Interview with Francesco Morittu
When did you start to play guitar and why?
I started playing the guitar as a self-taught when I was about 16 years old. At home we had un’estudiantina, a small Sicilian manufacture model with steel strings and, as I discovered many years later in my ethnomusicology researchs, it was used here in Campidano, in the taverns, to accompany songs and traditional dances. I got it and I began to play it during all my free time trying, by ear, to play any kind of music.
Some times later with some high school friends, we formed a small group (electric guitar, bass and drums) to play Clapton, Dire Straits, Pink Floyd, Eagles covers ecc.. but actually we always ended to dedicate ourselves to our compositions; We felt the need to make a music that, while based on our models, it was closer to us and that, somehow, reflected us. This was a wonderful experience, decisive for my future choices. Sometimes we gathered at the bassist’s home whose father (a real pusher of good music, as some of us, later, said) proposed us, at each meeting, a different vinyl record: Weather Report, Jaco Pastorius, Miles Davis, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Paco de Lucia, to name a few. It was during these meetings that I fell in love for the classical guitar. I still remember the afternoon when I heard for the first time the famous Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra by Rodrigo, the interpretation of John Williams. I was immediately enraptured by the charms of that execution, the completeness and the clean sound, the dexterity with which he opened to contrapuntal episodes without, however, losing the warmth and sensuality of singing or the rugged beauty of the agreements in rasgueado. I felt those elements (which even came from a secular tradition) as new and, therefore, highly stimulating and I sensed the great potential also in the field of improvised music and modern repertoires as, of course, jazz.
What did you study and what is your musical background?
In 1990, finished high school, I moved to Bologna, where I enrolled at DAMS and started to study classical guitar. I found myself catapulted into a very challenging situation characterized by a great artistic and cultural fervor and a great plurality of opinions and points view about art, music and society.About the guitar I decided to study with Monica Paolini, a great guide that with skills and aesthetics passion introduced me through not only the classical authors but, from the beginning, even the masters of the Baroque and contemporary music ( Bach, Weiss, Poulenc, Villa Lobos, Llobet, Brouwer) Being an open minded musician, Monica encouraged me to cultivate, in addition to performance practice, even composition and improvisation, showing me (among many) Ralph Towner as an example to deepen .
Alongside I was attending lessons and the tumultuous environment of DAMS. It’s difficult tnow o summarize in a few words how much important was to me that reality that then, only in Italy, boasted a exceptional teachers’ group, a large art’s students group of diverse origins and a serious rival faction represented by the Laboratorio di Musica & Immagine, a group of talented musicians led by Salvatore Panu and Paolo Angeli, which aimed to break down the conventional distinctions between genres. It would be simplistic to pass for simple undergraduate degree that it was, instead, a real hotbed of ideas. In this context our glowing formation never happen, inevitably, in a passive manner, but always through a series of dialectical processes, often traumatic, when you were forced to take a position, even just with respect to your artistic and university choices. While studying guitar gave me in a priceless feeling, I felt increasing the need to define more clearly my direction not only as a guitarist but also, more broadly, as a musician. So I opened myself, as far as possible, to the many opportunities the city offered, in terms of growth and confrontation, represented by the varied and generous cultural and concert proposal (jazz, electronic avant-garde, ancient music, contemporary, opera, theater, there was everything) that the attendance of musician friends and university colleagues, who already were beginning to experiment and take alternative paths and personal (Sergio Altamura and Paolo Angeli, just to stay between guitarists).
I graduated in ethnomusicology, with Roberto Leydi and then I graduated in guitar.
Shortly after graduation I moved to Parma to perfect myself with Giampaolo Bandini. The city, away from the clamor of Bologna, represented an excellent forum in which rearrange ideas and produce material to be developed in future projects and also in those days that were held in the editions of the International Guitar Festival “Paganini”, you could grasp the opportunity to interact directly with the great performers of classical guitar (Yamashita, Russell, Assad, Dukic, Steidl, Barrueco etc.) and catch up on news about new compositions and new authors who wrote for the instrument.
