Salvatore Sciarrino: I stumbled upon her at the end of the eighties, after discovering a new edition, a collection of selected texts Words of Ecstasy. I had already been interested in other leading mystics. Mary Magdalen de’ Pazzi was an enlightened nun susceptible to mystical visions. She came from a famous Florentine family, which likely explains why she was made a saint. She is an uncomfortable, “diabolic” character: it is really hard to distinguish in her between God and the devil; her visions always trigger the same feeling of anxiety. There, one truly understands what the pathology of visions is.
Her story is incredible. She never wrote a single word. She was surrounded by eight novices: four would repeat what she had just said at such breakneck speed that it was impossible to notate everything at once. The four others would then write it down. You cannot even say she “spoke”: rather, she literally expelled words like a machine gun, then suddenly sinking into a deep silence. It was really a nonsensical situation, a very direct form of pathology ... as well as an extreme form of orality, a language spoken very fast.
Harry Vogt: These are no more isolated words, this is a flow of words, a word river. The notion of river is therefore very important, also for translation: it denotes a flux but also influence. This alternation between fast speech and silence, the abrupt passage from motion to stillness seems typical of your music.
Salvatore Sciarrino: Of course. Silence is not empty; it is merely the birth of sound. Not only in music: it is also the experience of what you can do in life. Perhaps I shall now find in myself a deeper silence. It is very important for me. I would have never thought of writing that. That beginning, with the rhythm of breathing: one isn’t sure if one is hearing one’s own heart or breathing. That is the beginning. That is why I want no amplification effects; the listener’s ear needs to distinguish on its own between the breathing and heartbeat of the silent Mary Magdalen. We do not need to know if it is our heart that we hear, an instrument, or the piano’s wood. I have likely never before used sounds and noises so consciously and precisely, including in a technical sense. I penetrate deeper into the sound of silence, something I hitherto was incapable of. My recent works are basically naked, they are austere; it is an important element when you listen to music. It is the only way it can penetrate into our flesh and reach us in the deepest depth of ourselves.
Harry Vogt: A process of reduction or, considering the context, ascesis. Is that process related with the topic we are talking about here?
Salvatore Sciarrino: There might also be a relation with the type of text. In fact, ascesis is no different from silence. Ancient forms of language and some forms of live experience undergo a mutation when they become limited; they lose any normality. One sound is enough to understand what sound and silence are.
Harry Vogt: Dialogue, the idea of polarity, the concept of black and white were from the beginning the central theme. At the onset, you also considered using two performers.
Salvatore Sciarrino: The stage space needs to be fractioned. Not only through the use of installations but also, mainly, through black and white light. The divide is not static, everything is achieved through fast changes of lighting, as in blinking: suddenly, unconsciously, in a second... These transformations are essential because the work itself is built on that pattern. These are parallel discourses. What is essentially relevant is to be able to retranscribe the idea of a harmony of opposites. In the end, Infinito nero could have been titled Infinito bianco (Infinite White). There is no paradox: whether I gaze at white or black for a given time, I end up seeing the same thing.
Interview included in the liner notes of the 1999 Agora Festival,
IRCAM, Centre Georges Pompidou
Infinito Nero (Infinite Black)
Text fragments by Mary Magdalen de’ Pazzi (recomposed by Salvatore Sciarrino)
...Soul would transform into blood, to understand nothing but blood, to see nothing but blood, to taste nothing but blood, to feel nothing but blood, to think of nothing but blood, unable to think but of blood. And all it did would submerge it and sink it in blood. Inflowing inflows influx flowed in and blood flowed in flowed out influxes flow in flows in flows in influxes flow in flowed in exalting itself
then the Saint poured from a vase on my head and blood covered me all. And so did the she-Saint. Milk mixed with blood makes a beautiful dress. Face covered
oh, oh, oh
oh, oh, oh
oh if plants could have love, they would not shout
oh, I don’t know
Timui timore amoris. Timui timore amoris. Timui timore amoris
but say it, say it
mors intravit per fenestras. But why you figures images
faces, aspiration, inspiration and respiration in you
on your body apertures unknown to us. Entries,
windows, holes, cells, heavenly openings, caves.
Bottomless dew. They are folds in which I lose myself
Come, come with the crown: its long thorns pierce the Eternal
Father in heavens
He writes on me with blood. You with the milk of the
Virgin. The Spirit with tears
Clouds need not open when the virginal womb does
yes but come, come, ah, come, oh come, come
alas, I die living
oh, oh, oh
(after staying up she sits down a little)
here I am on earth
I cannot go any further down
oh wise folly
(opening her arms, she relaxes and stays very still. Then she starts writhing, in gestures and movements, as if consuming herself)
I do not understand
yours is better, yes. Yes
you are without end, but I would like to see an end in you ...
Translated by Wojciech Bońkowski