the moment he embarked on his artisitic career, Centazzo was performing
a balancing act between improvisational and compositional structures. From
the early '80s he began to move away from improvised music in order to dedicate
himself to so-called contemporary music in the European classical tradition,
and to music of ethnic inspiration, studying composition both intuitively
and with the guidance of professors such as Armando Gentilucci.
Initially his approach to composition was something akin to a "dreamlike trance" in which he left aside technical considerations in order to leave space on the score for a creativity which drew its life force from his work as an instrumentalist. Being a self-taught composer takes on a particularly interesting aspect when one considers that his principle points of reference were Gentilucci and Bussotti. In the early '80s Centazzo composed principally for the Mitteleuropa Orchestra, an orchestral grouping born out of a commission from the City of Bologna and the local Music cooperatives, to give a series of concerts in the capital of Emilia Romagna.
The name for the ensemble came not only from the cultural background of its members but also from bc middle-European mold of the music written for it. In the Mitteleuropa Orchestra, Centazzo brought together the finest artists in the field of creative music on the European scene at that time: the Austrian trumpeter-Franz Koglmann, the Portuguese violinist-Carlo Zingaro, saxophonist-Roberto Ottaviano, multi-instrumentalist-Gianluigi Trovesi, and clarinetists-Carlo Actis Dato and Teo Jorgesmann, as well as occasional guest appearances from trombonist-Albert Mangellsdorf, bassist-Mark Dresser and french horn player-Martin Mayer.
The formation was flexible and variable, depending on the performance requirements, bar it retained its essential characteristics thanks to a fixed nucleus of musicians. The orchestra's physiognomy distanced it from the "classical" jazz big bands and aligned it more with contemporary chamber music formations. Using his experience of music making in small combinations, with strong tone-color characteristics, Centazzo achieved a fusion of diverse cultures, (western classical, orierital and Afro-American)in a rigorously controlled musical structure, integrating written orchestral passages with aleatoric sections, creating ample space in which soloists could improvise in "controlled" situations.
Within the orchestra the various personalities of the artists, interacted to create a particular stylistic mix which became the hallmark oft his ensemble. Mitteleuropa gave its debut concert in Bologna in the Summer of 1980, and in December of that same year recorded Mitteleuropa Live, an album taken from live recordings at the Testoni Theatre in Bologna. (A benefit concert for victims of the Irpinia earthquake.) The four extended compositions on the record use pulsating thematic inventions, collective multiphonics, long solo cadences, improvised chamber music initerludes over fixed frameworks; in trio, quartet and quintet, and in dialogues between percussion and soloists. This first performance was a precursor to many other concerts and recordings of material written and directed by Centazzo. The Italian Radio arid Television ("RAI") invited the orchestra to Rome to record the ensemble's repertoire live. In 1983, Centazzo conducted Mitteleuropa at the international festival "Ravenna Jazz " in a performance of Doctor Faustus, a suite which remains unpublished, written in honor of trombonist-Albert Mangellsdorf, who was a soloist with the orchestra for the performance.
A month prior to the festival, Centazzo had entrusted to Mitteleuropa the first performance of his Cjant-Concerto for Small Orchestra, which is preserved in a double album Ictus release.
Cjant is also a fully structured composition with precisely controlled opportunities for improvisation, and was commissioned by the town council of Udine for their 1000th anniversary celebrations. Despite the pompous, ceremonial function of the work, Cjant bas the freshness and enthusiasm of a spontaneous work. Centazzo fuses various influences: Mahlerian symphonic style, hypnotic minimalistic sequences, echoes of archaic fanfares and reminiscences of jazz, and percussion language from orientalisms through to the contemporary.
The instrumentation of Mitteleuropa in Cjant is enlarged with the addition of a string section, whereas for Omaggio a Pier Paolo Pasolini (Homage to Pier Paolo Pasolini), written in 1985, commissioned by the commemoration committee for the tenth anniversary of the poet's death, the orchestra is joined by a soprano singer and a narrator. In the latter, Centazzo paid homage with his music to Pasolini, an artist with whom he shared Friulian origins and a close connection with the city of Bologna. Centazzo's interest in Pasolini was not just the result of these circumstances, the composer had been inspired by the artistic and intellectual unquiet of Pasolini for some time and was intimately familiar with both the literary and cinematic works of Pasolini. Centazzo's study of Pasolini's poetry, in Friulian dialect, is very much part of the music. A provincial tongue which through Pasolini takes on a literary dignity. Prior to this time, "Friulano" had been practically limited to oral tradition.
"Pasolini said that to write a word that had never before been written, would give a new consistency to the sound, would move that sound toward the territory of meaning; a meaning of full bodied sounds, and a truly natural sensuality." Centazzo's music in Omaggio a Pier Paolo Pasolini is aimed at the recovery of that sound; he put to music seven lyrics in Friulian dialect taken from Poesie Dimenticate (forgotten poems) and from Tal Cur Di Un Frút, re-inventing traditional sonorities with "new" instruments, in a compositional tapestry which consciously balances minimalist episodes with echoes of the European contemporary orchestra, entrusting the texts to the narrator and the voice of the soprano.
