Il Soggetto è il Mare


CD 1: Bagnasciuga - Il paesaggio di Hulot - Cercavo tra le righe il mare - I cupi suoni il vento i vasti spazi - Non so di cosa tu abbia paura - Tramonto meccanico

CD 2: Sul grande mare - È come se un'orchestra respirasse - Porto azzurro - Liquefazione - Panorama - Il mare tocca roco sulla riva - La collina dell'usignolo :: “Bis” ::



Gianmario Liuni (piano, piano elettrico), Maria Patti (voice), Sandro Cerino (sax alto and soprano, bass clarinet, flute, flute in G , cinese flute, piccolo),

Marco Ricci (electric bass, electric double bass), Alessio Pacifico (drums), Elio Marchesini (percussion, marimba)


All compositions and arrangements by: Gianmario Liuni


Cesano Boscone (MI) - November 22nd,26th,27th and December 13rd,14th  2007

Advice Music CD AM 014.


Now let's listen to “Il Soggetto è il Mare”. featuring vocalist Maria Patti.

These are not songs, at least not in the most common sense.

Let's start from the beginning. Composers are frequently asked if they wrote the lyrics or music first. The answer is often: “It depends.” It depends on the inspiration, occasion, and circumstances that surround or even stimulate creativity. Here, however, the time-scale is known: Alberto Caramella wrote his poems many years ago, and then Gianmario Liuni composed the music.

Let's continue. Liuni is a jazz composer/performer known for his classy, sophisticated music. It would not have been strange, then, for him to devote part of his creative output to writing songs, following in the footsteps of illustrious predecessors like Brecht, Weill, Kosma from France, or even Giorgio Gaslini, who recently wrote an amazing “Song Book.” This aspect would not be an issue if it weren't for the fact that something difficult to classify according to traditional genres has magically emerged. It also does not help to classify Liuni's work as a modern lieder cycle even if, browsing through the scores, all the elements are there. Its lyrics are poetic, and the composing style is precise and, in sections, almost in counterpoint. The melody effectively interprets the meaning of the text with a single subject (as explained in the title) and it is stylistically distinctive. The vocal line interacts with the other instruments that never simply accompany the voice, but create a surprisingly chamber music-like intertwining in a close-knit dialogue between the parts. And yet, precisely when it seems to have found the right label, something veers off in a completely different direction, crossing boundaries and defying any definition.

You should listen to this CD before you do or think anything else, even before you check to see if you like the cover or read the biographies of Liuni or Caramella. The cover should have a label with a warning -- “Listen first” -- appealing to that act of faith that should be granted to every new musical composition.  

That's impossible, of course, but listening is the key for interpreting these pages. As a good musicologist, I should analyze the score first. But I immediately realized that it wasn't enough. Just as Liuni discovered the subtext or, better yet, the ‘hidden' text of Caramella's poems and transformed it into music, when I began to analyze this recording, I discovered the expressive universe hidden “behind” these scores

I was immediately struck by a verse: “… this path / where, with each curve, one waits to see the sea / in the distance, announced by the sky .” It is a simple and perfect portrayal of the excitement that everyone feels when they set off on holiday, when at a certain point of the trip, the spasmodic wait begins to catch a glimpse of the sea behind the hedges on the highway median strip, behind a hill, or behind each curve. The sea, heralded by the light blue sky, becomes a place of refuge, escape and renewal. It is the sea of our memories and dreams. That sea behind each curve is the music that Liuni found behind each word.

I have only one regret: I never read Caramella's poems before I listened to these songs. The music and melody go so well with the text that now I can't help but sing these amazing verses. Liuni coaxed out notes from the sounds of the words and the silences of the pauses. He gave them form and shape, creating a new entity based on memories and images springing to life.

Let me go back to my first thought. I believe a De André song dies the moment you try to write it down in a score. Due to its nature, a song is traditionally an oral form of expression. You can write down the words, the chord progressions, and maybe jot down the melody, but a song must be sung and listened to for it to be remembered. On the other hand, a Schubert Lied was written on paper and then performed: the composer, in short, condensed his whole world within the piece and entrusted it to different musicians who basically performed it the same way.

Liuni seems to be in the middle of these two genres. The collection of poems has inspired a musical composition with a precise score entrusted to musicians.

All the performers in this recording (all fantastic professional jazz musicians) initially felt hindered and restrained by the apparent rigidity of Liuni's musical framework and played in a stiff, forced way, trapped in imaginary strait jackets. But they all gradually discovered that the written notes traveled along paths so open that each musician's personality would have soon found a new way of expressing itself. The flute (or sax) starts playing with the voice and the two melodies intertwine. Parts switch. The piano enters and creates a third line. It is joined by the bass, which emerges with a fourth melodic line, a rhythmic sequence that forms a new system with the drums (and/or percussion) that is sometimes thematic and sometimes structural. This group initially seemed like a chamber ensemble in the most classic sense of the word: it reminded me of the 18 th century style where the parts converse and no one prevails, except to express an opinion and then immediately return within the ensemble. Here the style is even more like a dialogue: words and notes have equal semantic strength, and the poem is distributed on different levels.

