Franco Donatoni: Alamari

Program Note

Esa-Pekka Salonen says of his teacher, the noted Italian composer and pedagogue Franco Donatoni,"Donatoni saw himself as a craftsman, an artisan, a manufacturer of music, not the lonely romantic genius who wanders in forests and feels Weltschmerz. His point of view is…clear, practical, light (as opposed to heavy), unsentimental. The key to composing is to work, meticulously and precisely: 'lavorare e lavorare, sempre lavorare' he used to say.”

Donatoni started studying violin at a young age. He commenced his musical training with Piero Bottagisio at the Verona Liceo Musicale. After further studies in composition with Ettore Desderi at the Milan Conservatory, he pursued advanced composition studies with Pizzetti at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome and then attended the summer courses in new music in Darmstadt.

In the 1950’s, Donatoni entered the sphere of influence of Bruno Maderna, who was in Verona at that time, and became a member of the Darmstadt circle including Pierre Boulez and Stockhausen. Pierre Boulez' music was a strong influence, and Donatoni began working with strict serial techniques in the late 1950’s. By 1960 Donatoni had come under the spell of John Cage and the use of chance procedures in music. This elicited a crisis of faith that led to a complete cessation of compositional productivity by 1965. In 1966, he wrote his first extant, characteristic piece, Etwas ruhiger im Ausdruck (Somewhat Peaceful in Outlook); the composer has destroyed much of his prior music, considering that early oeuvre derivative. Etwas ruhiger im Ausdruck is based on a fragment of an Arnold Schoenberg piano piece that includes the title phrase as a performance instruction.

Donatoni's later works are characterized by driven rhythms, quick-cut changes in texture, and compulsive development of constrained melodic material, as well as the reuse and re-contextualization of material from one piece to the next. Alamari, for example, combines the musical material as well as the instrumentation of earlier pieces, Lame (1982) for solo cello, Lem (1982) for solo double bass, and Rima (1982) for solo piano. Even the title is a combination of the titles of the three pieces that make up Alamari. To some degree the composer considers each piece a part of a single, larger work comprising his output as a whole, an ongoing transformation of a limited amount of expression, material, and processes.

Donatoni taught at the Bologna Conservatory, the Turin Conservatory, and the Milan Conservatory before holding the chair in advanced composition at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia. At least three generations of composers studied with Franco Donatoni, including Roberto Carnevale, Riccardo Nova, Javier Jacinto, Magnus Lindberg, and Esa-Pekka Salonen.