Music Without Limits

Roberto Cacciapaglia – composer and musician


Photo by Simone Citeroni

I started studying music also thanks to my mother who got me to study piano from the age of four. She loved music and my grandfather played as well. But up to the time I was ten, my musical studies weren’t much fun, in fact, they were really hell for me because while I was practicing, from the window I could see my friends playing football.

However, when I was about eleven, rock music arrived with groups such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and became popular and so I started to play the guitar. And that was really great because music became something social, a kind of meeting point for young people, and at this time I really developed my taste for music.

For a year I stopped piano and started to play guitar with different groups in basements – at that time any street you would pass by in Milan you could hear kids bands playing here and there in basements. Instead, today things have really changed and it’s very much the time of the piano (a more individual relationship). A lot of young people who are interested in my music send me their compositions and there are plenty on internet so this aspect has changed a lot.

When bands like Procol Harum and others arriving from England and the US, the Italian bands used to translate their songs, and the electronic organ found its place in this type of music so anyone who had the minimum familiarity with the piano keyboard started to play the organ. I was one of those people and started to play guitar and Hammond organ in some groups, and with that I came back to the keyboard.

So while I actually stopped piano for about a year, I re-enrolled at the Conservatory of Music where I went on to study for about 20 years. I studied composition with a great master called Bruno Bettinelli, probably one of the last great masters who taught composition in a traditional way. I also studied piano, conducting, and electronic music.

I worked at the Studio of Phonology at the RAI, which was important for me because it is an institution where one could experiment with electronics, with waves, frequencies, magnetic tapes etc. Then I did some things with the National Research Council (CNR) in Pisa studying computer applications in music. We had these IBM terminals that were like wall panels from the film ‘2001 – A Space Odyssey’, technicians in white coats, we played Bach’s fugues backwards and many others classical composition with the computer – it was a very interesting experience.


From the age of 18 when my first LP record came out, the first published in Italy in quadraphonic sound, I’ve been working with experimentation. With quadraphonic sound rather than being stereo the sound arrives from four places, so there is the idea of sound in space, which has a far more interesting effect. Today they use the same type of sound effect in the cinema. However, the field of music quadriphonics has been lost a bit because today’s sound systems are very sophisticated and you have to be at the centre of them to experience it.

My first CD was called ‘Sonanze’ and was produced in Germany. It had some elements that were similar to the acts in an opera. I played guitar and piano and there was some electronic music and a choir. It was called ‘Sonanze’ (Sonances) because it was between the dissonances of classical contemporary music and the assonances of the music of communication, of rock, because I felt that I was a child of this music that had changed an entire generation.

I used ‘Sonanze’ to neutralize and integrate these two forms of music and I have been doing this type of thing up to today, working with music without limits, without any type of hierarchy. I try to put together influences coming from various types of music. You could say that my music is closer to the world of classical music also instrumentally, but it is a type of classical music that takes into consideration other influences, not only from the classical European tradition as it was up to a few decades ago. Today we are influenced by an enormous variety of music, all at the same time, all with the same importance thanks to the technology that is available.

I worked for about ten years with a Gurdjieff group and it was the Master Henri Thomasson who told me about Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche. He was really a bridge for me to come to Merigar and for this I will always be grateful to him. I met the Master in 1988. At that time I used to accompany the Gurdjieff movements, the dances, on the piano. This music was also a great influence for me.

Then I have worked with Sufis and I’m still working with them even now – we are working on a project together in Istanbul, Turkey. Last year I did a concert at the Conservatory of Istanbul along with some courses. Now the Turkish ambassador has asked me to write a piece that I’ve called ‘Bridge of the Sky’ which is the union of the Italian and Turkish cultures involving Italian and Turkish musicians. I have been influenced not only by Sufi music but by Sufism in general in the past and it has been the base of my non-classical musical inspiration. In fact I’m shortly leaving for Ankara, where I was invited by the “Ankara Piano Festival”. I’ll be giving a concert and then I’ll take a day to visit Konya, the city of Rumi.

I came to Merigar just after Rinpoche and some of his students had come back from Mt. Kailash in Tibet because my master, a direct disciple of Gurdjieff, had been at Merigar and told me about his experience. When we used to go on our summer holidays, we would go to Argentario, and on the way I would often see the road sign for Arcidosso and even though I didn’t know anything about the place, I felt a kind of attraction. So after my Gurdjieff master spoke to me, one day I decided that I would like to meet Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche. We went there in November and because we didn’t know the road we arrived at 2 am in the morning. All the hotels were closed but finally the Lorena Hotel close to Merigar opened for us and we slept there in a very cold room.

The morning after we went to meet the Master. When I arrived the first person I met was Rinpoche’s son, Yeshe, who told me not to worry and to go and meet him. Since I was coming out of the blue I didn’t really know how things worked in the Community so I asked him if he would accept me as a student and the Master told me to come to the next retreat. I was deeply touched and I came to the Christmas retreat: this was my first retreat and I have great memories of it.

