Natura morta in un atto

From Latin (noun) vānĭtās (gen. -ātis) means "emptiness", from the Latin adjective vanus, meaning empty; refers in this context to the traditional Christian view of earthly life and the worthless nature of all earthly goods and pursuits.


Vanitas (1981) - Salvatore Sciarrino (b. 1947)
Natura morta in un atto, per voce, violoncello e pianoforte (50')

1. Rosa
2. Marea di rose
3. L'eco
4. Lo specchio infranto (pulvis stellaris)
5. Ultime rose


Artistic Team


Jay Campbell, cello

Armed with a diverse spectrum of repertoire and eclectic musical interests, cellist Jay Campbell has been recognized for approaching both old and new works with the same probing curiosity and emotional commitment... 


Vicky Chow, piano

With her expressive and nuanced interpretations of contemporary works, Canadian pianist Vicky Chow has been described as “brilliant” (New York Times), “new star of new music” (Los Angeles Times) ....

Lucy Dhegrae, voice

“Vocal versatility and an omnivorous curiosity” (New York Times) are the hallmarks of mezzo-soprano Lucy Dhegrae, a passionate vocalist with a flexible technique that fits a variety of styles...


Pavel Zuštiak, director

Pavel Zuštiak is a NYC-based director, choreographer, and performer, born in the communist Czechoslovakia and trained at the School for New Dance Development in Amsterdam...


Salvatore Sciarrino on Vanitas

Although "vanity" is a word that we use often, we've lost the sense of its meaning. We barely recognize it as the same word used in the ancient book of Ecclesiastes. Any Latin dictionary, to which we are no longer used to refer, would surprise us: vanitas means emptiness.

The same word is used to describe a genre of painting that has an intense allegorical significance. This genre, which had bloomed during the 17th century, was strongly suggestive of the passing of time and the transitoriness of things. In Italy we call it "still life."

In December 1981, Vanitas opened the season at the Piccola Scala of Milan. Although removed from common musical and theatrical conceptions, it was performed as a normal opera with the pomp and display entrusted to the opulence of the direction of the work. Paradoxically, however, Vanitas is a Lied—it has the intimate expressivity, it contains the stylizations and movements; yet the proportions, just as in our dreams, are not the same.

In our tradition, a Lied for voice and piano is generally a small work. Even with the precision of a miniature that reflects the whole universe, the dimensions of a Lied are very much alike to those of the short work; Vanitas is therefore a Lied of proportions never before heard of. The stitches of time are expanded. Only then does the music open up spontaneously to encompass environmental underscorings. This is why Vanitas was born as the hypothesis of a "poor" theatre: in this hallucinatory expansion of time the music soars so high as not to support any other staging except its own nudity.

The sense of "still life" is brought inside the music itself, inherent in the echoes of our reality of sounds that the music gathers. Today we have a more analytical knowledge of reality, and we are aware that it exists only in our perceptions and in the ways in which we represent it. Because of this, certain memories can appear on the illusory surface of sounds: crickets in the night, the ticking of an old pendulum, the breaking of glass, a distant flute, and more: all things that have already disappeared in time. 

Vanitas gravitates in space, and this not only for the rarefaction of its music but also because the concept of the emptiness is as it were reflected through the details. 

The presence of the piano as an accompanying instrument puts the atmosphere out of focus just that much to project it, lightly misted, into a distant liederism. The piano is rich in technical and tone-colour inventions, subtle to the point of sometimes removing the principle melody and distancing it from the rest, leaving the foreground a void that is psychologic, almost as if another piano were playing from the beyond. Out of this silence artificial resonances then emerge, and the dimensions of huge, uninhabited spaces can  be intuited: an infinite echoing void where the song fluctuates alongside its vibrating double, the cello: lyrical fantasms of a nightingale. 

At the level of the music, the songs represent to a certain extent the equivalent of flowers that are beautiful yet ephemeral. Due to its universal pretensions, highly cultivated music can never give that sense of death that a light composition oozes. With its polite mood and its maximum stylization, this offering is without pretension; yet in the face of the eternal, which is proclaimed by a deceptive symphony, the song captures that instant that unmasks the fragility of man. Amongst our lost and abandoned memories each one of us has some song that, precisely because it is linked to a certain period of our past, represents nostalgia itself. Imagine then a music of fabric so large as to allow another music to emerge through it: this is Vanitas, a gigantic anamorphosis of an old song, the odor of which it mysteriously preserves. 


Text & Translations

1. Rosa

Rosa quae moritur,
unda quae labitur, 
mundi delicias
docent fugaces.

Vix fronte amabili
mulcent cum labili
pede praetervolant
larvae fallaces.


2. Rose

The rose which dies,
the water which recedes,
the world's delights
are all transient.

Such deceitful ghosts
scarcely charm with their
pleasant appearance
Before flying past, fleet or foot.

2. Tide of roses

...and a flood of flames little by little
...melts like a comet, the crimson crest,
to threaten death to more than one heart;

2. Marea di rose

...e un diluvio di fiamme a poco a poco
...scioglie, quasi cometa, il crine ardente,
per minacciar la morte a più d’un core;
[Giovan Leone Sempronio (1603-1646)]

3. The Echo

oracle of the woods,
soul of the woods,
shadow city,
sound shadow;


shrill unhappy aura,
with another's vague talk
invisible image

3. L'eco

Oracolo de’ boschi,
anima delle selve,
cittadina dell’ombre
ombra sonante
[Giambattista Marino (1569-1625)]

—And the great bell has toll’d
[unrung, untouch’d
[Robert Blair (1699-1746), from The Grave]

stridul’aura infelice,
de l’altrui parlar vago
invisibile imago

4. The Broken Mirror

This beautiful torch, which throws a smoky flame,
On the verdure of wax will escape his ardor;
The oil of this Table will tarnish its colors,
And its waves will break at the foaming bank.

And death dies


4. Lo specchio infranto (pulvis stellaris)

Ce beau flambeau qui lance une flamme fumeuse,
Sur le verd de la cire esteindra ses ardeurs ;
L'huile de ce Tableau ternira ses couleurs,
Et ses flots se rompront à la rive escumeuse.

5. The Last Roses

The mouth of corals
Will be disfigured
I decorate with roses
[Head and hair,
The roses I dip into the wine.
    Come comfort the night,
    [o nightingale!
    Let your voice go
    [Joyful sound
    To be heard most delightfully!
The rose decorates my flutes.

 Et moritur mors
[Jean de Sponde (1557-1595)]

5. Ultime rose

Das Mündlein von Korallen
Wird Ungestalt
Mit Rosen schmück ich
[Haupt und Haare,
Die Rosen tauch ich in den Wein.
    Komm Trost der Nacht,
    [o Nachtigall!
    Lass deine Stimm mit
    Aufs lieblichste erklingen!
Die Rose zieret meine Flöten.
[Hans Jakob Christoph von Grimmelshausen (1621-1676)]