Elvira Muratore : "Each of my pieces stems from a different approach of the text that inspired it."
A elles de s'exprimer ! Nous invitons une femme du milieu de la musique classique, une personnalité qui nous a touchés, captivés, surpris, et qui nous parle de son parcours ou de l'actualité musicale.
An italian contemporary composer, Elvira Muratore has distinguished herself by writing for a forgotten instrument : the viola d'amore. Among her many inspirations, Bach of course, but also Edgar Allan Poe or the New Testament.
You first chose to study cello. When did you start composing, and how did you come to it?
Since I was a child, I have always been interested in the act of writing - not the creating process, but the act of writing music. I was fascinated with the simple fact that when your writing goes up on the paper, the sound goes up too: it’s so natural! Many people find it mysterious. I studied cello and piano, so I composed small pieces, I imitated the pieces that I was studying. I went from being interested in writing music to being interested in creating my own music - which is different, of course.
You talk about creating your own language, but many of your pieces, including the project ALIAS, stem from written text. Is that one of your main inspirations? How do you work with a text, including in music where there is no voice?
Each piece stems from a different approach of the text that inspired it. Sometimes, I just use suggestions that are in the text: in a piece I composed, I used a text by Edgar Allan Poe, in which there were lots of words that referred to sounds. I used these words to create sounds with the viola d’amore. I also refer to the texts in other ways: for example, in a piece that was inspired by the New Testament, I used a sacred text to write. Therefore, I wanted to use the highest form of writing, which to many people is the fugue - but I adapted this traditional form to my music. I was a little worried about writing something that would be entirely my own while using such a recognizable form, but in the end it was incredible to see that it was my music as well as something ancient.
You have written for the viola d’amore, a very ancient instrument. Why do you think it is still important today to write for this instrument, even though it is not played by as many people as it used to be ?
ALIAS is the result of a friendship, a cooperation with Valerio Losito. We thought of this project together - he had already asked me for a piece a few years ago, and we wanted to do something bigger. We are still working on it today, and planning other recordings! The Viola d’amore is a good instrument to do this kind of projects: it’s an ancient instrument, but it was also used in romantic and modern music. It’s an instrument that never changed - contrary to the violin, for example. I think the viola d’amore has a lot to say in contemporary music, because it has such particular resonances. I found it very interesting to write for this instrument, and I am looking forward to writing more!
Can you tell us about your project ALIAS meets BACH?
I think that the cello suites are perfect to be transferred to the viola d’amore. When you think of the sixth suite, for example, there should be one more string on the cello to play that piece! The important thing, for me, was to respect the original music, to try to be clear about where I am and where Bach is, and therefore not to disturb what Bach did. Because
of my particular experience in writing for viola d'amore, a baroque orchestra asked me to work with them in rewriting the lost soloist part of a concerto for viola d’amore by Giovanni Battista Runcher. For me, it was very interesting to put my pencil where someone had already written and to imagine what could have been there. I tried, not to imitate him, but to consider the orchestral part as something that was waiting for something new. The orchestra really enjoyed it too - even though there were baroque musicians and had no experience in contemporary music! I think I also learnt something about my music during this project. Usually, a composer thinks of his or her music and nothing else. This time, I had the opportunity to hear my music as well as someone else’s.
You write many arrangements. How do you choose the pieces you want to arrange?
Chosing Bach, for example, came from my work with Valerio. He told me that his dream was to play Bach on viola d’amore, but I thought we could do something more ; not just the transcriptions, but something that would join my music with Bach’s. That’s how we started working on ALIAS meets BACH.
Let’s talk a little bit about your “own” music. You seem to have a particular approach to space : you have written a piece called “Listening to empty spaces”, and another “Spaces of absence”. Why does space fascinate you and how do you work with sound to express it?
For me, the key words are rather “empty” and “absence”. When I was in university, I studied mathematics and was fascinated by the idea of limit and continuity - which has a lot to do with infinity, and with the idea of “nothing”. I was fascinated by the idea of going really close to something, without touching it - as functions sometimes do. But I prefer not to use formulas to compose, it’s not the kind of things that interest me [laughs]: I’m more interested in the philosophical part of mathematics!
You are a composer, but also a teacher: how do you combine these two activities, and what does your typical workday look like?
My day is divided in two parts. In the morning, I write music, and in the afternoon, I sometimes teach - a few hours every week. I am also the head of a private music school and managing it takes the rest of my time. There is a lot to do in order to know that the students are growing as musicians! I coordinate with the teachers, I organize the activities of the academic year…
Are there many women who study composition in your school?
Actually, we have mainly children, so they are quite young to study composition. But of course, we have many young women who are studying music ! The same goes for teachers: about half of our teachers are women - we simply select the best, and it turns out that we achieve an equal number of female and male teachers.
When you studied composition, were there many women among your young colleagues? Did you ever face discrimination?
When I started composition at the Conservatory, in fact, most students were women, and I did not felt I faced any real discrimination. If I should find myself in a situation in which there is a clear discrimination, I think I wouldn't put in it any effort: if they discriminate against women, maybe they simply don't deserve us as artists...
So, the situation was rather gender-balanced at school. Is it still the case nowadays, when you work with orchestras or apply for commissions ? Do you feel the situation is also gender-balanced?
I don’t know if the situation is really equal. Generally, I think that we should pay attention to these issues, but that putting too much attention on it isn’t good as well. I’ll give you a personal example : a few years ago, I wrote something of Facebook and used the masculine word “compositore” instead of the feminine “compositrice” - I just wasn’t thinking about it, or maybe the auto-corrector changed it. I received so many comments by women who wished I had used the feminine word ; whereas I just though that if people knew me, they knew I was a woman! Why do we put so much attention on these matters? People like my music, or they don’t, but they know that I’m doing a good job, without knowing anything about my gender. It’s important to avoid discrimination, sure, but it’s also important to pay attention to the job that people are doing ; and the words won’t change that.
Do you think you have missed out on opportunities because you are a woman?
I was probably lucky: I never had any problems, in the professional world in general. Sometimes, it was even an advantage because I was programmed by institutions that wanted to play music by women. Yes, I was quite lucky!