On the 90th anniversary of the composer's birth, we recommend eight discs
The January issue of Gramophone magazine contains a profile by Philip Clark about the composer, who would have been 90 this year. Here he recommends some recordings of Maderna's music – and of Maderna's recordings of the music of others.
Maderna Quadrivium. Aura. Biogramma.
Sinfonieorchester des orddeutschen rundfunks/Giuseppe Sinopoli
DG 00289 477 5383 Buy now
For years, this was the most high profile recording of Maderna’s orchestra music and, 30 years after its release, Sinopoli’s view of Quadrivium, Aura and Biogramma remains an ideal entry point into Maderna’s soundworld. Quadrivium [“Crossroads’] (1969) is scored for four percussionists and four orchestral groups; typically, Maderna embeds a dramatic ‘tipping point’ into his composition, allowing the conductor to determine how the different groups interact – when the music literally reaches its ‘crossroads’ – and Sinopoli relishes responding spontaneously and thus intensifying the dramatic thrust. Aura and Biogramma (both 1972) also recalibrate the usual carve-up of responsibility between conductor and orchestra. But Maderna wasn’t interested in aleatoric technique for the sake of it. He uses it to fish for new sounds/structures/textures in a sea of unknowable possibilities.
Maderna Complete Orchestral Works for Orchestra Volume 1 / Volume 2. hr-Sinfonieorchester/Frankfurt Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Tamayo
NEOS 10933/10934 Buy now: Vol 1 and Vol 2
Volume 3 of Arturo Tamayo’s projected complete Maderna cycle for Neos is released in January and will include a fresh Biogramma. But in the meantime, the first two volumes trace Maderna’s evolution from his formative Composizione No 1 (1948-49) and No 2 (1950), where material gradually finds its inner serialism as Maderna attaches extra notes to his opening gesture, towards subsequent undervalued masterworks like Composizione in tre tempi (1954), Improvvisazione No 1 (1952) and No 2 (1953), and Aria (1964), where Maderna’s primary concern is the intricate interweaving of strains of material that also manage to retain their metric and gestural independence. An important reminder that with Stockhausen and Boulez making all the headlines, Maderna had concerns of his own.
Maderna Liriche su Verlaine. Y Despuses. Piano Concerto. Oboe Concerto No 2
Emanuele Arciuli pf, Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi/Sandro Gorli
Stradivarius STR 33574 Buy now
Here the standout work is Maderna’s Piano Concerto, premiered at Darmstadt by David Tudor in 1959. That premiere performance has recently been made available on Neos’ Darmstadt Aural Documents box set, and it’s intriguing to hear Tudor discover the concerto for the first time. But Emanuele Arciuli’s 1998 performance has had more time to marinate. Maderna reinvents the concerto principle by weighting the flow of new material towards long unaccompanied cadenza passages, making soloist and orchestra coexist only at the end. Arciuli plays with the concerto’s structural conceit manfully; also on this disc the hyper-busy guitar concerto Y Despuses and an early song-cycle. More about Maderna and the oboe downthread.
Maderna Electronic Music
Bruno Maderna and Marino Zuccheri electronics, Cathy Berberian voice, Renato Rivolta fl
Stardivarius STR 33349 Buy now
Maderna claimed that “electronic music totally upset my relationship with musical materials”, and for a composer committed to the possibilities of dispersing sound around space, like in Quadrivium, electronic composition was a natural medium and a big find. Notturno (1956) begins tentatively but begins to find a purpose as blasts of white noise are tossed into counterpoint with florid electronic arabesques. Syntaxis (1957) and Continuo (1958) pull Maderna deeper into the electronic eddy; then, in 1961 and '62, Serenata II and Le Rire step his electronic compositions up a gear; the first piece uses studio techniques to burrow inside the sounds of pre-recorded flute and marimba and the second does similar for the human voice, including Cathy Berberian’s.
Maderna Oboe Concertos Nos 1, 2, 3
Fabian Menzel ob, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Saarbrücken/Michael Stern.
Col Legno WWE 1CD 20037 Buy now
Maderna’s love of the oboe was also unshakable, and his three oboe concertos – written in 1962, 1967 and 1973 – bookended his career: his Third Oboe Concerto was completed shortly before his death. The First Concerto artfully embraces the discipline of Webern and the angular lyricism of Berg, with the oboe’s material trickling down to the rest of the orchestra who studiously chew over its ramifications. In the Second Concerto, fidgety oboe gesticulations are shadowed by a carpet of pointalistic percussion strokes, and the Third Concerto is the most tonally anchored of the set, with the oboe elongating lines that push ever further against the structural matrix.
Maderna Venetian Journal. Julliard Serenade (Tempo libero II). Oboe Concerto No 1. Kranichsteiner Kammerkantate Divertimento Ensemble / Sandro Gorli
Stradivarius STR33651 Buy now
Venetian Journal (1972) is a trim, smart music-theatre piece that places 18th century London diarist James Boswell in Venice (Maderna’s home city), from where he narrates a bawdy monologue about his entanglements with the fairer sex. Maderna’s music embraces a characteristically demonstrative serial patois, placing it in the context of a collage sourced from the likes of Haydn, Tchaikovsky and Mozart and an important tape part. Juilliard Serenade, for chamber orchestra and tape, was assembled a year earlier and if serialism was meant to exercise domineering control over a composer’s material, Maderna sets serialism against itself by leaving the ordering and overlay of sections to the conductor. The instrumental parts are played simultaneously with an obstreperous 1970 tape piece, Tempo Libero I, and this in-the-moment juxtaposition fires up invigorating energy. Kranichsteiner Kammerkantate is based on an anti-Fascist song beloved of the Italian Resistance which Maderna transforms into a dense polyphony.
Mahler Symphony No 9
BBC Legends BBCL 4179-2 Buy now
This is like no other Mahler 9 on record. Recorded at the Royal Festival Hall in 1971, Maderna conducts big canvas Mahler, nothing like the version his friend Pierre Boulez recorded in 1998. Which is not to say Maderna skimps on detail, more that he does a fine job of locating the central structural pivots; check out how the first movement hurtles toward its central climax point (around 19’23”) and this Rondo-Burleske is truly off-the-leash, like a proto-expressionist Schoenbergian fantasy.
WDRSO, Maderna, Stockhausen, Gielen.
Stockhausen Verlag CD 5 Buy now
And here’s Maderna conducting at one of New Music’s most famous opening nights – the 1958 premiere of Stockhausen’s Gruppen for three orchestras, sharing the conducting honours with Michael Gielen and Stockhausen himself. Arguably there’s not much room for interpretation here, but Maderna’s skill at interlocking his tempi inside other tempi that Gielen and Stockhausen are beating is deeply impressive. And when the music emerges from its opening maelstrom to rotate chords around the space, you realise this is the greatest music Stockhausen wrote.