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Ginastera, Alberto: Bomarzo - Music from Bomarzo (1967) 31'
Suite from the opera for orchestra

Music Text



2(II=picc).2.2(II=Eb,bcl).2(II=dbn)- 3crot/3susp.cym/5bongos/5cowbells/tamb/guiro/wood wind chimes/tom-t/ glsp/3tgl/3tam-t/5tom-t/ gongs/SD/BD/ ratchet/3wdbl/cyms-mand-harp-hpd-pft(=cel)-strings optional soprano instead of cl.3

Abbreviations (PDF)


This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes for the world.

World Premiere

San Antonio, TX
San Antonio Symphony / Julius Rudel

Composer's Notes

A composer today has to have a very strong technique, especially for opera. You cannot just write a few arias, duets and interludes and expect them to form a tonality. For example, in Bomarzo I had to write a prelude and fourteen interludes, and each one had to be planned very carefully, because they all had to be different yet in the same style. Each makes a contrast with the preceding scene and prepares for he next: the bells tolling for Girolamo's funeral lead gradually into the coronation bells for Pier Francesco, and so on. One of these interludes contains the most advanced music I've written, though it is based only on five notes—G natural, G quarter-tone higher, G sharp, A quarter-tone lower, A natural. It is based on Pier Francesco's cry of anguish at the end of the Erotic Ballet, a cry that echoes in the chorus and orchestra for two minutes, and the process employed aletoric (semi-improvised).

I used two kinds of rhythmic patterns in the opera—conventional metrical rhythm, which is written in the usual notation, and the aleatoric rhythm, which uses a proportional notation. I used twelve-tone rows, microtonality (intervals less than half-tones) and three kinds of technique in the texture-clusters, clouds and constellations. Clusters are massive sounds of chords like big sonorous columns; clouds are produced aleatorically and stay suspended in the air but like clouds nature, change slowly in color and form; constellations are bright flashes of sound that suddenly appear and jest as suddenly disappear.

Art never repeats itself, and just as we cannot write a symphony the same way Beethoven did (even if we had the genius, this would be completely absurd), we cannot go on composing operas with the same style and patterns used by Verdi. We must lay out again all the problems of opera, facing them from another point of view. This is what I have been trying to do, first with Don Rodrigo and now with Bomarzo. Paul Klee once said "Why not?" and I have taken these words as my device. I do not wish, however, to break the operatic tradition; I don not wish to destroy a beautiful form that will still give new flowering.

I begin any composition the same way-by making a musical outline (for an opera, a musico-dramatic outline). Only after that do I begin discussion with the librettist; he might write a fine verse that I cannot use. I have to fit the words into what music is for me—an architecture of movement, not of standing still. I like fantastic and surrealistic elements as well as dramatic, but I try to set subjects that have a very strong dramatic force, because music enlarges situations, tends to dissipate their force. When you put dramatic concentration into music, it's like diluting a Coca-Cola concentrate: one minute of poetry will give you a four-minute song. So I try to concentrate the violence, as Verdi did. This is the great lesson every opera composer has to learn. If you make 'just music', it tends to relax, to go its own way, and you lose the dramatic concentration.

Bomarzo is built with a very strict and severe structure. It is divided into fifteen scenes, each of which in turn is divided into three microstructures representing the classical Greek formula of exposition, crisis and conclusion. So the form that governs the whole opera is reproduced in tiny cells in each scene. The main point of crisis in the opera is the Erotic Ballet, in which the Duke of Bomarzo dreams and his nightmare foresees his Scaro Bosco—the garden of monsters, which he creates at the end of his life. In death he becomes one with the statues. They are his immortality.

The rise and fall of Bomarzo has something of the classics in it: like Oedipus, he has all the power, but he falls like a mortal. Because of the flashback technique, we know his fate at the beginning, as we know it at the end. In the mysterious and magic world of Bomarzo, as in Joyce's Ulysses, dreams and reality are mixed in such a way that the ideas, fantasies, desires, past memories, imagination and eagerness of Bomarzo become more real than reality itself. As Klee once wrote, "Our pounding heart drives us down, deep down to the source of all. What springs from this source, whatever it maybe called-dream, idea or fantasy-it is to be taken seriously only if it united with the proper creative means to form a work of art."

— Alberto Ginastera

Reproduction Rights
This program note can be reproduced free of charge in concert programs with a credit to the composer.

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