This work has been presented outside of Italy in 1987: in Munich, Germany at the Gasteig, home of the Philharmonic Orchestra; and at the Expo in Seville, Spain in 1992, when Centazzo presented a re-organized Mitteleuropa enhanced by the presence of the finest soloists on the contemporary Italian scene. Omaggio a Pier Paolo Pasolini was performed in large part due to Roberto Manuzzi's zeal. This very gifted musician had performed as both a saxophone and keyboard soloist in nearly all Centazzos productions since the formation of Mitteleuropa Orchestra. A fortuitous encounter which would provide Centazzo with no invaluable collaborator to this musical adventure. Summing up his activity as a composer Centazzo says, "I a truly happy that, as a composer, I have never suffered from the typical syndrome of the classical composer who writes only for ideal instrumental combinations, for ideal criteria, in ideal forms. My objective has always been to be able to hear my music performed immediately. This is why I have always written for specific musicians, for existing ensembles, with soloists I know. In some cases the ensemble has been formed first, and then the music to be performed created around it.
I have never felt this to be a limitation, on the contrary, it is a stimulus to obtain something new each time, mixing instrumental sounds in the most daring and unconventional ways possible. Even today, when my writings intentionally aimed at a rediscovery of the traditional values of harmony and melody, I am always striving for unusual tone colorings, and that stylistic touch which imparts a different value to the musical undertaking. The proof of this is that my music, despite its close conformations to conventions, is still considered today not commercially viable by many record companies."
The third of Centazzo's large scale works is Il Canto di un Giorno. The world premiere of this work was held at Lignano, at the Hemingway Convention, sponsored by the American Hemingway Society. In this work Centazzo confronts the tormented personality of Ernest Hemingway. The test written by Marco Maria Tosolini (music critic and author) takes us through the last twenty-four hours of Hemingway's life, ending with Hemingways suicide.
In a series of rapid and vivid flashbacks, Hemingway's anxiety and obsession with life and death are represented, with the effect of giving his anguish a universal validity. Centazzo's music, the foundation of the entire performance, controls the sequence of narratons, sections sung by the soprano and baritone voices, and dance movements created by Luis Bernardo Ribeiro, (choreographer and dance teacher, who al that time was also a star in Roland Petit's company).
A work not limited by categorization bar one which embraces many modes of expression; recitation, song, music and dance. "This is not a performance come to life only on the stage but rather it is something that existed beforehand where every expressive element and compositional parameter has been preconceived, written into the score and integrated into the whole. The creative force of this compositional experience is due precisely to the influence of many branches of the great river of music; not intended to be, in itself a musical genre, but a stimulating, and I believe provocative experience. It would prove useless to try to classify this composition; a riverbed from which various currents flow, without musical allusions to other worlds, enrichment through gesture, movement, musical strains that search for a unifying form of expression Il Canto di un Giorno becomes a language which evolves from primitive research into the nature of sound to the more problematic one of the methodology of making art as a semantic experience." I Through the enrichment and expressive layering of the song, the music, and the dance, there comes into being that abstract mental condition in which Hemingway passed his last intimate arid secret hours. "A mad mosaic with the pieces all mixed up." Il Canto di un Giorno is an attempt at a synthesis of various musical and theatrical components, without imposing at the onset, a defined result. Throughout its single act, we find distinctive elements, or elements recognizably isolated, but the determining nature of the performance and the "historic" artistic material is never demonstrably resolved into a precise genre.
Centazzo gives rigorous support in his score to the emotive context of the text. Working on a level of refined melody-here expansive, there virtuosic, supported by an orchestral writing dominated by the use of primary colors (low stings, clarinet family, brass and percussion in which we hear highly refined roots, suggestions of and substantial passages of minimalism brought together in a tonal and rhythmic design of which the musical result is loaded with suggestiveness. This eclecticism, while not new to Centazzo, makes the writer's progress recognizable and brings it to the forefront in the visual aspects, nevertheless it provides a point of serious reflection along the way to connect various expressions of artistic communication with the desire to hold them together on a plane of absolute reciprocal biological equilibrium."
The catalog of Centazzo's first twenty years of work is completed by a considerable collection of small ensemble works, and other pieces for Mitteleuropa. A path of his progress can be observed from hi s earliest works in 1973 to the present concert pieces for strings, and works in progress for larger ensembles.
The early trios (for piano, percussion and double bass, and far trombone, clarinet and percussion are layered polymelodic structures, in which themes and counterpoints stimulate improvisation and give its development vibrant support. Then, too, there are more wide-ranging works, including Tagelied for brass quartet- noteworthy for its mixture of techniques of execution, Allarmi for flute and violin-full of quotations of and references to everyday noises, and Visita Al Cimitero Degli Ebrei - an effective monogram for trumpet and magnetic tape. The inspiration for this last work carne when Centazzo visited a small abandoned cemetery while filming the video Tiare. Works for Mitteleuropa, in addition to those already mentioned include Doctor Faustus, Suite For Duke, Musica Schema 1 & 2, Chirimia, First & Third Environments, and Situations. It is interesting to note that with the broadening of compositional technique comes the narrowing of improvisational space, signifying an ever greater control over the musical content, and an abandoning of old styles of expression and many life-styles.
Mention should also be given to the body of compositions for percussion, which are still performed today throughout the world. From the solo passages of Indian Tapes, Just Back, Tiare and Situations to the ensemble pieces Not alone, Trisaghion, Ifix-Action and others, we encounter a fantastic series of allusions, explorations into sounds from other cultures, a synthesis of languages from which the mannerisms of contemporary percussion embrace the rhythmic pulse of primordial drumming and the ethereal atmosphere of oriental gongs.