About this Recording
8.572642 - MADERNA, B.: Piano Concerto (1942) / Concerto for 2 Pianos / Quadrivium (Orvieto, Bongelli, Gruppo 40.6, Arena of Verona Orchestra, Miotto)
English  Italian 

Bruno Maderna (1920–1973)
Concerto for piano and orchestra (1942) • Piano Concerto (1942) – Version for two pianos (1946) • Concerto for two pianos and percussion (1948) • Quadrivium (1969)


There is a meteor that orbits and occasionally blazes into view within the wide landscape of twentieth-century avant-garde music: Bruno Maderna. There is something unusual in the artistic fate of this figure, whose name is usually linked with those of the younger Italian composers Luciano Berio and Luigi Nono. A mysterious oblivion blurs the centrality and importance of his contribution to the growth of the young Italian school after his sudden death in 1973 at the age of 53.

In the 1950s Maderna had begun an international career as conductor, refined interpreter of twentieth-century repertoire and tireless promoter of new works by young composers. This led him to the podium of the most important orchestras, first in Europe (Britain, Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Holland, Austria), then in the 1970s in the United States (Juilliard Ensemble, the orchestras of Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami, New York). From 1971–72 he was the director of the Berkshire Music Centre Tanglewood and in 1971 he took over the Orchestra Sinfonica RAI of Milan. His extensive conducting work most likely helped to boost his fame as a composer, partly because he thus avoided appearing to the musical world as a verbose exegete who provided philosophical constructions to ‘explain’ his stylistic forms and methods (as was then so often the case). Instead he let the music speak for itself. In his work he continued to hark back to features of his early musical training and to the lessons of Gian Francesco Malipiero, adopting an attitude that looked both to ‘his’ older Venetian roots and the Gabrielis, but also to the Flemish polyphonists. At the same time he displayed a boundless curiosity for the twelve-tone technique of Schoenberg and Webern, not to mention the innovative electronic experimentation of those years.

Ever since his appearance in 1949 at the Ferienkurse in Darmstadt Maderna was an active protagonist of contemporary artistic life. Nonetheless, his interest in (and active support of) the new directions of new music never saw him aligned with the more ‘ideological’ attitudes then emerging as the main trends. His way of standing aside from the pack and his entirely personal use of the stylistic tools of the avant-garde are the most likely explanations for the inadequate assessment of his rôle as a composer at his death—at least until an important critic, Massimo Mila, in the early 1980s began to promote his work through a series of radio broadcasts and a book entitled Maderna musicista europeo (Maderna, a European musician).

Today, there is an increasing interest in the works of Maderna. Research has intensified and there are more frequent performances of his music, to the extent that we can talk of a sort of ‘Maderna Renaissance’. New aspects of his youthful writing with strong ties to the twentieth-century European tradition have been brought to light by performances of two recently ‘rediscovered scores’ (or lost early works): the Piano Concerto of 1942 (given its first performance in modern times at the VeronaContemporanea festival of the Fondazione Arena of Verona on 10 October 2009, from which this recording is taken) and the Requiem of 1946 (performed at La Fenice in Venice on 19 November 2009).

The compositional path presented in this recording significantly outlines certain stages in Maderna’s compositional development: specifically for the piano, with the Concerto written when Maderna was little over twenty (available in two versions, one with orchestra and a the two pianos version) and his piece for two pianos and instruments of 1948; and finally a great leap into maturity with the monumental Quadrivium (1969), which emblematically represents one of the most significant stages in the composer’s last creative period.

