The secret of Lucia Ronchetti (EN)
There are composers who are easily comprehensible and can be reduced to a common artistic denominator. They are geographically as stylistically limited, their themes largely recognisable.
Lucia Ronchetti, born in Rome in 1963, is not one of those composers. She defies easy characterisation, an across-the-board categorisation; she is not easy to understand, not even in words. Thereby she is everything but understated. And despite that, an air of mystery surrounds Lucia Ronchetti. Her music refuses to be stylistically pigeon-holed, and she understands well how to hide that which is her own. Beneath charm, runs temperament and enormous momentum.
For Lucia Ronchetti is always on the go, in many respects. She is constantly on the move, constantly on the look-out for new inspirations and stimuli. She has a wide range of artistic friendships, always searching for kindred spirits who will introduce her to new horizons.
She seeks to cross boundaries, both in the geographical as well as the artistic sense. It’s important to feel the differences in the musical interpretations of different countries, she says, and that can only be done by experiencing abroad. So, shortly after her studies in Rome and with Salvatore Sciarrino, she went to Paris to study with Gérard Grisey and to take a PhD at the Sorbonne, where she wrote a dissertation on the orchestral style of Ernest Chausson. A year’s scholarship at IRCAM followed. And after that, numerous other scholarships and periods of study, at Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart; in New Haven; a further extended period in North America at Columbia University in New York; and finally a whole year in Berlin as guest of the Berlin Artists-in-Residence programme of the DAAD. In all these places, she sought out the noted differences in musical interpretation, made contacts and forged partnerships, many of which still endure.
Lucia Ronchetti also seeks out the crossing of boundaries in her exchanges with other artistic or scientific disciplines. She has had a wide-ranging training as a composer. Already a glance at her catalogue of works turns into a survey of Western intellectual history. She begins in antiquity with the poets Lucretius and Pindar, from whom she borrowed the title ‘Anakyklosis’ for an ensemble piece, a term rich in associations, meaning the movement of the planets or the cycle of governments. From the German philosopher Hans Blumenberg come two titles for orchestral works (“Die Sorge geht über den Fluss” and “Schiffbruch mit Zuschauer”). She has engaged musically with the painter Paul Klee, she has set text by such different poets as Ludovico Ariosto, Nikolaj Gogol or Adolf Wölfli. Above all, however, Lucia Ronchetti maintains a close interest in 20th century Italian literature. And not only with literature, but also with writers. The poet Ermanno Cavazzoni was almost her constant collaborator as author for a time. He wrote not only the plot to “Anatra al sal”, one of Ronchetti’s most frequently performed works, but also the libretto to the radio opera “Rivelazione” and to the opera “La tentazione di Girolamo”. The painter and poet Toti Scialoja, one of the most important abstract artists of the post-war period in Italy, was a regular artistic partner until his death in 1998. And from Giorgio Manganelli, one of the leading Italian avantgardists, comes the text for the vocal work “Pinocchio, una storia parallela”.
But Lucia Ronchetti also draws her inspiration from the natural sciences. In the ensemble work “The glazed roof” dating from 2005, she examines the question of equilibrium with Ieoh Ming Pei, the architect of the glass pyramid in the inner courtyard of the Paris Louvre. She has created a series of works for viola solo under the title “Xylocopa Violacea”, the scientific name for the carpenter bee. And in an approach to Schubert with the innocuous title “Opus 100”, she engages with cryptomnesia, the unconscious acquisition of other people’s thoughts.
Perhaps with this we are on the trail of Lucia Ronchetti’s secret. Her compositional consciousness reacts with unceasing curiosity to external stimuli. Whether this be literature, philosophy or physics, Lucia Ronchetti finds stimulus in all these disciplines for her music. Her artistic fantasy is fired by her encounters with extra-musical phenomena, to which she reacts compositionally and which she translates into musical processes. Though this doesn’t happen whatsoever subconsciously, rather extremely consciously. Her output encompasses all forms. After writing mainly chamber music at the beginning of her career, now vocal and theatre works are to the forefront – an almost natural progression. However, what has remained constant through the years is her work in electronic studios, from IRCAM in Paris to the Experimentalstudio für akustische Kunst in Freiburg or the Electronic Studio at the Technical University in Berlin. This also demonstrates that Lucia Ronchetti sees her composing not least as research, as a scholarly investigation.
In this context it is also an important fact that many of her works bear the subtitle ‘Studie’. This may be regarded as a precautionary measure, perhaps even as a kind of understatement. However, what is significant is that in this indication lies an attempt at objectivity, a distancing from the imponderabilities of subjectivity. Ronchetti’s compositions are experiments, the results of an analytical way of working which penetrates through the surface of sounds and reveals that which is hidden.
Lucia Ronchetti’s music is like a seismograph which picks up hidden signals and makes them tangible. Or to use a journalistic metaphor, it isn’t the leading article which is her metier, rather the essay or reportage. Like this, Ronchetti’s music grows out of precise observation. With alert senses, she observes a scene or just a particular part of it, with a sharp eye for the unusual, for the absurd and novel. And as with reportage, the observer himself can remain in the background, because the events speak for themselves.