Proof lies in the musical treatment of the texts, which are always brief: this means that they are necessarily repeated several times. But this insistency makes it possible to understand the entire significance and to fill the reverberation with a density that is gradually understood and acquired. The verses are charged with the energy produced by the music and transmit that energy to the listener. Creating a melody based on the syllables of the text ensures intelligibility, with verses floating on simple melodic phrases with little extension. It is not an easy process if you want to avoid banality and repetitiveness. This is where the harmonies emerge: never obvious and yet always delightful and easily perceived. Therefore, don't be surprised if you find yourself whistling these songs, that are not songs, even if they seem to be. After all this writing and talking, one last suggestion: let's stop gabbing and get ready to listen to the music.

Marco Iannelli


Brilliant Florentine lawyer Alberto Caramella timidly appeared on the Italian literary scene in 1995 with his first book of poetry that he ironically titled Mille scuse per esistere [A thousand excuses for existing] . He was sixty-seven years old, but he had been writing poetry for years. The sub-heading of the book, in fact, was “ 1945-1995 : un cinquantennio di poesia ” [1945-1995: fifty years of poetry]. Encouraged by the critics' glowing reviews, Alberto Caramella (1928-2007) devoted, from that moment on, all of his time and efforts to poetry, which had always been his secret reason for living. He published I viaggi del Nautilus [The voyages of Nautilus] in 1997, Lunares Murales [Lunar Murals] in 1999, and Il libro liberato [The Liberated Book] in 2005 . He worked closely with Fondazione Il Fiore on the Casa della luce cultural project: an extraordinary, symbolic, futuristic construction co-designed by the poet and architect Lorenzo Papi that became a meeting place and venue for poets and artists, from Nobel Prize winner Derek Walcott to Mary de Rachewiltz, Mario Luzi, and illustrious international poets. The foundation still pursues its many activities under the direction of Maria Grazia Beverini Del Santo, and the poet's relatives still keep his memory alive.

Besides his four main collections of poetry, Caramella also wrote several essays. He published a selection of poems titled Il soggetto è il mare [The subject is the sea] . From this collection, Gianmario Liuni chose the texts for his music. Liuni's artistic sensitivity realized that the sea in Caramella's poetry is not a “theme”, but a “subject” that inspires a mysterious concept of humankind and nature.

IAccording to psychoanalysts, the sea represents the subconscious where dreams and secret drives originate. Caramella's sea is not just the sea of sailors and seascapes: it is an imaginary sea, as declared in the second piece: “ I looked for the sea in-between the lines/and I didn't look at the sea. / It seemed so dull/when I looked at it! So real .” It is the triumph of poetry over reality. The sea “in-between the lines” is more real than the sea itself, because poetry directly draws from the truth to which reality can only allude.

Caramella's verses also reveal awestruck contemplation of the changing boundary between water and land ( Bagnasciuga [Foreshore] ; Il mare tocca roco… [The sea hoarsely touches…] ). The intruding presence of a horse introduces a brisk wind of freedom to the setting ( I cupi suoni, il vento …[The somber sounds, the wind] ). Contemplation, however, always summons a faraway place marked by a stream of light ( Il passaggio di Hulot [Hulot's passage] ) that “persists at length” ( Liquefazione [Liquefaction] ), even when “ night is inadvertently created ” ( Sul grande mare [On the great sea] ). The poet finds himself alone before the sea ( Porto azzurro [ Blue Port ] , Panorama ): the second person singular “you” form is used twice, to reassure ( Non so di cosa tu abbia paura [I don't know what you're afraid of] ) or to express a painful absence: “ It's as if an orchestra is breathing / through all its instruments.( You weren't there) .” (E' come se un'orchestra [It's as if an orchestra]). This last note conjures an image of Raffaele Carrieri: “ The other time I came/I came from the sea/ Adorned with feathers./I had a harp/I could sing/And also dance./ But you could not see me ” ( La civetta , 1949 [ Little Owl, 1949] ) . The tale sidles in, while workers toil “ removing the scenery, as the orchestra is silent.” ( Tramonto meccanico [Mechanical sunset] ): unchallenged and mysterious, the sea triumphs over all.

After Caramella's twelve poems, Gianmario Liuni also set to music La collina dell'usignolo [The Nightingale's Hill] , from the poem Miryam di Nazareth [Miriam of Nazareth] , by Elio Fiore (1935-2002), the Leopardian poet scarred by the vision of the Jews being deported from the Rome Ghetto which he witnessed as a child. And Fiore's words, imbued with sacredness, also hesitantly provide an interpretative key of Alberto Caramella's “subject”: “And the faraway sea was already eternal.”

Cesare Cavalleri


I want to thank Gianmario Liuni for having involved Fondazione il Fiore in his latest musical project. Established in Florence by Alberto Caramella as a meeting place and venue for poets, Fondazione il Fiore is devoted to the intense – and proudly anachronistic – promotion of Italian and international poetry.

In fact, as Montale wondered, where is the place of that most discreet art form – poetry -- in the current scenario of hysteric exhibitionism? We believe that Fondazione il Fiore, which has existed for more than ten years, has been one of the places where poetry is truly “at home.” We also like to think that it is the perfect place for the notes of this wonderful blend of music and poetry, which lyrically interprets an eternal subject such as the sea with striking references and great success.

Davide Caramella


Review from "All About Jazz Italia":

Pianist Gianmario Liuni has produced a singular new CD. Like his recording “Mottetti”, which was released five years ago, this new recording combines music and poetry. The difference is that in this double CD, “Il soggetto è il mare”, Liuni focuses on the music and is inspired by the short, striking verses of poet Alberto Caramella, a lawyer by profession who expressed his poetic vein only in his twilight years. After his death, Caramella left several collections of poetry and a foundation, “Il fiore” ( ) devoted to this art.

Although this sort of project is always risky, it seems natural to Liuni. As in the case of “Mottetti”, the result is extremely positive, even from a purely musical perspective. This is due to his focus on the music and production, and it is also because of his excellent fellow musicians, first and foremost the extraordinary Sandro Cerino with his remarkable performances on the soprano sax and flute, his great expressiveness on the contralto sax (listen to the solo in “Cercavo tra le righe il mare”), and his original, intense clarinet playing. His musicianship is dazzling throughout the CD.

Also noteworthy is the performance of Maria Patti, who creates a fine balance between merely reciting the poetry (which would probably be dull) and just singing (which might obscure the striking verses). Last but not least, Liuni's piano playing, a balance between classic chamber music and contemporary jazz.

It is a distinctive, rare work and a splendid performance.

Neri Pollastri (All About Jazz Italia)


Review from "Studi Cattolici":

Listening to Il soggetto è il mare by composer Gianmario Liuni, based on poetry by Alberto Caramella and Elio Fiore, evokes faraway worlds and everyday dreams quivering with love and tenderness, intertwined with familiar silvery threads expressing simple things, private conversations with an invisible and absolutely personal friend, a discreet presence that always understands us, perhaps an angel created for us alone. Liuni's challenge was to put to music entirely significant poems, not lyrics awaiting the fertile outpouring of sounds to become whole. Liuni was successful because he did not set words to music, but made the notes flow in parallel, summoning the spirit with quiet subtleness: a small chamber ensemble (piano, sax, clarinet, flute, percussion) embellished with delicate timbres (electric piano, Chinese flute, marimba) intertwines with a voice that accompanies the text without forcing its own musical themes, but opting for the euphony of words with modal scales (an ascending scale, in particular, is almost the leitmotif of the collection) and restrained melodies. The subtle sonorities and natural accents create an experience that is neither classical nor jazz but -- also due to Maria Patti's graceful, gorgeous, honeyed voice – belongs to the poetry of the soul.

Massimo Venuti (Studi Cattolici, issue n. 580 June 2009


Review from "Jazzit":

Setting the poems of the late Florentine poet Alberto Caramella to music, Gianmario Liuni has accomplished one of the most delicate operations that an artist can face: to write music that is coherent with the poetic sense. Liuni has made two choices: to include sounds of the sea, in several instances, that invoke its presence, and to create a sextet that enhances the expressive voice of Maria Patti, who sings excerpts of the poems. The musical style is elegant, typical of instrumental lieder, perhaps too disciplined.

Luciano Vanni (Jazzit, anno 11 n° 54 Settembre-Ottobre 2009)


Review by Maria Giovanna Missaggia (poet):

The young people working on Ulisse and those who took part in the past edition of Eroe mai cantato are already familiar with Alberto Caramella (1928-2007), the late Florentine poet and author of several collections whose titles alone elicit curiosity and capture the reader's attention (Mille scuse per esistere [A thousand excuses for existing] , 1995; I viaggi del Nautilus [The voyages of the Nautilus], 1997; Interrogazione di poesia [Interrogating poetry], 2000).

For one of these collections, Il soggetto è il mare (2000), (2000), Gianmario Liuni composed music for the poems sung by Maria Patti, whose rich voice has a sumptuous timbre and extension that makes the difficult passages seem easy to the listener.

From this point of view, Marco Iannelli, the author of the music notes for the album, is correct in inviting the listener to pay close attention to the music even before reading the poems, not because, we would like to add, the beauty of the music is separate from the words, but because it immediately introduces us to their complexity, amplifies their significance, and resounds their echoes.

Nevertheless, only an analysis of the texts reveals the connection between music and poetry.

In the album notes, Iannelli observed that the composing style is precise and, in sections, “almost in counterpoint.”

Now then, counterpoint is the essential element of almost the entire collection. The most important characteristic is the skillful, complex union between the brevity and linearity of the verses and syntactical structures and the description of images that are anything but simple, full of correspondences and antitheses, evocations and inversions – in short, figurative counterpoint, -- that are the equivalent of the counterpoint technique in music. Eight out of twelve poems focus on the antithesis sea/earth or sea/sky (Bagnasciuga [Foreshore], Non so di cosa tu abbia paura [I don't know what you're afraid of], Il mare tocca roco sulla riva [The sea hoarsely touches the shore]), poesia/realtà (Cercavo tra le righe il mare [I looked for the sea in-between the lines]), luce/tenebre (Il passaggio di Hulot [Hulot's passage], Sul grande mare [On the great sea], Liquefazione), libertà/prigionia (Porto azzurro [Blue port]).

In the brief span of each piece, we find separate maritime images – almost a slideshow – that perfectly match the pictures that Liuni chose to accompany each poem. However, the descriptions do not fully express the meanings hidden within the lines: the encounter of light and shadow transforms from a naturalistic description to a narration of cosmic legends, such as Sul grande mare [On the great sea] , a poem that intertwines biblical images of the Genesis, echoes of classical poetry in the recollection of one's loves in day and night, or romantic odes comparing love and death, all allusions blended to the point of creating a poetic language that is completely different from the separate elements that form it.

From this perspective, too, music and words reveal another analogy. As with the music accompanying the poems, in which the jazz score coexists with the techniques of Brecht songs, Schubert lieder, and even chamber music, Caramella's poems also weave together rhythms that evoke Leopardi's cantos, a metaphoric use of the sea in which the intensity of the meanings are reminiscent of Montale's poem Mediterraneo in the collection Cuttlefish Bones, and a chromatic sensitivity combined with a taste for fragmentism that recalls Virgilio Giotti's poetry. But none of the aspects mentioned are a prevalent or even characterizing element: they are more similar to the sections of an orchestra that, taken separately, do not play a melody, which is created by blending and layering lines in the same way that, Iannelli observes, each instrument – the piano, bass, and sax – emerges at times “to express an opinion and then immediately return within the ensemble.”

Through this orchestration, concentrated within a few short verses, the author achieves the distinctive trait that characterizes this and other collections: the ability to enhance the allegoric significance of the images without abandoning the simple, linear structures of the syntax and metrics and the descriptive transparency. The sea therefore becomes a huge space at the center of the universe around which earth and sky, with their changing light captured with photographic clarity, stage cosmic dramas that evoke phases and moments of human existence. I intentionally chose the word “stage” because the verses always reveal an awareness that the immense scenes taking place in the sky, above the sea, or around it on the earth, are like the backdrops of dramatic theater that seem to reveal the sense of the universe or human life, if it weren't for the fact that they are also the result of an illusion: the sea, in the end, cannot unveil any revelatory secret to the man observing it (“Ho guardato lo stesso panorama/ cercando di costringerlo a parlare ” [“I gazed at the same panorama/trying to force it to speak”], Porto Azzurro[Blue Port]). In the evening, the theater of the world is dismantled, and waits for a new morning when we struggle to set up the show again and bask in the illusion of being able to attribute real meaning to things (“Si smontano gli attrezzi i trucchi calano/ [...] Per oggi basta, si replica domani./ E' una fatica che si fa sentire” [Equipment is dismantled, stage devices are lowered/ [...] That's all for today, tomorrow is another show/The struggle can be felt”], Tramonto meccanico/Mechanical Sunset).

Life constantly struggles to find meaning, represented here by its symbol – light -- for which death is almost a liberation and perhaps the final answer to an unsolved question (“Persiste a lungo l'ultimo splendore/ e cede piano/ che quasi chiama a liberarlo il buio” [The ultimate splendor persists at length/and gradually yields/almost calling darkness to liberate it], Liquefazione/Liquefaction). In the rational use of allegory, Caramella expresses profound emotion and melancholy, and this conciliation, which is in itself very difficult, is the most extraordinary element of this collection and the author's most personal contribution to contemporary poetry.

Maria Giovanna Missaggia