Bruno Maderna: Electronic Music

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In a short life, Italian composer Bruno Maderna went into a labyrinth of experience and came out near where he went in. A child prodigy, Mussolini's government toured Maderna throughout the Axis world as a kind of fascist wunderkind. As a young man, he taught summer courses in hyper-advanced composition at Darmstadt and co-founded, with Luciano Berio, Italy's first electronic music studio. In his last years, Maderna was a jet-setting conductor better known for his Mahler than for his strikingly individual original works, such as Serenata per un satellite (1968). While many composers of Maderna's era, such as Gy├Ârgy Ligeti, briefly dipped into electronic composition, learned what they needed to, and got out of it, Maderna's electronic music is absolutely central to his work as a composer. While Italian label Stradivarius' excellent collection Bruno Maderna: Musica Elettronica, does not contain all that might survive of Maderna's electronic music -- some of it has been lost -- it contains the most essential work he created as co-director of the Studio di Fonologia musicale di Milano della RAI, the facility he instituted with Berio.

One is more likely to have encountered Berio's work from the same facility, and that is not a bad reference point for at least some of this music. Dimensioni II -- Invenzione su una voce (1960) utilizes the voice of soprano Cathy Berberian, whose distinctive voice likewise served as the trigger for Berio's far more famous Visage (1958). Dimensioni II is like the other side of the coin from Visage; whereas the latter is nightmarish, unrelenting, and an unquestionably powerful envelopment of sound, Dimensioni II is lighthearted, humorous, and focuses on the girlish qualities of Berberian's voice. Interaction with live instruments was a primary concern for Maderna, as would be for Pierre Boulez sometime later, and this is the area in which the loss of sources hits Maderna the hardest. At least three of the pieces here were originally designed for electro-acoustic combinations, but only one, Musica su due dimensioni (1958), can still be performed that way. Here it is realized with flutist Renato Rivolta in the solo part, digitally synchronized to the original tape. One hears a rolling blanket of what seems like a million marimbas in Serenata III (1961) and wonders what might have been had such work survived in more than a single, stereo mixdown.

You really must extend some measure of praise to engineer Marino Zuccheri, who restored and compiled this collection. Just playing a stereo tape from 1957 can be a proposition that yields dubious results, and Zuccheri's work in restoring Syntaxis (1957) is authoritative, as is his terrific recovery of the mixed-space perspective on Maderna's masterwork Le Rire (1962). It is a shame we cannot have Continuo (1958) in stereo, but only a mono mix exists. About electronic music, Maderna once said, "we no longer listen in linear time -- our consciousness casts various projections of time that can no longer be represented with logic of one dimension." That is, a dimension of ink and paper, the kinds of compositional tools Maderna was most accustomed to; working with electronic music taught Maderna to trust his intuition, and this opened the door to instrumental works like Serenata per un satellite that contain semi-improvised elements. Although time and neglect very nearly claimed what was left of Maderna's electronic music, the best of what we can hear now is included within this Stradivarius CD. Maderna's work in electronics is not only central within his own legacy, but to early electronic music as a whole.

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