Working Together – an interview with Roberto Fabbriciani

by Bjørnar Habbestad

Music & Practice, Volume 4



The list of flutist Roberto Fabbriciani’s premieres and collaborations is too long to itemize here.[1] His sound and technique have inspired a host of the most prominent post-war composers, ranging from first-generation modernists like Berio, Boulez, Ligeti, Cage and Stockhausen, through Asian composers like Hosokawa, Takemitsu and Yun to the second-generation or post-modernists like Ferneyhough and Rihm. Despite this broad scope and more than 80 recordings to his name, his most important is probably his close collaborations with his countrymen Salvatore Sciarrino (1947–) and Luigi Nono (1925–1990). The relationships between the three, and their interaction in the development of a body of works that can be said to have redefined the sound of the flute as a musical instrument, sets the frame for our talks and discussions.

This interview took place over several months,[2] starting in Fabbriciani’s study in Florence, surrounded by books, scores and posters. Over four intense hours we played through Sciarrino’s Opere per flauto vol. 1. Talks, espresso and a meal followed, and I returned the next day to work on Das atmende Klarsein by Nono. After the meeting in Florence, we corresponded by email until I returned to Italy five months later to hear Fabbriciani premiere a new work by Nicola Sani at the Venice Biennale. These meetings – with or without flutes, in person or in writing – were complicated by our language barrier. A street café at the piazza in front of my hotel was host to our lengthy talk on the second occasion, when I was armed only with a Dictaphone. We communicated in two or three languages and none of them are thoroughly shared between the two of us. Still, as I left Venice after our long espresso-fuelled talk, I made a note to myself stressing the paradox of understanding so much from so little.

The following is a synthesis of transcriptions and translations from our diverse meetings, organized thematically for the sake of clarity.[3] Some keywords keep resurfacing as we get to know our shared interests in different notions of sound, of creative processes and of performing composed as well as improvised music for flute: the sonic orientation in contemporary music, the act of listening, the importance of experimentation and the necessity of risk-taking. But first and foremost we talk about the creative and musical potential in collaboration.

The sound of the twentieth-century flute

Bjørnar Habbestad It’s a common notion that the flute repertoire of the twentieth century emanates from Debussy’s solo piece Syrinx, and the lush sonority found in his orchestral flute solos of Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. But today, timbral transformation takes place not as an exotic embellishment of certain pitches, but as compositional matter in its own right. Looking back at your many collaborations, how would you describe this change in the sound of contemporary music?

Roberto Fabbriciani I think each era has changed the sound of music. In our time, it changed when it was affected by atonality and the development of instrumental techniques and effects. Great composers have always looked ahead, thanks to the way they imagined sound. The flute, a monodic and cantabile instrument, has now become full of sonic resources, something that also has changed the point of view of composers.

 How do you think this has changed the role of the performer?

After 1960, music became more standardized, because composers were looking for a common, ideal language that was no longer personal or even national. Although each one tried to use personal techniques, this does not mean that they did not adhere to certain common instances. Performers began to have a different and a more active role, not only as they tried to cater to more sophisticated sound expectations, but also by proposing solutions and innovations.

 You have personally contributed to advancing the sonic repertoire of the instrument. Which techniques do you find most important or influential for music today?

I think the most influential techniques in today’s music are Sciarrino’s acoustic sounds and Nono’s innovative use of amplification and live electronics. In the 1960’s I started to develop multiphonics, cooperating with Bruno Bartolozzi[4] amongst others. My teacher Severino Gazzelloni and the composers I was in touch with, such as Bruno Maderna,[5] influenced this research, which led me to reinventing the flute.

Do you find that these developments in instrumental technique have found their way into conservatories and music academies?