Possibly this is also the reason why, in recent years, the theatre has increasingly come to the fore in Lucia Ronchetti’s composing. Here she has the possibility, as nowhere else, of allowing her own voice as a composer to sound in various roles, and to speak through figures. As the composer, she is master of the development at all times – and at the same time, remains in the background. Furthermore, contemporary music theatre is created mostly as a combination of different art forms, in a collaboration between directors, set designers and librettists. And that suits Lucia Ronchetti’s method of working very well. In the case of “Der Sonne entgegen”, her most recent stage work, this was even part of the commission from the Fonds Experimentelles Musiktheater in North Rhine-Westphalia. What resulted was a multi-layered work on the theme of “crossing boundaries”, which is many-voiced, not only because it requires 14 singers, but also because Ronchetti’s music seems like a passage through the past and present of music; and yet the composition portrays something unique about her.
Lucia Ronchetti had also sought the experimental previously, in her opera “Last Desire”, which was voted “premiere of the year” in 2005 by the renowned German magazine “Opernwelt”. “Last Desire” is a variation on Oscar Wilde’s “Salome”, but is actually much more about the futility of waiting and the question, what is actually real. The work was created at the Forum Neues Musiktheater in Stuttgart, a theatre laboratory which is principally devoted to the expansion of scenic possibilities by various media. Here again, Ronchetti is not interested in traditional narrative theatre, rather the experiment, the demanding and often also telltale complexity behind which the “story” disappears.
But Lucia Ronchetti’s theatre is not dependent upon a real stage. She also allows theatre to arise in the imagination of the listeners. Many of her vocal works (and also some instrumental works) take place on the stage of the imagination, as it were. Three works in particular should be mentioned in this context: “Anatra al sal”, “Pinocchio, una storia parallela” and “Hombre de mucha gravedad”.
Ronchetti has composed all these works for the Neue Vocalsolisten, with which she has forged a particularly special partnership. They follow in the tradition of the madrigale rappresentativo, which reached its peak in the 16th and 17th centuries. All the works create an imaginary scene which is produced with purely vocal resources and a few gestures. “Anatra al sal” is something like a “chef’s opera”, an indiscreet glance into the kitchen of five master chefs. At first they discuss verbosely what they should cook, then fall out over preparing the duck in salt, and finally complete the process together after all. The plot, the conflicts and resolutions, the comedy of the action – all of that develops out of the music itself, it doesn’t require a scene or a stage set.
“Pinocchio”, written a few years later, forms the tragi-comic pendant to “Anatra al sal” to a certain extent. Giorgio Manganelli’s “parallel book”, which Lucia Ronchetti used instead of Carlo Collodi’s story, produces endless ramifications until finally, all possible books are contained in a single parallel book. Ronchetti takes the process over into the music. Like Manganelli’s “parallel book”, Ronchetti’s “parallel story” is also frequently higgledy-piggledy. The scenes change frequently, with similarly quick or abrupt sections, and the roles portrayed by the four male voices for which “Pinocchio, una storia parallela” is written, also change. Here also, a musical theatre for four male voices emerges from the poetic outline and the vocal possibilities of the singers. In this, the original story of Pinocchio is still recognisable, but is transformed into a dark, treacherous setting and into an autonomous musical form.
The same goes for the double quartet “Hombre de mucha gravedad” after “Las Meninas” probably the most famous and at the same time, most enigmatic work by the Spanish painter Diego Velasquez. Velasquez’s refined game with mirrors, sightlines and visual centres is translated by Ronchetti into musical parameters, even in the mirror-like scoring of a string and a vocal quartet. And this work is also about disguised theatre. Like the Baroque painter on canvas, so Ronchetti develops a theatre of musical gestures from the painterly reproach, with a finely developed sense for rhetoric and for the world as a stage.
Here is probably also a reason why Ronchetti has been particularly taken with the Baroque period. In many respects it corresponds with her own way of grasping the world and describing it by composing. Distance and the theatrical dominated the artistic discourse in the Baroque. It is not feelings which occupy the centre ground, rather a system of affects; not spontaneous actions, rather a repertoire of gestures. This all intensifies to a complex system of links and meanings which from time to time resembles puzzle pictures and is not dissimilar to Mannerism.
Lucia Ronchetti also loves such complex systems. Sometimes they turn out to be so complex that one feels reminded of Mannerism, as when a structure is worked out to the last detail with a somewhat mad perspective, a certain eccentricity.
Borne by her perfect craftsmanship which allows her to make the entire canon of Western music history her own, she acts with the greatest command. Ronchetti’s music makes high formal demands. The form creates the cohesion, it constitutes the work in its artificial character. It makes the work of art out of simple sounds. And yet it is about everything other than “formalism”. But whoever now believes that it is difficult to listen to Lucia Ronchetti’s music because of its intellectual content is badly mistaken. Her music doesn’t curry favour, but it is basically addressed to the listener. Laughter plays an important part in this. Humour, and occasionally even palpable comedy, give Ronchetti’s music an exceptional liveliness and emotional effect. Lucia Ronchetti’s music fosters polyphonic communication, it is “tangible” on the highest compositional level, yet it ultimately manages to evade a definite interpretation.
Where, therefore, can Lucia Ronchetti be found? Perhaps one can get closest to her track if one follows the search processes in each of her works.
A new field has just opened up. Supported by the Siemens Arts Program, she will shortly spend a month in Johannesburg to research the sound of the city, to investigate the sounding essence of the character of the South African metropolis. Her curiosity is inexhaustible.
(translated by Elizabeth Robinson)