1 October 2023

Sylvano Bussotti - composer, writer and painter

The productive life of a Renaissance man with many strings to his bow

Sylvano Bussotti was described as a modern Renaissance man
Sylvano Bussotti was described as a
modern Renaissance man
The multi-talented Sylvano Bussotti, a leading composer who was part of Italy’s avant-garde movement, was born on this day in 1931 in Florence.

Bussotti was also a painter, set and costume designer, opera director and writer. His operas and ballets were performed at the most prestigious theatres in Italy and abroad and he served as artistic director of Teatro La Fenice in Venice, the Puccini festival in Tuscany and the music section of the Venice Biennale.

Before he was five years old, Bussotti was learning to play the violin and he soon became a prodigy. He was also introduced to painting early in his life by his older brother and uncle.

At the Luigi Cherubini Conservatory in Florence, he studied harmony and counterpoint and learnt the piano, but he was unable to complete his studies and receive any official qualifications because of the start of World War II.

However, Bussotti continued to study composition on his own and, from 1958, he took private composition lessons with Max Deutsch in Paris.

Bussotti embarked on what has been described as an important editorial relationship with music publishers Casa Ricordi in 1956. His first composition to be performed in public, entitled Breve, was heard at a gallery in Dusseldorf in 1958.

The American mezzo-soprano Cathy  Berberian with Bussotti at a performance in 1960
The American mezzo-soprano Cathy  Berberian
with Bussotti at a performance in 1960
His compositions employed the use of graphic notation, which represented music through the realm of visual symbols instead of traditional music notation.

The composer received many awards and prizes for his music, both in Italy and abroad. In the 1960s he was invited to the United States to visit Buffalo and New York, by the Rockefeller Foundation.

His first opera, La passion selon Sade, was premiered in Palermo in 1965. Along with other composers of the time, Bussotti experimented with the interaction between sound, sign, and vision.

Bussotti also acted and sang himself and he directed films. He was a painter and graphic artist and his art works have been exhibited in many different countries. He wrote novels and poems and he was able to write most of the librettos for his own operas.

Later in life, Bussotti taught composition, analysis, and the history of musical theatre at academies in L’Aquila, Fiesole, and Stuttgart.

He served as the artistic director of La Fenice in Venice, directed the Puccini festival in Torre del Lago in Tuscany, and became director of opera at La Scala in Milan. He was head of the music section of the Venice Biennale from 1987 to 1991.

Bussotti was openly gay and his partner, the ballet dancer and choreographer Rocco Quaglia, collaborated with him on many of his projects.

The composer died at a nursing home in Milan after a long illness just before his 90th birthday. A five-day cultural event in Florence, which had been planned to celebrate Bussotti’s birthday, still went ahead in the city to celebrate his artistic achievements instead.

Bussotti has been sometimes described as a Renaissance man because of his many talents, which enabled him to combine different art forms creatively.

The Luigi Cherubini Conservatory is one of the most important in Italy
The Luigi Cherubini Conservatory is one
of the most important in Italy
Travel tip:

Sylvano Bussotti received his early musical education at the Luigi Cherubini Conservatory in Piazza delle Belle Arti in Florence, one of the most important music conservatories in Italy. The conservatory, which is not far from La Galleria dell’Accademia, is named after the 18th century composer, Luigi Cherubini, who was born in the city. The conservatory occupies part of a former nunnery, which was closed in the 18th century by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Leopold II, who would go on to become Holy Roman Emperor.

Teatro La Fenice has risen from the  ashes more than once in its history
Teatro La Fenice has risen from the 
ashes more than once in its history
Travel tip:

Teatro La Fenice in Venice, where Bussotti served as artistic director, has had a fascinating history. The theatre, in Campo San Fantin, which is not far from Piazza San Marco, was named La Fenice, the Phoenix, when it was originally built in the 1790s, to reflect the fact it was helping an opera company rise from the ashes after its previous theatre had burnt down. But in 1836, La Fenice itself was destroyed by fire, although it was quickly rebuilt. Then in 1996, when the theatre burnt down again, arson was suspected, leading to a long criminal investigation. La Fenice had to be rebuilt once more at a cost of more than 90 million euros and was not able to reopen for performances until 2003.

Also on this day:

1450: The death of Leonello d'Este, Marquis of Ferrara

1910: The birth of cycling champion Attilio Pavesi

1961: The birth of football coach Walter Mazzarri


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