Alejandro Civilotti was born in La Plata in 1959 and has spent most of his professional career in Spain. He currently resides in Barcelona. The son of tango singer Hector Omar, he started his career in the world of popular and tango music as a guitarist—beginnings that would leave a mark on his aesthetic sensitivity and creative journey. The earliest days of his career were spent as a guitarist in popular music making recordings, performing recitals and going on tours to different countries in Latin America.
From 1977 onwards, he studied harmony, counterpoint and composition for five years in his hometown under Enrique Gerardi, a pupil of Alberto Ginastera and Nadia Boulanger, and one of the pioneers of avant-garde music in Argentina. Over the course of those five years with Gerardi, Civilotti acquired a solid technical foundation and came into contact with the main avant-garde currents, which had spread from Europe for the last few decades and which Gerardi had experienced first-hand while studying the clarinet and viola at the Conservatory of Music and Scenic Art in La Plata—founded in 1949 by Alberto Ginastera. His earliest works, such as Three Pieces for Clarinet and Piano (1980), Canto, lamento y danza (1982) or the earlier Improvisando en las sombras (1979) for guitar, the result of his beginnings as a performer, date back to those years. The initial stage of his training therefore underwent a process that developed from an intuitive, spontaneous relationship with popular music until the acquisition of technical skills as a composer, while under the strong influences of Western musical tradition ranging from the Renaissance to the most avant-garde.
After finishing his training at the end of 1984, Civilotti travelled to Barcelona, where he began to study composition and instrumentation under Josep Soler, a pupil of René Leibowitz in Paris and Cristòfor Taltabull in Barcelona and one of the most important composers of his generation in Spain. Under Soler’s tutelage, Civilotti built on his training and came into contact with the Spanish music scene. The impact of expressionism—of which Soler was one of the main proponents in Spain—and the premiere of the opera Oedipus and Jocasta (1986) exerted a decisive influence on Civilotti, whose principles of aesthetics and musicology were also shaped by the Catalan composer. During those early years, he also trained under renowned composers in the local music scene such as Gabriel Brncic and Joan Guinjoan.
It was during that period when Civilotti’s output gained depth and the characteristic signatures of his music. Works for orchestra such as his First Symphony (1985) and Momentos del poeta (1987) for tenor and orchestra based on poems by Vladimir Mayakovsky are from that time. It was also then when he composed his earliest major works of chamber music: Sonata for Violoncello and Piano (1989), his String Quartet No. 1 (1988) and In memoriam (1988), dedicated to those who disappeared during Argentina's last military dictatorship (1976-1983).
It was from then on—a period when he joined the Badalona Conservatory of Music, where he has been a professor of harmony, counterpoint and composition since 1988—when Civilotti's works gained greater acclaim in the form of premieres and awards: a period that prompted Enrique Franco to describe him as one of the most important composers of his generation. In 1988, he won the First Prize of the Youth Music Awards for his Fantasy for Wind Quintet, received the City of Barcelona Award for Momentos del poeta, the same year in which the second volume of the album released by the Catalan Composers’ Association, which included his work In memoriam, was awarded the National Record Award.
Two years later, his String Quartet No. 1 won him the First Prize of the Luis de Narváez City of Granada Awards. A year later, in 1991, he won the Francesc Civil City of Girona International Prize for his Concerto for Solo Piano (1986) and the following year, he received the First Prize of the City of Cáceres International Concerto Awards for Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra (1989). Another of his compositions for piano, the poignant Nocturnes for Solo Piano (1992), won the First Prize of the 5th Manuel Valcárcel International Composition Competition in 1993, the same year when he was given the City of Tarragona International Prize for Rhapsody for Percussion and Orchestra (1992). This period of awards raining down on him culminated with the 13th Queen Sofía Composition Prize for Cinco grabados para orquesta (1991) based on engravings by Guillermo Cendagorta inspired by Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus.