Not yet! As far as I can see, students in conservatories study mainly historical music literature. There are some departments where contemporary music is studied, but rarely specifically instrumental and for flute. I think new music needs performers to play an active role. They may not only be performers, but also co-creators, as they now have many more opportunities to create sounds than in the past. Here, the relationship between composer and performer becomes absolutely and necessarily complementary and interactive. The fantastic and boundless ideas of the composer arouse the performer’s creativity and push him/her to the extreme and unusual boundaries of his/her art using the instrument.[6] The performer’s ability and imagination to conceive and to create new sounds becomes very important in the development of and innovation in the musical language.[7] Nono spoke of my sound as ‘surprising innovations’ and wrote that ‘he [Fabbriciani] was … immersed in the Freiburg studio, and I [Nono] was immersed in his mastery’. Maybe this way of thinking should find its way into the curriculum.

This makes me think about a statement from Luciano Berio, talking about ‘a different virtuosity’ – a virtuosity of sound[8]. Did you discuss this with him?

Berio’s concept is definitely well placed. I had the pleasure to play Sequenza I for him countless times. His writing stimulates the imagination and inventiveness of the interpreter. It promotes interpretative freedom, a crucial feature of the aesthetics that inspires Sequenza I. It addresses the problems of a form of polyphony based on the multiplicity of the action. Berio used the flute to its full potential. He was interested in the phonic quality of the sound material, both acoustic and linguistic – i.e., its evocative meaning, resulting in the rhetoric of pastoral metaphysics. With respect to the interpretation of Sequenza I, Luciano Berio told me that beyond the accurate research of the technique and the phrasing, it would be necessary to listen to Severino Gazzelloni.[9]

 Did you also discuss with him the background for the revised version of the Sequenza (1992) where he reconstructed the rhythmic structure, from a space-time notation to a traditional metric notation?

At the occasion of one of our concerts, Luciano Berio expressed some dissatisfaction with the manner in which many flutists would perform the Sequenza I. In our discussion, I mentioned to him the idea of a version with traditional notation to facilitate the preparation of the piece for younger performers.

Do you know if Berio discussed this with Gazzelloni? Do you know what he thought about this change?

Absolutely no. Gazzelloni loved the time-space writing as it allows more freedom and imagination. Also, the original and amicable dedication ‘a Severi’ is a sign of great friendship.

Speaking of Gazzelloni, Italian flautists seem to connect more strongly to contemporary music, is this a coincidence? Are there any reasons for this?

Well, this is absolutely true regarding Gazzelloni. He was my teacher and he introduced me to the major composers of the time. I think that because of the direct contact, certain performers can consider themselves as collaborators of the composer, that they take part in the creation of new music. The fact that some flautists are interested in playing contemporary music is quite another matter. This does not necessarily mean working in close contact with the composer and taking part in the creation of music.

Is there ‘an Italian sound’ that has developed, or is this sonic development outside of the national trends?

I think Bruno Maderna gave the best answer when he declared the need to return to melody because we are Italian and that this is our essence; a message that has been quite ignored. However, Italian music does show an inherent taste for lyricism. It is an atonal, special, avant-garde lyricism, but still something that distinguishes our music from the others.

There also seems to be a strong connection between Italian composers and the flute, as so many composers here have contributed to the solo literature: Berio, Sciarrino, Nono, Franscesconi, Fedele, etc.

No doubt about it. I think I have contributed to the diffusion of music for flute thanks to a relationship of mutual respect and trust with the composers. Good collaborations arise from a common intent between performer and composer. I could mention the collaboration with Luigi Nono during the writing of Das atmende Klarsein. First we tried at home, without using electronic techniques, and we improvised with acoustic sounds in search of sound solutions. Then, after choosing some of those acoustically performed materials, we experimented with them using electronics. Some were interesting and some were not. Therefore, a further choice was necessary to draft some kind of provisional score. We produced the piece only after some performances.

So the process of collaboration continues after the score is finished ?

In some cases, certainly.