The Piano concerto, the début work of a promising new graduate who had hoped to entrust it to Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, suffered a fate similar to other works of those years, and it disappeared from circulation after a first performance on 22 June 1942. There have been attempts to explain the neglect for the music of this period by the composer’s need to go further and to project his work towards the horizons of radical serialism and twelve-tone technique, inducing him to abandon the manuscripts of his early works on dusty bookshelves or archives. Yet this work, with its three movements following one another seamlessly and two slow movements framing the central pulsating allegro, is a veritable gem infused with an admirable sense of tension and breadth. The piano style, which is sometimes brilliant and sometimes contains elements of alienating lyrical writing, emerges gradually from within the symphonic continuum, almost like an instrument’s tone emerging from within the orchestra. Here and there we find rhapsodic sketches, virtuoso elements, fleeting cadenzas. There’s a whole century that resurfaces, that was probably filtered by the teachings of Malipiero. Here we find a young man still immersed in an atmosphere of the mainstream twentieth century, displaying an almost Ravelian taste in the outlines of the piano writing, with a look at Stravinsky, Bartók and Debussy and with a lyrical expansion that even remind us of Rachmaninov. While never betraying a hint of scholasticism, he admirably combines the poetic dimension with a sense of formal coherence.

Structural coherence is felt even more in the version for two pianos, owing to the simplicity of the picture that emerges. This version was probably written for practical reasons, with the need to present the work for recording. After listening to the orchestral version one is struck by the drier colours and the lack of a dialectic harmony with the orchestra, though this also means that the slow episodes stand out more clearly as an abstract dimension, in a climate of almost extreme indeterminacy, over and above the pounding, percussive elements of the central section.

More complex and intricate is the Concerto for two pianos and instruments, a work which has been the object of constant arrangement, expansion and reduction by the composer. It was first performed at the Venice Biennial in 1948, in a three-movement version. The following year, in preparation for performance in Darmstadt, it was subjected to cuts. So for the final version (that given on this recording) the first two movements were permanently deleted, while an introduction of 29 bars was added: everything starts with a pianissimo repeated A for the two pianos, that then moves to the notes of B flat, B natural and C (symbolically evoking the letters of the name Bach). So it appears that Maderna, aiming to project a more contemporary style and wishing to leave behind the nineteenth century in the first two movements, opts for an opening that projects the material in a process of sonic construction, in which clusters of notes aggregate, like material substances, then unravel (again pianissimo) into the Andante. The energy that is unleashed inexorably—sempre più animando—makes way for the development, which covers Bartókian ground, as already observed by many. The pace becomes always swifter, but at the same time powerful and solid, while the rhythm in turn is disrupted with rapid blows that propel the material forwards with a relentless rush. The sounds of the pianos—at times dry or heavy, at times with stretches of dreamy lightness—combine, as the case may be, with the vibraphone, celesta, timpani, harp, cymbals, side drum (with and without snares) and tam-tam: timbral emanations, interjections of dazzling force, sudden bursts of light, power and colouristic effect.

We perceive a significant leap forward when we approach the creative period that generated Quadrivium (1969). What remains constant is the devotion to research, here focused on a commitment to large-scale orchestral writing. According to the composer’s intentions, the four percussionists and four orchestral groups symbolize the four liberal arts: arithmetic, algebra, music and astronomy. Taking four as the magic number—“the four elements, the four faces of the earth”—Maderna seems to want to present a multi-layered reality—as in a cube—comprising abandonment, vision and compositional rigour. We detect a surge of 1960s utopian feeling in the eruption of aleatoric moments, led by a conductor, who directs and coordinates improvisations at the centre of the four groups. Everything, however, is developed within a framework of strict serial writing and counterpoint, along with a profound research into matters of timbre, in which the large orchestra and the percussion act as key figures.

The work consists of a succession of six movements, like tableaux alternating seamlessly and forming an overwhelming unfolding of sonic constellations; whether as clusters or as compact masses, these moments are clearly differentiated. The wealth of percussive clangour of the first section is followed by the aleatoric episode of the second, with the wind instruments taking the lead. The third section is characterized by the evocative, slow, nocturnal mood for the strings, while the fourth movement, dominated by pitched percussion sounds, forms a kind of gamelan of xylophones and marimbas, against which the strings burst into excited trills to close the section. The fifth section presents an intensification of the elements and a strong expressive tension, particularly for the brass and percussion. The work closes with a long diminuendo, with swathes of strings punctuated by percussion and woodwind in an exhausting and relentless process of sonic dissolution: a kind of magical suspension towards silence.

Fabio Zannoni
English translation by Phoebe Luton and Hugh Ward Perkins

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