Roberto and Rinpoche at the presentation of 'Light of Kailash vol.3' in London, 2015

Roberto and Rinpoche at the presentation of ‘Light of Kailash’ in London, 2015. Photo Simone Citeroni

The extraordinary inspiration of Rinpoche’s teaching is within my every breath and in my work, and I try to put into practice what the Master teaches us. Music, for me, is naturally not a goal but a means, a mirror. When I play, when I compose, I try as much as possible to be in the state in which the Master urges us always to be. Particularly in music for me it is a great challenge to be present while I play. When it happens it is always extraordinary because the sound transmitted is something very special and can have a profound effect and so with music we can create a type of union through the sound between musician and listeners. This is very prominent in the history of sacred music.

For example, the followers of Pythagoras [the Greek philosopher, mathematician, and founder of the movement called Pythagoreanism] also made music. In addition to his tables, Pythagoras also considered that the universe was constructed on sound and there are many traditions that keep alive this aspect of music, not simply considering it as entertainment, as fun, or as distraction, like we often consider it to be today. Up until a few decades ago a person would choose to go to a concert and listen to music because he or she had decided to. Today through the radio, at the shops, wherever you go there is music so you no longer listen to it by choice but are subjected to it. This really changes things because we no longer wish to listen to silence. If you travel by train, for example from Rome to Milan, the most expensives carriages are those where there is silence. Silence, which should be a natural state, has become a very expensive and precious condition, like natural, organic food. For example, before I compose or perform, I always start with silence, I stay still. This silence is like a space for me, like a calm sea from which sound arises.

So we need a form of music that functions not so much as a life-jacket keeping us afloat on the surface of the water like much of today’s music, but rather a music that goes below the surface of sound, just like a scuba diver who goes deep underwater to take precious things, and music has got many. I try to not make ‘intellectual’ music. I’m more interested in the emotional part. It is not so much a ‘concept’ but is, as much as possible, something spontaneous. For example, my concerts are enjoyed by people of all ages and go beyond any type of class interest – once in Venice, among the listeners there was a little girl of 9 hand in hand with an elderly woman of 90 who came to visit me after the concert.









I had the idea to found the Educational Music Academy because I always heard people talking about the opportunities that are given to young people today although actually I don’t think that there are so many opportunities. If you consider the time when we were young people there are much fewer opportunities today. The multinationals have taken in hand almost everything that it is possible to do. Things are organized on such a massive scale that an individual has great difficulty to do something on his or her own and they come up against these big organizations. This seems to be the big problem of our times – this total globalization – in which just a few have control of everything.

For this reason and because of my profession as a musician I’m trying to give an opportunity to some of these young people – some of them already teachers while others are still studying at the Conservatory and still others not even that, because actually there isn’t this type of hierarchy at our Academy. Anyone can enroll even with a minimum base, above all if they have a project. At the Academy we follow these young people so that they can learn and achieve what they want: achieve their music, their musical works, their projects, learn how to record them, how to play them. So the work here is more a midpoint between the teaching of composition and piano that is done at the Conservatory and that of an artistic producer of a record company, who, on the other hand, has to prepare them to communicate to the public. They learn to do what they want to do from themselves in an independent way.

And so we have people arriving from all over Italy. This is the second year and we have had feedback that is really great because the students leave here after being able to mature their pieces and having their ideas clear on what they want to do. Of course this is a first step. One of our students has already had an international contract with a publishing and record company and will be doing concerts so we are very pleased with these results.

Then I have been involved in different projects such as one with the European Space agency that commissioned me to create the music to accompany an expedition to the Antarctic. The expedition was there for six months in one of the places where darkness lasts the longest on the planet. There were twenty engineers and scholars from all over the world. They told me that one of the Italians on the expedition couldn’t resist going out to see the Aurora Borealis and ended up taking off his frostproof suit and going outside in minus 80 degrees and got frostbite so the others had to pull him back inside. I wasn’t there with them in Antarctic, but it was a wonderful experience of exchange even at distance.

In respect to the avant-garde, to prospects for the future, up to a few years ago, the composer was always more influenced by that which had happened immediately before his or her time, such as impressionism, expressionism, and in this way it became a kind of temporal development. Whatever had come before had a much greater influence than what was more distant in time. This was like a symbol in the CDs, the vinyl records, the video cassettes, etc. – the motion of the tape, video cassettes or vinyl, symbolizing the passage of time.

With the arrival of the computer, the hard disc, this type of thing no longer existed. Memory became something rigid and the computer more similar to a painter’s palette. In this dimension the influence changed and was no longer temporal but much more spatial. This meant that I could be influenced in the same way by the latest English hit or an American rapper as by a piece of Gregorian chant dating back to the year 1000 AD. Even geographically – there was no longer the distance. In this way music influences have greatly changed. There is no longer the history of the prospects of the avant-garde. We could say that the temporal dimension has passed into something more spatial that has very much changed composition.