«È il sistema che non funziona!»: Angelo Paccagnini (electroacoustic) music composer

Angelo Paccagnini (Castano Primo, 17/10/1930 – Milano, 02/07/1999) was an Italian composer and intellectual. He wrote instrumental and electroacoustic music; was the director of the Studio di Fonologia della RAI in Milan from 1968 to 1970, was an intellectual catalyst in the rediscovery of Ancient Music during the Sixties and the Seventies, wrote articles and gave talks and seminars on the pedagogy of music. He was a teacher of electroacoustic music in Milan and then director of two conservatories of music in Italy.Paccagninistudio

If he be compared with his illustrious predecessors and contemporaries such as Luciano Berio, Bruno Maderna and Luigi Nono (to name the holy trinity), he is lost in the magnitude of his rivals. But it is his vast and heterogeneous activity, always aimed at diffusing the importance of music for society, that sustains his undisputed personal value.

It started as a post-webern serialist composer: in 1958 he wrote Concerto per violino e sei ensembles and Tre brevi canti, per mezzosoprano e pianoforte (base on Paul Éluard’s poems); this last was played at the Darmstadt Ferienkurse by Cathy Berberian and Niccolò Castiglioni. In 1959 he wrote the musical theatre opera Le sue ragioni, in which he described the tragedy of incommunicability.

He later began to explore sounds and timbre (musical theatre Tutti la vogliono, tutti la spogliano 1966) and joined the team of the Studio di Fonologia, where he realized his first electronic piece Sequenze e strutture (1961).

From 1966 he was part of the Comitato di direzione of the Studio di Fonologia (who substituded Dall’Oglio and before him Luciano Berio), and from 1968 to 1970 he was unique director of the Studio. He started a series of Electroacoustic Music Theather pieces: Bivio (1968), Un uomo da salvare (1969). In 1964 he obtained the Premio Italia Prix with Il dio di oro (radiodramma per soli, coro e orchestra).

It hurts to read the following from the music critic Massimo Mila (in correspondence to Luigi Nono): “I know, Angelo Paccagnini is not smart as a whip, but he is useful to me, first because he knows a lot more [about technology] than me, and last year he someway taught me everything about the machines at the Studio di Fonologia”;  [“Lo so che Angelo Paccagnini non è un’aquila, ma a me è utile, prima di tutto perché se ne intende più di me, e l’anno scorso mi ha fatto una specie di tirocinio in mezzo alle macchine dell’Istituto di Fonologia”: Massimo Mila to Luigi Nono, November 9th 1971; Massimo Mila. Nulla di oscuro tra noi. Lettere 1952-1988Angela Ida De Benedictis – Veniero Rizzardi eds., Il Saggiatore, 2010, p. 139].

Among his activities, there is one curious participation in a controversial movie by the Italian Director Augusto Tretti, La legge della tromba (1960).

Paccagnini – alongside other non professional actors – was the main character, as well as music composer of the electronic soundtrack (realized at the Studio di Fonologia). In the movie, Paccagnini/Celestino, with is eccentric comrades, gets into a number of odd adventures. He ends the story by declaring into the camera – almost yelling and with a wry smile – «It is the system that does not work!» [«È il sistema che non funziona!»]. (The last scene sees Paccagnini/Celestino in a ramshackle shuttle, falling apart; he ends up on a tree from which he shouts his line!).

Other works (selection): Il sale della terra (electronic sounds and choir, 1969); Mosè (soloists, magnetic tape and orchestra, 1963); Stimmen (electronic sounds and voice, 1979); Terzo concerto (soprano and orchestra, 1966); Flou IV (viola, cello and double bass, 1972); Underground (ballet, 4 synthesizers, 1975); Olivo verde vivo (video fairy tale, 1977).

Read his entire lifetime career from my encyclopedia entry (Treccani Encyclopedia):

L. Zattra, “Paccagnini Angelo”, Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani – Volume 80 (2014)

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