harmonic ascent, even if in reality there are no pitch changes. The concept of dissonance is therefore eliminated, even though its tension is maintained.

Final considerations
 There was a further and prolific phase of development of Radulescu’s work in the years between 1990 and 2008, when he went back to the traditional form of writing on staves. The paradigmatic works for this period are Concert for Piano and Orchestra and the Sonatas for piano, where the instrument is used in a very traditional way. Radulescu’s experience acquires here a multidimensional perspective in which elements of the early period (the Sonata Op. 5 or Taaroa Op. 7) reach their maximum expression. Once again, we find popular Romanian melodies (either real or invented by Radulescu) characterized by broken rhythms rapidly proliferating, which acquire a totally new significance due to the spectral language adopted. In the intermediate phase of development of Radulescu’s work, the spectral language had reached the extreme dimension of serial music and, in this case, there were constant new formal construction and articulation, where traditional points of reference were further developed and analysed through the spectral language, by then totally mastered by Radulescu.

I graduated from the University of Bologna in 1990 with a thesis on Radulescu:  Le sorgenti inudibili del suono (la musica spettrale di Horatiu Radulescu). While working on it, I had the opportunity to analyse, with the composer himself, all the pieces of Op. 0 and the ones composed by 1989. Between 1986 and 1989 we had long meetings which I recorded in Versailles, Berlin, Freiburg, Menton, Alessandria and Darmstadt. These interviews formed the basis for my thesis and consequently for this book which, originating from direct contact with the composer, is inevitably limited to his work in those years.

Album sul percorso artistico di Aldo Brizzi

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