By Jean Marie Carey

Painter, printmaker, writer, composer and foundational Futurist Luigi Russolo was born 30 April 1885 in Portogruaro. In 1901 he went to Milan to join his family, who had moved there so that his two brothers, Giovanni and Antonio, could study music. Though not actually enrolled at the accademia di Brera, through new friends he indirectly followed the ideas taught there.

At the end of 1909 Russolo befriended Umberto Boccioni. Together they explored the possibilities of a more modern visual and sonic language capable of expressing the new sensibility of the contemporary industrialized world. At the beginning of 1910 Russolo met Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, to whom Boccioni proposed an innovative action analogous to the battle already begun against traditional literature. Thus the Futurist painters’ manifesto was born, and with it the adherence of Boccioni, Giacomo Balla, Carlo Carrà, Russolo, and Gino Severini to the Futurist movement. Russolo was one of the signatories of the Manifesto dei Pittori Futuristi, published as a pamphlet dated 11 February 1910, in which he and his fellow painters rejected all the painting of the past and upheld a modern style intended to represent modern life and its rhythm. He also signed La pittura Futurista – Manifesto tecnico, in which dynamism was defined as the goal of the avant-garde battle. This new adventure excited Russolo, and he was always in the front rank at the evening meetings organized by the group to spread the new Futurist word.

In 1913 Russolo abandoned painting to devote himself entirely to musical studies. After publishing a manifesto on the musical implications of noise (L’arte dei rumori), he and the painter Ugo Piatti (1880–1953) began constructing musical instruments designed to produce new timbres and to give tonal form to the noises accompanying modern life. Russolo’s first performances met literally with violent responses, but a series of concerts at London’s Coliseum in 1914 earned him the admiration of composers such as Igor Stravinsky and Sergey Prokofiev.

During the 1920s Russolo was completely absorbed in music and in the invention of his new instrument, the rumorarmonio (‘noise-harmonium’), which he played in performances of Futurist pantomime in 1927 at the Théâtre de la Madeleine in Paris. In summer 1929 he moved to a suburb of Paris and began painting again. The paintings of that period, exhibited at Galerie 23 in Paris (where he also gave his last concert) in 1929, and in 1930 at the Venice Biennale, were all later lost. In late 1931, after being introduced to the study of occult sciences, he abandoned his musical activities. Russolo continued to explore these new interests during a trip to Tarragona, Spain, in 1932; on his return to Italy in summer 1933 he settled in Cerro di Laveno on Lake Maggiore and began work on a philosophical treatise, Al di là della materia (1938). Russolo returned once more to painting, in 1942, this time in a style that he described as “classical-modern.” These last works were exhibited in shows in 1945 and 1946. A new volume of writing, Io e l’anima, was left unfinished at his death on 6 February 1947.

Reference: Ester Coen. “Russolo, Luigi.“ Grove Art Online. Oxford art Online. Oxford University Press.

Luigi Russolo, La rivolta, 1911. Photo: Gemeentemuseum Den Haag.

Luigi Russolo and Ugo Piatti with noise instruments, 1913. Photo: University of California, San Diego.

Luigi Russolo Score for “The Awakening of a City,” 1914. Photo: University of California, San Diego.

Umberto Boccioni, Caricature of Luigi Russolo, 1913. Photo: University of California, San Diego.

Luigi Russolo, Sintesi plastica dei movimenti di una donna, 1912. Photo: Musée de Grenoble.

Further Reading: Luciano Chessa. Luigi Russolo, Futurist: Noise, Visual Arts, and the Occult. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012. 

Vivien Greene. Italian Futurism 1909-1944: Reconstructing the Universe. New York: Guggenheim Museum Publications, 2014. 

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