With that guitar sounds and with what you played?
My first guitar was a Ramirez 3C cedar top, built by craftsmen. Then, in view of the degree, I took one with a spruce top made by the very talented Rinaldo Vacca Cabras (Or). For several years, however, I play a 1993 Scandurra, with spruce top and with whom I recorded Nautilus. Then there is the estudiantina, the ’50 “campidanese” with spruce top and metal strings of which have come in possession during my search campaigns about dance guitar and which I love. It has a wonderful voice and so far I’ve only used as part of performances of theater and dance. In the future, I would like to dedicate, however, a specific space, both in concerts and in recording projects.
How did start the idea to release your last cd: Nautilus?
Nautilus is a kind of anthology of passages I wrote in very distant periods. What unites them is the fact that they all work like little musical stories in which improvisation is intertwined with strictly written parts and so it plays, as well, a decisive role in terms of efficacy narrative. For example, pieces like Marco Polo was born in the bosom of theatrical performances, where music had to be able if necessary to change, extemporaneously, with the actor’s dialogues. In this album the space given to improvisation is never a watertight compartment to be filled with melodic variations but, rather, an open yard where you can find some of the buildings and artifacts brought into play in previous executions that escaped from the memory’s erosion. In this way, play after play, the piece begins to stabilize and take on a more and more definite connotation, while not giving to scramble items in the game and introduce new ones.
How did you choose to Stefano Guzzetti’s label to produce this record?
It happened very naturally. I met Stefano a few years ago in Cagliari thanks to a mutual friend, the violinist Simone Soro. We paused to talk about music and artistic languages and, with great pleasure, I discovered him as a musician and composer, animated by a genuine passion and tireless dedication to the music and, what is rare, with very clear ideas on how optimize lead times of their projects. Between us is born soon a friendship that is based on a great respect, both humanly and artistically, and that, even in spite of the fact that we have a very different way of composing and sometimes of understanding music. Stefano was thinking to open his own label for works of other artists, and he had already amply expressed sincere appreciation for my songs and offered, among other things, a valuable aid to record them. The decision to release Nautilus for Stella Recordings was the logical consequence of all this.
You talked a lot about improvisation. What does it means in your music research? Can we go back to talk about improvisation in a repertoire so encoded as the classic or we’re forced to leave and turn to other repertoires, jazz, contemporary, etc?
When I write – even when I do not write for guitar – I do it with the instrument in my hands. I decide the guidelines and, through improvisation, I elaborate the material that if I find compelling, I fix on paper or directly on Finale and then work it with calm “on board”. When it comes time to develop it I rely, again, improvisation and so on until I reach a formal completeness that satisfies me. So improvisation means research. I believe that this aspect should be kept in mind when addressing the classical authors. Improvisation could be, in fact, a privileged means of investigation to go against the current of the score and bring the interpreter to the gesture and the author’s stylistic reasons. Severa persons could disagree, but I, however, was thrilled when I heard Pavel Steidl play and improvise on Paganini, Giuliani and Coste and I’m amased about howRoland Dyens depicts Mr. Villa Lobos and his music . In this sense, improvisation is not the exclusive preserve of jazz although, those who want to get close to the improvised music, should not to ignore it.
What influence have your studies in ethnomusicology world in your music making?
