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Franco Donatoni


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Franco Donatoni 1927–2000

An Italian composer of singular originality and unimpeachable integrity, Franco Donatoni was also at heart an artisan for whom ‘inspiration comes when I put myself on a chair to write’. Yet, paradoxically, his journey towards maturity was periodically hindered by existential crises and stylistic false starts. Despite a career that spanned nearly fifty years, it is only his compositions of the last two decades or so that sing with his quirky, often radiant voice.

In common with many leading modernist composers, Franco Donatoni’s early life followed a conventional path. Born in Verona in 1927, he studied violin as well as composition, graduated in general studies and accountancy, and taught at the Conservatories in Bologna and Turin. His earliest, neo-classical efforts at composition from the 1950s show the unsurprising influence of Bartók, a composer whose technical procedures (though not soundworld) continued to fascinate him.

Friendship with Bruno Maderna provided another vital stimulus, and led him to Darmstadt and an absorption in the serial music of Boulez, Stockhausen and Berio, the fruits of which, as exemplified by the Tre improvizationi for piano (‘a bad copy of Boulez’s Second Piano Sonata’), were assimilated into a compositional armoury of considerable sophistication.

More lasting and crucial, however, were the Zen-Buddhist ideas of John Cage, which haunted Donatoni’s thinking in the 1960s.

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