Pietro Antonio Locatelli – Il laberinto armonico

Posted on July 6th, 2011 by

Pietro Antonio Locatelli (3 September 1695 – 30 March 1764)-Il laberinto armonico

Locatelli’s burial site, in the English Reformed Church in the Begijnhof, Amsterdam. He’s buried somewhere under the small organ at the North-east corner of the church.

Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Violin (Live performance, Cyprus 2009)

Live performance. Baltimore Old Episcopalian Church 4th April 2012

August 15th 2012: One day after weaving Paganini, Judith Bingham, and Locatelli together at Wiltons Music Hall, a pilgrimage in Amsterdam. The house where Pietro Locatelli, worked, practised and collected books on alchemy…(photo-Marius Skaerved)


The full title of this work ‘il laberinto armonicao, facilius ingressus, difficilius exius’, bespeaks something way beyond mere musical process. I have been intrigued by it ever I saw the attack on it in the 2nd edition of Grove, where it is used as ‘proof’ that the composer was a mountebank. Locatelli’s effects at death, which included very little music, but a quantity of scientific and optical instruments, as well as a large library including a number of the classic texts on the natural sciences and alchemy, provide a clue as to what is going on here. Harmonically, one might argue, the piece is simplistic in the extreme. D major (over one octave) is ‘heated up’ until it bursts across two octaves, and then into coruscating traversal of the whole violin, before burning itself out, back down to nothing via a number of chromatic byways unhinted at in the initial ‘heating’ process. There seems to be a fascination with the link between the musical ‘stretch’ of the climax, and the left hand of the violinist, literally pulled out across the whole rack of the violin, and the ensuing technical release that results. This is a work which, for me, points the way to Ligeti’s 2nd Quartet.