(April 21, 1920 - November 13, 1973)
An initiator in Italy of the post-Webern movement, in close contact with the Darmstadt school, a pioneer of electronic music in the 50s, an orchestral conductor specialising in contemporary music and a formidable champion of it throughout the world: these are the salient aspects of the strong personality of Bruno Maderna, the Venetian musician who died at the age of 53. These few indications suffice - once accompanied by the obvious recognition of the quality and incidence of the mark he left on every sector in which he dealt - to illuminate the unique figure of Maderna. Among the first Italians to adhere to the serial method of composition in its most advanced forms, Maderna quickly stood out among the leading exponents of that movement which was bringing to fruition the intuitions of Webernian pointillism.
What distinguished him from his Darmstadt co-religionists was a personal and broad open-mindedness to all possible sound ideas as well as a firm voluntary hold on the past, in the shape of memory and a taste for clear, well defined forms, invented or re-invented not from mere aestheticising attitudes but instead from the profound and inalienable needs of a modem man of culture. These were all lines which were at all times explicit in the twenty years of creative activity into which were channelled an efflorescent, multiform imagination which pursued, in every direction, a radical exploration of the world of sound. It was by the force of such an enthusiasm for sound research that at the end of 1955 Maderna approached the medium of electronics, the first, with Luciano Berio, to occupy himself seriously with the newest technological path. From that moment the two creative sectors - that employing traditional instruments (however non-traditionally exploited) and that using electronics - ran parallel, influencing each other in turn and often attaining - as in the stage drama Hyperion or the recent Ausstrahlung and Juilliard Serenade - that fusion whose sound is very clearly indicative of Maderna’s most advanced researches, in the context of today’s musical avant-garde.
These brief indications so far refer to the manifest compositions of Maderna’s creative experiments, which can basically be divided into three periods.
The first is characterized by parallel instrumental and electronic experiments. The major results in the instrumental field are perhaps obtained in the Second Serenata for 11 instruments (1957), a unique work in the international scene both for its fundamental serenity and polish and for its abandonment to the joy of music-making, which were to be salient features of Maderna. In another aspect we find instead, for example, Continuo (1958), a fundamental moment in the «ennobling» of electronic means of generating tone-colours and frequencies into a creative «instrument» of purely musical events.
The second part is that in which, on the other hand, we can see before us the fusion of the two musical means: Musica su due dimensioni for flute and electronic sounds (1958) stands as a solid basis for this experimentation, which will culminate in Hyperion (1964), already mentioned, with the addition also of a theatrical idea centred on the contemporary drama of alienation.
Finally the most recent period, which also coincides with the maximum zeal in spreading contemporary music on the part of Maderna the conductor: a period very full - as a composer too - of works of diverse layout, resources and demands. But from these clearly emerges a composer of strong personality, fervently devoted to research, inexhaustible in invention. And finally - which is surprising even today - determined to realise his own original ideal of making music, which is the overcoming of the anguished sound problems of our time - often, to be more precise, false problems - in order to find basic models and modes (even if they can be variously treated) to be established as certainties, as premises for a new phase in modern musical history, where there will be a rediscovered confidence in means of composition and discourse and, not least, the dreamed-of recovery of dialogue with the public.
Many, if not all, the works of the last years have a precise significance in the above sense. Perhaps one more than the others: Aura, a score for large orchestra written in 1972 to a commission from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra - a score which marks in definitive fashion Maderna’s sound world, his tensions and his imagination, a score worked on with deep commitment, impregnated with that yearning for unknown affirmations of sound and that scintillating invention which are the fundamental qualities of Maderna the composer.