The Oboe Concertos of Bruno Maderna

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Subject: Oboe
Last updated: 06/10/2009
Tags: oboe, subject research

"Work in Progress"

Freedom And Form In The Oboe Concertos Of Bruno Maderna

(dissertation excerpt)

I have thought, while composing, that the music already existed and that she had always existed. Also the music I am writing. All that is required is an act of faith to sense it inside oneself, ìn oneself, and then to realise it in a score. 'Formal' and 'informal' are the same.[1]

Bruno Maderna (1920-1973), composer and conductor, wrote this to accompany his third concerto for oboe and orchestra. These words reveal a deep sensitivity and a touching modesty towards his art, while at the same time addressing one of the main compositional questions of his time - that of form.

During the middle of the twentieth century, musical form was in the process of undergoing a metamorphosis. Ever since late romantic and early twentieth century composers such as Wagner and Schönberg had first freed themselves from the traditional classical and romantic forms, neither content nor use of the term ‘form’ had been agreed on by composers or theoreticians. The late 1950s and 60s produced perhaps the strongest opinions on the matter thus far. One of the principal contributors to the early years of the Darmstadt Summer courses, Maderna, unlike many of his contemporaries, held a creative view that embraced technical innovation and personal expression. His philosophy on compositional techniques, which showed equal respect for both tradition and innovation, were very independent and kept him clear of the kind of radicalism displayed by some of his prominent colleagues.

Experiencing life as a struggle between the individual and the masses has found a means of expression in Maderna’s music. His stage work Hyperion (based on Friedrich Hölderlin’s writings) is a good example of how this experience became a poetic model for his composition. In a less explicit, yet omnipresent, purely musical way, most of the solo concertos use this model as well, especially the ones written towards the end of his career, amongst them the three oboe concertos of 1962, 1967 and 1973.

Maderna’s unique approach to composition and the great music that came to exist as a result form the topic of this dissertation. His views on form, and the importance of freedom of expression in composition, are vital to twentieth century music in that they offer a counterpoint to the radicalism of  the 1950s and 60s. With such a weighty catalogue of powerful original and moving works, it is astonishing how little has been written about the man and his music, and that there is virtually nothing written in English. The vast amount of literature written about form during his compositional years, coupled with the fact that Maderna was a regular contributor himself to debates on composition and form, only makes this even more baffling. Obviously, his fellow Italians are aware of his enormously valuable contribution to music, which has resulted in a fair number of thorough articles. The Netherlands - which he visited frequently, especially in the last years of his life - have honoured him with a small number of (romantic and ‘human’ rather than academic) writings and documentaries. With a background which includes languages along with twentieth century music performance, I felt it my mission to bring existing material together and elucidate for the English-speaking world the unique voice of this great Italian composer. It is my intention to make a case for Maderna’s courage to stay true to his view of music as a primarily expressive art, and, linked to this, his esteem for the musical past. Maderna’s explorations in the New Music were never for their own sake, never because the old ways were outdated and were therefore to be discarded, but always to find new, even better ways to serve the purpose of expression.

Maderna’s need for freedom as an individual and as a composer/conductor has resulted in music that also gives the performer a great sense of freedom and expressiveness. I will look at how this freedom is established, and how it relates to the question of ‘form’ - form being potentially restrictive to freedom. I will first introduce Bruno Maderna, the man, in his biographical and, more importantly, musical context. I will then, in Chapter 2, elaborate on form, and on the various techniques used by Maderna to support and express his ideas. In Chapters 3, 4 and 5 the three oboe concertos will be discussed, and I will show the development of form and freedom from the first (1962) to the third (1973). I have decided to include in my analyses only those musical elements that directly affect the form of Maderna’s works, in order to demonstrate his perception of form and its relationship to his desire for freedom, for both himself and the performer.

Maderna had a strong philosophy of freedom, one which clearly pervades his entire life’s compositional oeuvre. The materialisation of this freedom was a way of writing that allowed for the unexpected, both for the composer and the interpreter. Free form and aleatoric technique served this purpose best for Maderna, and because he was a composer and not an improviser, there is a certain element of control in this freedom: for himself as a composer in how he organises his material, and  for the performers (which would often include himself) through detailed comments and directions.

Over the course of the oboe concertos there is a clear development in the expression of Maderna’s philosophy of freedom. Most importantly, there is a strong increase in the use of aleatoric techniques over the course of the concertos, developing from aleatoric writing in either orchestra or solo to aleatoricism in both parts. On a more basic level interpretative freedom is given by proportional and graphic notation. Furthermore, the strong poetic model of the struggle between individual against the group, that established the relationship between solo and ensemble, becomes gradually less dominant, granting more space to a formal duality of aleatoric and fixed sections. Finally, this duality, too, looses its sharp edges, challenging the performers to contribute to the unity of the work through their musical decisions.

A continuity in the form of Maderna’s oboe concertos is their linearity: the freedom of the works is of the kind that involves a determined order of sound events, which are flexible in their structures.

