Bruno Maderna was brought up in a small village outside Venice. He soon revealed remarkable musical gifts and as a child played the violin in the family-run bar and dance-hall, and subsequently in Venetian hotels and restaurants. He later recalled, ‘My grandfather thought that if you could play the violin you could then do anything, even become the biggest gangster. If you play the violin you are always sure of a place in heaven.’ He made his debut as a child-prodigy conductor in 1932 with the orchestra of La Scala, Milan, and spent the next three years conducting throughout Italy. From 1933 he was used by the fascist regime then ruling Italy to promote itself, until he was rescued from this existence firstly by a fashionable dressmaker from Verona, who ensured that he received a rounded education, and then by the Vatican, in the shape of the future Pope Paul IV. Maderna graduated in composition from the Rome Conservatory in 1940, having studied with Alessandro Bustini (the teacher of Petrassi, Turchi, and Giulini). He attended Guarnieri’s conducting classes at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena in 1941, and during 1941 and 1942 was a member of Malipiero’s advanced composition course in Venice. For the following two years (1942 and 1943) he served in the Italian army before joining the partisans in 1945.
After the end of the war Malipiero helped Maderna to become a teacher at the Venice Conservatory, where he met Nono, and introduced him to the publisher Ricordi, for whom he transcribed several concertos by Vivaldi. In addition, Maderna made financial ends meet following his first marriage in 1946 by composing music for films and radio plays. He attended Hermann Scherchen’s conducting course in Venice in 1948: this was a decisive encounter as Scherchen introduced him to twelve-tone music and showed him compositions by Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg. The following year Maderna attended the Darmstadt summer school at the suggestion of Karl Amadeus Hartmann, where he met not only composers and performers all working in what was called the Neue Musik, but also his second wife. During the 1950s Maderna also spent much time in Milan where he worked closely with Berio: together they created the Studio di Fonologia Musicale of Italian Radio, an important workshop for the development of electronically-generated music, and the periodical and performance ensemble both entitled Incontri Musicali, all of which played an important part in Italian musical life of this period. During 1957 and 1958 Maderna also taught twelve-tone composition at the Milan Conservatory.
From the beginning of the 1960s conducting came to absorb a considerable amount of Maderna’s time. Initially his repertoire focused upon the music of the Second Viennese and Darmstadt Schools, but later broadened considerably to embrace the music of the traditional Austro-German repertoire from Mozart to Mahler, of which he was an outstanding interpreter, as well as French music including works by Debussy and Ravel. Maderna became a naturalized German citizen in 1963, the year in which he settled in Darmstadt, and his career henceforward had three aspects: he composed, taught (notably at Dartington from 1960 to 1962, the Salzburg Mozarteum from 1967 to 1970, and at Tanglewood and the Juilliard School in 1971 and 1972), and conducted throughout Europe and the USA. From 1971 he served as chief conductor of the Symphony Orchestra of Italian Radio in Milan. He was diagnosed as suffering from cancer in 1972 and died towards the end of the following year.
Maderna’s commercial discography is largely dominated by the music of composers to whom he was initially closest, such as Berio, Ligeti, Nono, Schoenberg and Stockhausen, as well as his own compositions. To this may be added two discs which he recorded for the Concert Hall Record Club, the first pairing Bartók’s Dance Suite with the Suite from the ballet The Miraculous Mandarin, and the second the Piano Concertos No. 3 of both Bartók and Prokofiev in which he accompanied the French pianist Claude Helffer. In 1992 the Italian record label Arkadia issued several compact discs as a Maderna edition which provided a much wider over-view of Maderna’s performances. Drawing upon radio recordings from Italy, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Holland, this series presented a rounded portrait of an accomplished musician, with fine accounts of music by composers with whom Maderna was less immediately associated, such as for instance Brahms, Mahler, Mozart, Schubert and Ravel. In addition a complete recording of the unfinished version of Berg’s opera Lulu, broadcast by Rome RAI in 1959 with Ilona Steingruber in the title role, has been published.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).