Franco Donatoni: Algo IV (1996)
From the album Chamber Music
In a compositional milieu where so many artists succumb either to the Scylla of late-romantic necrophilia or the Charybdis of bloodless avant-garde epigonism, it is refreshing to discover music that uses the old classical instrumentarium to novel effect. Such is the work of the Italian composer Franco Donatoni (1927-2000).
Like so many of his European contemporaries, Donatoni cut his teeth in the 1950s at the Darmstadt summer courses, a crucible of avant-garde musical thought. Here he was introduced to many of the major figures of the scene, such as Stockhausen, Berio, Boulez, and Cage. Although Donatoni viewed Cage with suspicion, he shared the American’s radical critique of compositional agency. His response to the crisis of ungrounded subjectivity in contemporary music was not to be found in chance procedures, but in a systematic process of recomposition through rules of substitution and permutation derived from the parametric analytical principles of serialism.
Donatoni’s music is generated by the ruthless cannibalization of earlier works, as fragments of scores are subjected to permutational schemes in order to form new material in a manner inspired by the alchemical process of sublimation. (Musicologist David Osmond-Smith’s description of Donatoni’s techniques includes such graphic anatomical metaphors as “cancerous proliferation” and “dismemberment.”) This method could of course be brought to bear on any music, not just Donatoni’s own. For example, his 1967 composition Etwas ruhiger in Ausdruck (1967) is based on a multidimensional analysis of eight bars from Arnold Schoenberg’s Five Piano Pieces, Op. 23, No. 2.
While the transmutation of pre-existing material follows certain strict rules, its subsequent rearrangement into new configurations is done more or less according to taste. Following the moment-to-moment logic of musical transmutation, without a preconceived vision of how the composition is to unfold, Donatoni sought a musical flow that emerged from the very notational labor of composition, from the “juggling” of notes and proportions to which critics might attempt to reduce this eminently writerly form of music. For Donatoni there is no such thing as creation, only transformation: He declares, “I am not an artist but an artisan.”
After a fallow period in the early 1970s, in which he battled a spell of depression aggravated by the deaths of his mother and his old mentor Bruno Maderna, Donatoni returned to composition. Rejecting the conventional model of composing big orchestral pieces that were performed once and then forgotten, he now focused on producing works for soloists and chamber ensembles with whom he had a direct personal connection. His music from the late 1970s on is marked by deft complexity and cerebral playfulness. Algo IV, one of the last works Donatoni wrote before his death in 2000, is derived from the earlier work Algo, a 1977 piece based in turn upon the recomposition of a guitar lick by Django Reinhardt.
Played 133 time(s).
May 08, 2013, 2:19pm