With the increase of aleatoric writing, the scores become more and more sketchlike. Paradoxically, the more sketchlike the score, the more verbal comments and performance directions there are to accompany and explain the material. The first concerto is very much determined in its form and shows little aleatoricism. The second score is more of a visual adventure, involving more aleatoric technique, and has many more descriptive comments on the first page as well as in the score itself. As to the third concerto: this is a mere sketch of a score, for the understanding of which Maderna has added verbal comments. Although the editor’s (executive) comments are - or should be - of no importance to future performances, they do show the most important development clearly: the score of a work of free form is the source from which many possible performances spring, but in case yet another performance possibility should be desired, even if it exceeds what the score offers, there are no restrictions. The interpreter becomes composer, the work is only finished at performance, and will have to be finished over and over again to do justice to the numerous possibilities. The freedom for interpreters is primarily to be understood as freedom for the conductor who is for the most part the executive decisionmaker. Maderna’s double function as composer/conductor has certainly enhanced this way of thinking.

The planned composing of the Concerto per due pianoforti, violoncello e orchestra would only have been the next logical step in enhancing performance possibilities even further.



Books and articles


Baroni, Mario and                         Bruno Maderna documenti Milan, Italy: Edizioni Suvini Zerboni 1985  

Dalmonte, Rosanna                     Studi su Bruno Maderna Milan, Italy: Edizioni Suvini-Zerboni 1989     

Boehmer, Konrad                         Gehoord en ongehoord. Opstellen over muziek Utrecht, Netherlands: Oosthoek’s Uitgeversmaatschappij BV 1974

                                                     Zur Theorie der offenen Form in der neuen Musik Darmstadt, Germany: Tonos 1967

                                                     Das böse Ohr. Texte zur Musik 1961-1991 Cologne, Germany: DuMont Buchverlag (Herausgabe Burkhardt Söll) 1993                           Böhlen, Manfred Joh.                   Die Solokonzerte Bruno Madernas. Fragment 1986-88 Werl, Germany: mjbEDV 2000

Boulez, Pierre                              Orientations. Collected writings London/Boston: Faber and Faber 1986

Eimert, Herbert                            “The composer’s freedom of choice” Die Reihe 3 (1957/1959) pages 1-9

Fein, Markus                                Die musikalische Poetik Bruno Madernas. Zum “seriellen” Komponieren zwischen 1951 und 1955

                                                     Frankfurt am Main, Germany: Peter Lang Europäischer Verlag der Wissenschaften 2001

Fearn, Raymond                          Bruno Maderna Chur, Switserland: Harwood Academic Publishers GmbH 1990            

                                                     Continuity and change: the music of Bruno Maderna Thesis for the degree of Doctor in Philosophy University of Keele March 1989

Finscher, Ludwig (ed.)                 Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart - Maderna, Bruno Digitale Bibliothek Band 60 page 48587 vgl MGG Bd. 08 S. 1414

                                                    Zürich, Switzerland: Bärenreiter Verlag 1986                                                  

Heg, Hans                                   Terug naar Maderna [n.p.] Openbaar Kunstbezit TV Documentatie 1983

Hölderlin, Friedrich                      Gedichte. Hyperion. Munich, Germany: Wilhelm Goldman Verlag 1979

Kostka, Stefan                             Materials and techniques of twentieth century music Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey U.S.A.: Prentice Hall 1990

Maderna, Bruno                          “La rivoluzione nella continuità” First published as “La musique sérielle, aujourd’hui” in Preuves XV/177 December 1965.

                                                     Used for this dissertation from: Baroni/Dalmonte Studi su Bruno Maderna. See above

Manzoni, Giacomo                        “Bruno Maderna” Die Reihe 4 (1958/1960) pages 115-121


Nattiez, Jean-                                The Boulez-Cage Correspondence Cambridge: University Press 1993

Jacques (ed.)                                   

Paddison, Max                             Adorno’s aesthetics of music Cambridge: University Press 1993

Posthuma de Boer,                      “Eeuwige sneeuw. Han de Vries over Bruno Maderna” Preludium (October 1996) PAGES


Stenzl, Jürg                                  Von Giacomo Puccini zu Luigi Nono Buren, Netherlands: Frits Knuf [n.d.]

Stockhausen, Karlheinz               Stockhausen on Music. Lectures and interbiews compiled by Robin Maconie London/New York: Marion Boyars Publishers 1989

 Verzina, Nicola                           “Tecnica dei gruppi, scrittura timbrica, alea. Problemi micro e macro-morfologici in Stockhausen, Maderna e Boulez”

                                                     Nuova Rivista musicale italiana, vol 32, afl. 1-4 1998                                             

                                                    Bruno Maderna - étude historique et critique Paris, France: l’Harmattan 2003



[1] Ho pensato, componendolo, che la musica esiste già che è sempre esistita. Anche quella che scrivo io. È solo necessario un atto di fede per sentirla intorno a sé, dentro di sé e quindi realizzarla in una partitura. >Formale< ed >informale< sono la stessa cosa. Bruno Maderna, notes to his third oboe concerto. Translation Liesbeth Allart

Liesbeth Allart Oboe Teacher (East London)

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