About Bruno Maderna’s 100th anniversary

Bruno Maderna in 1963

2020 is a year in which several important anniversaries occur: 250 years of Beethoven, 210 of Chopin, 180 of Tchaikovsky… Almost all the programs of the concert seasons dedicated concerts to these composers. Now – given the CoVid-19 emergency – everything is canceled or postponed. However, I’m sure we will continue to remember these artists in the same way as we did.

Unfortunately, there are composers who, since their death, are often presented rarely, superficially, sometimes even blackening their work. This is the case of Bruno Maderna who would have turned 100 today.

Maderna is undoubtedly one of the Italian composers who best represents the eclectic reality of the music scene of that era: composer, conductor, avant-gardist, but with an eye continually turned to the music of the past (remarkable is Malipiero’s influence here, for non-experts, one of the advocates of Vivaldi’s rediscovery). True Venetian, he spent almost the entirety of his life around the world. A place he visited very frequently (annually) was certainly Darmstadt, where the Ferienkurse für Internationale Neue Musik Darmstadt was held.

The German city is still today one of the main world centers for contemporary music. Surely, in those years, Maderna exerted a great influence on other colleagues who participated in those lessons including Nono, Berio, Donatoni and Clementi. Although the trend those years in Darmstadt was post-serialism and “punktuelle Musik”, Maderna preferred a musical approach based on intuition and fantasy, more pragmatic and less brainy. This led him to gradually move away from that center and between the 50s and 60s he began to experiment with new forms such as theater and radio play.

The foundation of the Rai Musical Phonology Studio in Milan together with Luciano Berio and the sound engineer Marino Zuccheri is undoubtedly fundamental in this phase. The opening of this studio was decisive in the initiation of many Italian composers to electronic music. In 1955, it was only the third study of its kind active across Europe.

Rai Musical Phonology Studio in Milan

The best known work of his complete work is undoubtedly Serenata per un satellite (1969). Forget the classic scores with straight staves, all neat and tattered. Serenata per una satellite is a beautiful example of controlled alea, a type of open score in which the composer leaves some, but not all, parameters of the music to the free will of the musician. The score of this piece is comparable to a collage work or one of those fabrics by Missoni, with many different patterns, apparently juxtaposed, but which together give a cohesive and intriguing result. The work was written the same evening as the launch of the European satellite ESTRO I from the island of Vandemberg in the Pacific Ocean for the study of northern lights. In the score Maderna reports: “violin, flute (also piccolo), oboe (also love oboe, also musette), clarinet (naturally carrying the part), marimba, harp, guitar and mandolin (playing what they can) can play it, all together or separated or in groups, improvising in short, but! with the written notes “. The written notes are inserted in interchangeable modules arranged on the page in various ways, by right, crosswise, diagonal, crossed, joined or separated, so as to allow the performer to follow an alternative ‘path’ to each performance, respecting a duration varying from 4 to 12 minutes.

I have often heard this song being played. Obviously the score leads to different performances every time but, often, the performers cannot musically transpose the beauty of this work. I don’t want to dwell here on what, in my opinion, is the biggest problem afflicting today’s music scene (i.e. the non-improvisation capacity of many musicians), but I want to share one of the most beautiful performances I have ever heard of this work. This performance is by the Tammittam Percussion Ensemble directed by Giulio Facchin. Happy listening and happy birthday M ° Maderna!