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Avant-Garde Art \ Franco Casavola \ Biography

In a letter dated October 1st 1922, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti wrote to inform composer Franco Casavola that: "I've listened to Tankas, Quatrain, Gioielleria Notturna, Leila and Muoio di sete on The plano. They reveal to me a strong and original musical genius. We Futurists would be pleased if you would join our fight against obsolete ideas."

Despite having studied music at the prestigious Rome Conservatory - or perhaps because of it - Casavola accepted this invitation with alacrity, and formally joined the radical Italian art movement. Thereafter he began to compose new pieces under the influence of earlier manifestos written by Marinetti, and later tracts on Futurist music produced by Francesco Balilla Pratella and Luigi Russolo between 1909 and 1914. Early Futurist works by Casavola included productions such as Ranocchi al Chiaro di Luna (Frogs in the Moonlight) by A.G. Bragaglia, and La Danza della Scimmie (Dance of the Monkeys) for the Teatro della Sorpresa (Theatre of Surprises).

Between 1924 and 1927 Casavola also published a series of original essays and manifestos, dealing with new theories of music and its relationship with theatre and the visual arts, details of which are listed below. 1924 would prove to be his most productive year as a Futurist, yielding no less than eight essays and one novel, Introduction to Madness. At the Futurist Congress held in Milan on November 23rd Casavola also delivered a lecture entitled Visible Syntheses, Chromatic Atmospheres and Scenic-Plastic Versions of Music.

Courageously, Casavola risked opposing the escalating cultural autarchy imposed by Mussolini's Fascist goverment after it seized power late in 1922. Bravest of all was his defence of jazz, not only through written articles, but also in his own compositions - indeed the rhythms and styles Casavola utilised in many of his best pieces are closely related to jazz forms. However, in 1927 Casavola radically revised his views and elected to break decisively from the Futurist movement. In truth his musical direction had already begun to display increasingly lyrical and refined qualities.

Although Casavola subsequently claimed to have destroyed all his Futurist scores, this is not entirely true. The location and cataloguing of many of his lost scores has been the result of diligent research by Grazia Sebastiani, and musicological studies by Pierfranco Moliterni. The result is that today Casavola, like fellow Futurist Silvio Mix, ranks as one of the most interesting Italian experimental composers of the 1920s. Certainly his status equals that of the five composers defined by Massimo Mila as 'la generazione dell'Ottanta': Gian Francesco Malipiero, Alfredo Casella, Ottorino Respighi (who taught Casavola), Ildebrando Pizzetti and Franco Alfano.

FuturLieder is a collection of lyrics for voice and piano. This unique anthology of 'Futurist' musical pages includes La Danza della Scimmie (Dance of the Monkeys), a tango for an 'Epileptic Cabaret', La canzone di Uriele (Uriele's Song, consisting entirely of asemantic phonemes), Campari (an early advertising jingle) and Fox-Trot Zoologico (Zoological Foxtrot), with its distinct cabaret flavour. Tankas, Quatrain and the several other lyrics written in the 1920s (to which Marinetti had listened with approval) offer a more refined timbre, and an alluring French flavour, which also connects with the aesthetic quality of the poetic texts by infamous man of action Gabriele d'Annunzio.

Unfortunately certain key Futurist works by Casavola appear to be lost, among them Anihccam del 3000, the mechanical ballet subtitled Interpretazione e riproduzione dei movimenti e rumori delle macchine, the costumes from which have become enduring icons of Futurism (see booklet page eight). However the surviving scores include a Fantasia Meccanica for orchestra, and music for a stage production of Tre Momenti by Luciano Folgore, which also incorporated Luigi Russolo's revolutionary intonarumori (noise generators) and the Danza dell'Elica for ensemble. There is also a complete score for Piedigrotta, a ballet inspired by the 'omonimo poema parolibero' of Francesco Cangiullo, in which Casavola combined The plano with traditional Neopolitan instruments such as the Scetavaiasse and PutipĖ˜, in an attempt at polyrhythmic structure. Of all the music written during this period, these compositions alone represent a significant moment, directed by the ideal of creating a truly Futurist musical style.

Following his break from Futurism, Casavola won praise for his short opera Il Gobbo del Califfo, staged in 1929 at the Teatro dell'Opera in Rome. Other successful stage productions also included the ballet Hop Frog, Il castello nel bosco, L'alba di Don Giovanni and Il mercante di cuori, the 'sogno mimico' by Enrico Prampolini, performed in Paris in 1927 by the Teatro della Pantomima. In 1931 Casavola composed the music for the play Garara's Journey by Benedetta (Marinetti's wife), but after 1936 wrote only film soundtracks.

Born on 13 July 1891 in Modugno, near Bari, Italy, Franco Casavola died on 7 July 1955, also in Bari.

Daniele Lombardi and James Nice
February 2006

Writings by Franco Casavola

Avviamento alla Pazzia, Milano, Edizioni Futuriste di Poesia, 1924 (Introduction to Madness, Milan, Edizioni Futuriste di Poesia, 1924
Punti da chiarire circa l'arte futurista, in "Humanitas", Bari 1924 (Points of Clarification on Futurist Art, in "Humanitas", Bari 1924
La musica dell'avvenire, in "L'Ambrosiano", III, n.10, 11 gennaio 1924 (The Music of the Future, in "L'Ambrosiano", III, n.10, 11 January 1924
La musica illustrata, in "L'Ambrosiano", III, n.11, 15 aprile 1924 (Illustrated Music, in "L'Ambrosiano", III, n. 11, 15 April 1924
Le atmosfere cromatiche della musica, in "Il Futurismo", 10 dicembre 1924 (Cromatic Atmospheres of Music, in "Il Futurismo", 10 December 1924
Le versioni scenico-plastiche della musica, in "Il Futurismo, 11 dicembre 1924 (Scenic-plastic Versions of Music, in "Il Futurismo", 11 December 1924
La musica futurista, in "Il Futurismo", nn.10-11, dicembre 1924 (Futurist Music, in "Il Futurismo", nn. 10-11, 11 December 1924
I Rumorarmoni, in "Mediterraneo", 2 giugno 1925
Nuovi orizzonti della musica, in "Antenna", 25 aprile 1926 (New Horizons in Music, in "Antenna", 25 April 1926)
Difesa del jazz, in "L'Impero", 14 agosto 1926 (In Defence of Jazz, in "L'Impero", 14 August 1926)
Luigi Russolo, in "Il Teatro", V, 1927 (Luigi Russolo, in "Il Teatro", V, 1927)
Le sintesi visive della musica, in "Noi", I, II serie, nn.6-9. (Visual Syntheses of Music, in "Noi", I, II series nn.6-9, (with A.G. Bragaglia and Luciani)

Franco Casavola