Bussotti’s notes on Pièces de chair II

Facsimile and English translation

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Julia Freund
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Federica Marsico
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On 21 May 1959, Sylvano Bussotti sent the following thirteen-page typescript to the Director of the Darmstadt Summer Courses, Wolfgang Steinecke. It contains explanatory notes on his chamber music cycle Pièces de chair II for piano, baritone, female voice and instruments (1958–60), or, as the composer himself put it, specifications on the “possibilities of interpreting the pieces”.1 In his accompanying letter, Bussotti referred to these notes as “provisional” – at that point in 1959, the composition was not yet finished2 –, while stating that, for reading the music of the existing pieces, they were nevertheless complete.3

A few weeks earlier, on 10 April 1959, Bussotti had sent the incomplete score to Steinecke, hoping that the cycle would be premiered at the following Summer Courses (with William Pearson and Cathy Berberian performing the vocal parts). When Steinecke, who was impatiently waiting for these notes,4 finally received the detailed typescript, he replied: “the Italian explanations are no more accessible to me than your music”.5 In June 1959, Bussotti and Steinecke agreed to a separate performance of Five Piano Pieces for David Tudor, which form a smaller cycle within Pièces de chair II.6 In the end, on 29 August 1959, David Tudor performed Piano Pieces nos. 2, 3 and 5 during Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Darmstadt lecture series entitled Music and Graphics.

Whether Bussotti actually completed these notes and Heinz-Klaus Metzger translated them into German, as the composer had promised Steinecke,7 remains unclear. Bussotti did, however, send a copy of the current document to Tudor (with slightly different handwritten corrections and annotations, as indicated in the footnotes of the English translation below).8

Bussotti’s ‘provisional’ notes on Pièces de chair II comprise a list of the pieces (with the completed ones underlined in red); a table of abbreviations; explanations of signs (I); directions for the piano (II), the voice (III) and other instruments (IV); as well as general notes on reading the text and specifications for each particular piece (V).

Since this document offers a rich and rare insight into Bussotti’s highly personal approach to musical writing, we decided to publish the original typescript together with an English translation, making it available to a wider readership and enabling the reader to compare the two versions. During our work we have rendered the text as literally as possible, keeping in mind two main objectives: to be faithful both to the particularities of Bussotti’s style, rich in long and elaborately-constructed phrases, and to the text’s purpose of providing clear suggestions for the performance of the score9.

As far as possible we have maintained the typographical features of Bussotti’s text regarding its placement on the page and his use of punctuation, underlining and capitalisation. We modified these features only when adjustment was necessary to elucidate the text’s meaning. Moreover, the translated text was adjusted to the common use of italics for non-English words and the titles of works or single pieces. Our abbreviated names between square brackets at the end of a text section (i.e. “[Fe. Ma.]” and “[Ju. Fr.]”) indicate which part of the document was translated by each of us respectively. However, the final version of the whole translation was the product of our joint work and the ideas that emerged and took shape from our long stimulating discussions and mutual exchange of opinions.

We wish to thank the Archive of the International Music Institute Darmstadt, for having generously provided us with the facsimile of the document, which is stored within a folder containing several papers related to the presence of Bussotti and his music at Darmstadt. We also express our thanks to Sylvano Bussotti and Rocco Quaglia, for having kindly allowed us to reproduce the document, to Emily Payne, for her careful examination of the English version, and to the co-editors of this book Matteo Nanni, Jakob Schermann and Nikolaus Urbanek, for having welcomed our proposal to publish it.

And finally, we dare to hope that our discovery might encourage future realisations of Bussotti’s intriguing yet scarcely performed Pièces de chair II.

[Ju. Fr. and Fe. Ma.]


Sylvano Bussotti to Wolfgang Steinecke, 21 May 1959, Archive of the International Music Institute Darmstadt (IMD). Bussotti’s letters to Steinecke were written in German, most likely with the support of Heinz-Klaus Metzger. Throughout, the English translation of the passages quoted from the letters was done by the authors.


This explains why in the document of 1959 there are no explanatory notes on the following pieces: amo (piano piece for David Tudor 5) (no. I.a), voix de femme (no. VII), voix d’homme (no. XIII.a), and (le nègre) (no. XIII.b).


Bussotti to Steinecke, 21 May 1959, IMD Archive. In this letter, Bussotti writes that the final, more detailed version of the explanatory notes would also include a chapter on the verbal texts.


Steinecke to Bussotti, 15 May 1959, IMD Archive.


Steinecke to Bussotti, 26 May 1959, IMD Archive.


They were also published separately in: Sylvano Bussotti, Five Piano Pieces for David Tudor: Extraits de Pièces de Chair II, London: Universal, 1959.


Bussotti to Steinecke, 21 May 1959, IMD Archive.


This copy is at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, in the collection of Tudor’s papers. We owe thanks to Martin Iddon for pointing this out to us and sharing his notes. In her investigation of the piece voix de femme, Anne-May Krüger also refers to the Los Angeles document: Anne-May Krüger, “‘Voix de femme’. Parallelexistenzen eines Vokalportraits”, in: Anne-May Krüger/Leo Dick (ed.), Performing Voice. Vokalität im Fokus angewandter Interpretationsforschung, Büdingen 2019, pp. 177–208.


Sylvano Bussotti, Pièces de chair II: pour piano, baryton, une voix de femme, instruments (1958 ’59 ’60), Milano: Ricordi, 1998.

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