Performers are thought to be ‘true to the work’ – that they have an ethical obligation to put the identity of the work before their identity as artists. This means that there is an ideal where we aim at meeting the new work or the collaboration without bias, trying to understand and relate to it without prejudice. Still, to what extent do you find that you bring something into all musical situations – a sound, an attitude, a material?

Directly, such musical material suggests new ways of expression. By a new technique, yet untested, you can discover unexplored sound worlds.

Do you think that such an artistic bias can be useful in collaborations with composers?

Rather than prejudice you need an open mind, especially for new music. This important feature allows the collaboration not only among composers but also between author and interpreter.

In improvised music the ethic-of-the-work is exchanged with an ethic-of-the-performer. Could you envision this ethic within the framework of contemporary music?

Certainly. In contemporary music there is a certain randomness, controlled or free. But beyond this technique, today, the role of the interpreter is more creative, as there are many sounds which require a performer’s creative intervention, such as extended techniques. It is true that this exists in all historic repertoire, as a true interpreter is not a mere executor of notes and symbols, but contemporary aesthetics also refers to the uncertainties and details of sound emission that are not always provided by the composers, on which you can greatly diversify the interpretation of a piece.

How do you feel about ownership to your sounds when collaborating with composers?

I really hope to give this sound to composers, and that everyone can use these new sounds in their music. They’re really new avenues.

But in the contemporary music scene, both the economic and cultural capital often follow the composer, not the performer. In your experience, to what extent is the role of the performer acknowledged by composers, publishers and the musical world in general?

Well, the role of the performer-interpreter, who is a co-author, is often not recognized. This is also a matter of knowledge. It is always necessary to work together, to learn to understand; this is the same issue for all composers: for Nono, for Berio, for all composers of direct experimental music. Learning, working together, knowledge. This is necessary, and composers today know what prestige is but have no concept of the workshop. That is the historical workshop, the Renaissance workshop, like Michelangelo’s. Today we have a similar problem. This is necessary for the future: workshops and direct collaboration, absolutely. What do you think?

In my experience, the relationship between my own and a composer’s contribution in workshop situations are often unclear and unregulated. And in some cases my role, as co-creator or contributor, become highly downplayed.

Yes, yes, this is a problem. It happens to me too. But for me this is not so important, for me it’s history continuing. It was the same problem with Sciarrino. I think what matters, what’s important is the time of the story. For example, All’aure in una lontananza, the first piece with Sciarrino … in 1976 … it revolutionized flute literature. At the time, I didn’t have a ‘Fabbriciani’s method’, I didn’t have anything to publish, but it wasn’t necessary because of the time of the piece, the history. And yes, I could or should have published a book sooner, but today I think it wasn’t necessary for history, because the piece is history itself.

That’s a very generous approach.

Well, thanks. Today I think like this, at a different moment perhaps? But today it’s not necessary – today everything’s clear. That’s the way it is, and perhaps we’ll have the same problem with my hyperbass[10] sounds because that was the first instrument and everything that’ll be new in the future for that music builds on this. But that’s the way it is, isn’t it?

If I look at the repertoire from this period that you mention, from 1974–1978, it really looks to me like the sound of the flute is changing, something new is happening at this time.

Yes, at the time, it changed; it definitely was a turn. These were very important years because history was changing, the sound was changing. Experiments, research, casual meetings, it was incredible, although many composers couldn’t write, they didn’t formulate this music perfectly. But even earlier – the late 1960s – 1968, 1969 – during this time the way of thinking changed, the way of thinking about music and playing it. I think it was a very important transition time. At the time I was collaborating with Sylvano Bussotti.[11] A great composer of the time, he was one of the most experimental, but his writing wasn’t very detailed – it was more about the beautiful sign: in painting, in writing. Very elegant, but not detailed like Brian Ferneyhough, for example, not analytical. Before Sciarrino, with Bussotti, we experimented – very interesting and important experimentations – but we didn’t write them down.

Lascia un commento

Il tuo indirizzo email non sarà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *