by Marco Dalpane
“Americans are really suspicious of anything cerebral, and Zappa didn't disguise his intelligence well enough.” Matt Groening
“He's probably the single most untalented person I've heard in my life. He's a two-bit pretentious academic, and he can't play rock'n'roll, because he's a loser.” Lou Reed
“Frank is a genius. That’s a word I don’t use often… in Frank’s case, it is not too strong… He is extremely literate musically. I’m not sure if the general public knows that.” Kent Nagano
Frank Zappa is an iconoclastic genius, undoubtedly one of the protagonists of twentieth century music. An American hero, like Ives, like Gershwin, Monk, Cage and others. His musical studies are limited from an academic point of view, but even while living in the American suburbs, he was attracted by the intensity that emanates from Edgar Varèse's pages, the composer who definitely reconsidered timbre as an essential parameter of the composition.
Naturally, young Frank was fascinated by R&B, by the Delta blues, by Doo-Wop, by Spike Jones and his City Slickers, and he would go on loving them until the end of his life. He didn't distinguish between high and low culture, Howlin' Wolf was as interesting as Stravinsky to his ears. Entertainment and culture are reflected in an ingenious and unsettling mirror, all in the name of a conceptual continuity that drove him from the beginning of his career. He pays for his anti-commercial choices with a constant conflict with the music industry. An authentic, self-made man, solitary and proud of the endless hours spend in the studio, a freak and eccentric in many different ways, methodological and scrupulous with regard to music.
Even his relationship with academic institutions and classic orchestras were troubled. Zubin Mehta and Pierre Boulez, Kent Nagano and the London Symphony Orchestra engaged with his work but it was only the Ensemble Modern, right at the end of his life, who managed to create a worthy partnership in their scores.
I have transcribed his music, his songs and his instrumental pieces for that most classical of instruments, the piano. I have remained faithful to the originals, trying to play my instrument as best as I can.
Pianist and composer, Marco Dalpane works principally with music from the twentieth century avant-garde and post World War II. Since 1991, he has worked as an accompanist and created music for silent films. This work has led him to participate in major music and film festivals both in Italy and abroad. He has created works commissioned by European television networks such as ZDF and Art, and he has performed live at more than 750 projections.
Photo: © Heinrich Klaffs, via Flickr