Two Perspectives on Italo Calvino

My colleagues and I are publicizing two videos of my music on social media this week. While the pieces are from different contexts (I play in the piece that is semi-improvised, but not the one that is fully composed), the commonality is that the music of both was inspired by short stories from Italo Calvino’s INVISIBLE CITIES:

‘Solea Di Diomira’ – feat. Joseph Petric (accordion), Dinuk Wijeratne (piano), Nick Halley (percussion)

“Leaving there and proceeding for three days toward the east, you reach Diomira, a city with sixty silver domes, bronze statues of all the gods, streets paved with lead, a golden cock that crows each morning on a tower. All these beauties will already be familiar to a visitor, who has seen them also in other cities. But the special quality of this city for the man who arrives there on a September evening, when days are growing shorter and the multicolored lamps are lighted all at once at the doors of the food stalls and from a terrace a woman’s voice cries ooh!….is that he feels envy toward those who now believe they have once before lived an evening identical to this and who think they were happy, that time.”

– Italo Calvino (1972), trans. William Weaver

‘Ersilia’ – from the 5-movement Concerto for Percussion Quartet & Wind Ensemble ‘Invisible Cities’, feat. TorQ Percussion Quartet

“In Ersilia, to establish the relationships that sustain the city’s life, the inhabitants stretch strings from the corners of the houses, white or black or gray or black-and-white according to whether they mark a relationdhip of blood, of trade, authority, agency. When the strings become so numerous that you can no longer pass among them, the inhabitants leave: the houses are dismantled; only the strings and their supports remain. From a mountainside, camping with their household goods, Ersilia’s refugees look at the labyrinth of taut strings and poles that rise in the plain. That is the city of Ersilia still, and they are nothing. They rebuild Ersilia elsewhere. They weave a similar pattern of strings which they would like to be more complex and at the same time more regular than the other. Then they abandon it and take themselves and their houses still farther away. Thus, when traveling in the territory of Ersilia, you come upon the ruins of abandoned cities, without the walls which do not last, without the bones of the dead which the wind rolls away: spiderwebs of intricate relationships seeking a form.” 

– Italo Calvino (1972), trans. William Weaver


Having interacted with Calvino’s work in these different ways, I am reminded that we all do well whenever our creative problem-solving is spurred on by external influences that are better than ourselves. Simply by existing, they challenge us to live up to their example, and in so doing we end up exploring territory we would not approach of our own accord.

My best wishes to you all for Christmas and the holiday season! :)