He also received some commissions from the Centre for the Dissemination of Contemporary Music (CDMC) for the International Contemporary Music Festival of Alicante, and a commission from the French Ministry of Culture. The latter took the form of Les quatre estacions (1993) for children’s choir and instrumental group, for the “Association Mômeludies” of the University of Lyon.
The early years at the turn of the millennium marked his maturity as a composer during a very prolific period. This was also the time when Civilotti began to assiduously cultivate a dialogue with the visual arts. The result of this is the suite for clarinet and string orchestra Ocultas geometrías (1999), in creative collaboration with the sculptures by Enrique Arau (1950-2010) or the symphonic movement that is patently expressionist, based on Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream (2001). It was also during this period when he composed important works such as Arte contra Guerra (2004) for clarinet, violin and violoncello, which was written for the exhibition with the same title held by Colectivo Austral—comprised of photographs and paintings—, after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. This was a trend that continued until his more recent works such as Azur (2018) for solo violoncello, which was based on a sculpture by Haydee Amato.
From then on, his music took shape as a highly personal way of projecting imagery and sound without just being a visual programme, meticulous instrumentation and formal clarity, with a tendency for atonality steeped in tradition and the most diverse experiences, without strictly subscribing to a way of thinking. This was a moment of maturity not free of scrutiny, giving rise to works that explored timbre in great depth such as the fantasy for txalaparta and symphony orchestra Urdaibai (2009) and Concerto for electric guitar and orchestra (2005) in which Civilotti explored the musical limits of this instrument.
Certain works that are representative of his output at different stages of his creative development can serve as an introduction to his compositions. One work that conveys both the expressive, chromatic inflections of Béla Bartók and the atmosphere of Viennese expressionism is Four Impressions for Strings (1996). Rhapsody for percussion and orchestra (1992), a powerful score due to the percussion soloist’s technique and their dialogue with the orchestra, is on a similar level. The richness of Cinco grabados para orquesta (1991) lies in its capacity to integrate highly diverse sources—material with post-romantic roots, a daring expansion of the sound spectrum, diversity of musical forms, etc.—in a structured discourse with great dramatic force. The “musical epic” Karaí, el héroe (2013) is his second foray into opera after Adagio del bosque (2007), an opera based on the mythical epic of an antihero who goes in search of the Land without Evil to save his people from destruction. The musical language is based on the pentatonic scale—a sonorous allusion to the indigenous peoples of Argentina—as its fundamental material, handled with a view to using it in a wide acoustic spectrum ranging from elementary to complex. Quasi tango (2007) proposes, after the legacy of Piazzolla as a turning point, another step forward in the renewal of the language of tango while staying true to its essence, through asymmetry and aggressive dissonance with a flair for the dramatic.
Over the past few years, his social commitment has taken the form of creative and educational projects. He founded the Spanish branch of the NGO "Música Esperanza". During the time when he resided in the Argentine city of Formosa (2013-2017), he created an international chamber music course and established and directed an undergraduate course for the training of "social musicians"—an unprecedented experience that sought to put musical training at the service of social transformation.
His extensive list of works includes many compositions for voice, for piano, for orchestra, music for cinema, etc., as well as seven symphonies that encompass his mature period, from Symphony No. 1 (1985) to the symphony dedicated to his parents Symphony No. 7: Requiem (2018). Among his most recent world premieres are Auris Concertum for violoncello and orchestra at Teatro Colón, with Eduardo Vasallo as soloist and the Buenos Aires Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Enrique Diemecke, Cinco maneras de mirar el río for orchestra by the Orchestra "Juan de Dios Filiberto" conducted by Luis Gorelik, Elegía por Julia Ponce, de Lavapiés for large orchestra, performed by the Argentine National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Christian Baldini, and the performance in England with Eduardo Vasallo as a cello soloist during the concert season of the CBSO (City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra) of Aché for actress reciting, solo violoncello and percussion sextet.
His handwritten scores are currently deposited in the Biblioteca de Catalunya.