Decisive, I would say. I attended the ethnomusicology classes taught by Roberto Leydi since the first year of university. A man of great communication skills, curiosity and intelligence, Leydi had traveled widely and knew how to lead his students through the key concepts of ethnomusicology making use of the strength of the story experienced in first person with seductive charm. He warned us from going hand in hand with the exotic and induced people there, however, to do research in their own homeland. So, I agreed with him a thesis on the dance guitar music in Campidano (an executive polyphony and virtuosic style which results in a direct line, from the Spanish vihuela of the ‘500 and which is now almost obsolete) and I began to do research in Sardinia’s southern area. Entering the homes of musicians (mostly elderly) that I found myself immediately connected to a social texture in which they mainly spoke Sardinian, they sang other songs, they danced other dances, other instruments were played and sang, all by memory, the verses of poets improvisers lived almost a century ago. I was thrilled by the encounter with the “new” reality, but, as I tried to persuade me to the contrary, I could not ignore the truth: I was a stranger in your own home. I continued myresearch and, of course, I learned the dances that I collected and transcribed until, one day, I found myself to accompany a small circle of dancers. With surprise, I realized that what I was doing was not one of the dances that I had learned, but something that, of those, recombined and ranged the elements depending on the feedback that came to me from the rim. It was not, of course, nothing more than a campidanese dance, but what matters is that it was mine.
Here, therefore, the heritage heart of Leydi: the research. Research understood not as a final stage of my college career, but, rather, as an experiential journey that, in the sign of an intimate and private reconciliation with my country of belonging, has inaugurated a new way of playing and composing.
Since then I began to direct my compositional research towards further developing the aesthetic and formal archetypes that govern the Sardinian dance in a personal language. The first fruit of this research was “S’acabbadora”, a piece for solo guitar that I wrote in 2007 in the quiet of a Parmesan autumn, which got internationally multi acclaim and appreciation and is still played today, being part of the Bérben’s catalog in Ancona.
I sometimes feel that in our time music’s history flow with no particular interest in its chronological course, in our music library before and after, the past and the future become interchangeable elements, could this be the risk for an interpreter and a composer of a uniform vision? A music “globalization”?
I believe that the risk of which you speak exists, but that is in any way necessary, precisely to allow a backlash able to reverse the process. Our era is saturated with information; we choose to align because we do not know manage it, so”we disable” those details that are resistant to the process of approval. Thus, for example, we enclose music belonging to authors, distant styles and eras each other under the pressure of a single dominant aesthetic model made of well codified interpretive procedures, standardized sound and impeccable execution. Maybe I’m wrong but this, in the end, produced a great hunger for authenticity and truth, awakening the awareness of the necessity and the pleasure of discovery. I personally found in improvisation and in ethnomusicology two experiences research which firmly keep me anchored to this, allowing me to clearly see the links, but also many differences with the past.
Are there five essential discs for you, always to have with you .. the classic five discs for the desert island ..
Five are too many or too few …! But I try:
Egberto Gismonti – Sol do meio dia
Ralph Towner – Anthem
Hopkinson Smith (lute) – S.L. Weiss / Pieces de luth
Bill Evans – Live in Tokyo
Roland Dyens (guitar) – Heitor Villa Lobos
Who would you like to play with and who would you like to play? What music do you usually listen to?
Actually, right now, I am more oriented towards the exchange with the world of theater and dance, and I do not think of any musician in particular. However, if I can fly fantasy, I would like to open a concert with music by Toru Takemitsu (I would say “Wainscot Pond” the first piece of that wonderful triptych which is In the Woods) and, seamless, slip into a radical improvisation duet with my classical guitar with Marc Ducret.
I listen to everything, provided it contains a bit of truth, possibly different from mine. Anyway, I’m a lazy and vaguely autistic listener, when a song (or album) strikes me I listen to it repeatedly for weeks, until, just, I devote myself to something else.
What are your next projects? What are you working on?
Meanwhile I do promotion to “Nautilus” I’m already planning my next album. The only thing that, right now, I’m sure that it will contain only music that I wrote on the roads of my research on Sardinian folk music and which will include, therefore, tracks like “S’acabbadora”. It will not be, however, a solo guitar album, there will be other instruments and musicians and wide space will be given to improvisation. I will, however, put an eye on the small “campidanese” guitar that I can’t wait to play.