Monday, July 23, 2007


I am somewhat amazed that Pliable has taken up the banner of Bruno Maderna: he has praised his interpretation of Mahler's 9th, and now he has a lengthy post about Maderna and Pierre Boulez' memorial composition, Rituel in memoriam Bruno Maderna (1974-5).* I am really impressed that Maderna, both his influence and his legacy, is being explored in such depth. The Darmstadt school has been, to a greater or lesser degree, either forgotten or transcended by critics and composers alike.**

Maderna, though, wrote music less obsessively rigid and more accessible, insofar as Darmstadt music is or was "accessible," than Boulez and music more sane than anything by Karlheinz Stockhausen. His Quadrivium (1970), performed on DGG's Echo 20/21 series by his famous student Giuseppe Sinopoli and (if I recall) the NDRSO forces required is a fine, fine piece. It is a shame that Maderna isn't more well known, but Boulez' Rituel at least keeps the memory there. Boulez worked in some very Maderna-esque percussion, which - though percussion and percussive sounds featured heavily in mature Boulez - wasn't exactly his thing.

An interesting piece, in any event, and an interesting project (i.e., raising Maderna's visibility).

*If you're interested in this piece, then you should check out the composer's recording on Sony, or Michael Gielen's interesting pairing with the Mahler 9th and Boulez' Notations.

**Though, there is a really bizarre article I'm thinking of in Contemporary Music Review, "Gay Darmstadt: Flamboyance and Rigour at the Summer Courses for New Music," which I might look into as time and access permit. If they can't contribute to modern music, gender studies seem like the next best thing.


At 2:45 AM, Blogger Henry Holland said...

Hi, moseyed over from Pliable's place.

Thank you for inspiring me to dig through my CD's to find that recording of Maderna's piece, I haven't heard it in years.

I'd love to read that Gay Darmstadt thing but I'm completely baffled by the publishers website about how to order a copy of that issue. I love this in the description:

The impact of such overt provocation on the closeted Boulez, on the politically muddled Henze, and on such discomfited heterosexuals as Berio, Nono and Stockhausen, contributed to the aesthetic flux that characterized Darmstadt in the late fifties and early sixties

I love "politically muddled Henze"! Hmmmmm...the disastrous premiere of Raft of the Medusa? The sixth symphony that's a paen to Castro's Cuba? The critical drubbing that his opera We Come To The River got? Those? :-) Ah well, I love his operas The Young Lord and The Bassarids and have been searching for years for a recording of the original version The Stag King.

Your site looks fantastic, I'll root around the archives later this week.

At 11:33 AM, Blogger Patrick J. Smith said...


I could get it online thanks to my school, i.e., the article, but there is a one-year embargo on the mighty Interweb version. I'll dig it out, no pun intended, when I get back.

I take issue, more or less, with the whole "aesthetic flux" bit. In fact, I always thought that Darmstadt was a prime example of a monolithic front. Boulez, Maderna, Berio, and Stockhausen (to name four) could disagree about matters of precise form and style, but there was little disagreement overall in the big issues. In fact, one major criticism of Darmstadt is how completely Boulez dominated the scene - and how readily the other composers followed. Ligeti is one of a few examples of major dissenters, and dissenters who actually flourished after rejecting Boulez and his crowd.

In any event, enjoy the site.

At 1:45 PM, Blogger Henry Holland said...

I always thought that Darmstadt was a prime example of a monolithic front

Oh yes, totally agree, there was very much an Us v. Them, Your Either With Us Or Against Us mentality. Understandable, perhaps, considering the blatant hostility that the music of, say, early Schoenberg (say, the first Chamber Symphony) got from critics and the public at the time.

Apart from the music that was written during the school's glory days, some of which I love to bits, I'm fascinated by the social aspects of the school. By that, I mean the "we must reject all that came before because that was the soundtrack to Nazism and fascism" attitude that I've read about, the intensely political nature (both in terms of -isms and interpersonal relationships) of the place and so forth.

I think ultimately they were kind of working on a vein of music that was a dead end -total serialism- but Boulez probably saw that trap earlier than most. While I would never call his music "melodic" --he's not a tunesmith-- as he grew older it acquired a patina of lyricism that I really enjoy. He does seem to have a bit of the bully about him, too, god what a composer and conductor of the right rep (I listened to his astonishing recording of Birtwistle's wonderful Earth Dances the other day and it puts the other 4 recordings I have of that piece to shame).

A fascinating period of music history and one that has produced some wonderful polemics that are hilarious to read with the benefit of knowing how that history played out.

At 4:04 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Smith said...

Well, Boulez started moving off in new directions fairly early on. His interest in electronic and aleatoric music took him out of the strictest definitions of Darmstadt post-Webernian serialism. If one looks at serialism as purely theoretical music, then one has to admit - at the same time - that there are limits to theory. There is only so far it can go without becoming, in the case of serialism, pure noise or tonal music.

On Boulez, Rituel (1974, so solidly in his middle period - or final period if you don't count revisions) has several lyrical moments. Obviously, as you noted, there is a progression from the piano sonatas to Marteau to Pli selon pli to stuff like Rituel and ...explosante-fixe.... Some of the other works exhibit the same sort of march toward a lyrical atonality. I get the sense, and I could be wrong, that if he had composed straight through, he would have ended up back at Bartók. I doubt his musical executors will release a "Pierre Boulez Edition" showing the completeness of his theories about the dissolution of tonality, even as it begins arriving back at dissonant tonality.

Darmstadt, like - to use an apt analogy - the upper echelons of Soviet society from 1933-1940, was an interesting pressure-cooker of art, ideas, and personalities. A fascinating period.

At 2:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Rituel is a fabulous piece, and for many years was simply my favorite Boulez music.

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