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Franco Donatoni (Composer, Arranger)

Born: June 9, 1927 - Verona,.Italy
Died: August 17, 2000 - Milan, Italy

The noted Italian composer and pedagogue, Franco Donatoni, started studying violin at the age of 7. 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 (1946-1948), he was a student of Lno Liviabella at the Bologna Conservatory, where he took diplomas in composition and band orchestration (1949), choral music (1950), and composition (1951). He pursued advanced composition studies with Pizzetti at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome (graduated, 1953), and then attended the summer courses in new music in Darmstadt (1954, 1956, 1958, 1961).

Franco Donatoni taught at the Bologna Conservatory (1953-1955), the Turin Conservatory (1956-1969), and the Milan Conservatory (1969-1978) before holding the chair in advanced composition at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia. He also taught advanced composition at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena (from 1970), and was concurrently on the faculty of the University of Bologna (1971-1985). In addition, he taught at the Civica Scuola in Milan, the Perosi Academy in Biella, and the Forlanini Academy in Brescia; also gave master-classes.

At least three generations of composers studied with Franco Donatoni. Among the Italian ones: Matteo D'Amico, Roberto Carnevale, Giulio Castagnoli, Ivan Fedele, Sandro Gorli, Luigi Manfrin, Giorgio Magnanensi, Luca Mosca, Riccardo Piacentini, Fausto Romitelli, Riccardo Nova, Giuseppe Sinopoli, Alessandro Solbiati, Piero Niro, Giovanni Verrando and among the foreigner ones: Gilles Bellemare, Pascal Dusapin, Javier Jacinto, Magnus Lindberg, Pierre Kolp, Javier Torres Maldonado, Katia Tiutiunnik, Juan Trigos. Also the Finnish composer Esa-Pekka Salonen studied composition with him.

In 1990 the Settembre Musica festival in Turin dedicated an extensive monographic programme to Franco Donatoni. In 1991 he was invited to Australia by the Elision Ensemble to hold a series of seminars at the Italian Cultural Institute in Melbourne. In the course of this trip the world premiere of Refrain II was performed. From June to October 1992 the Milano Musica concert series realised an important series of concerts in his honour; the 8 concerts featured a number of his most important compositions including the world premieres of Feria II for organ and the first part of J.S. Bachís The Art of the Fugue (BWV 1080) (Counterpoints I-VII) transcribed by Donatoni for orchestra (the second part, Counterpoints VIII-XIV, was performed posthumously by the Orchestra Nazionale della Rai in Turin in November 2000).

Of the compositions written in the decade 1990-1999 mention must be made of Sweet Basil for trombone and big band (1993), commissioned by the French Ministry for Culture and Communications, Portal for bass clarinet, clarinet in B flat, E flat clarinet and orchestra (1995), on commission from Radio France, In Cauda II (1996), on commission from the Süddeutscher Rundfunk Stuttgart, and In Cauda III (1996). Still in 1996 he completed the cycle (begun in 1983) of the Françoise Variationen for piano. In September 1998, at the Music Festival in Strasbourg, his short comic opera Alfred, Alfred was performed. 1999 saw the performance of Fire (In Cauda IV) and, on commission from the Salzburg Festival, Poll for 13 performers. His last orchestral works Esa (In Cauda V) - on commission from the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra - and dedicated to the orchestraís conductor as well as former pupil of the composer Esa-Pekka Salonen (Donatoni even used letters from Salonen's first name as part of the musical material), and Prom - on commission from the BBC Proms - were performed posthumously: respectively in February and May of 2001.

As a composer, Franco Donatoni was deeply influenced by Arnold Schoenberg, Pierre Boulez, and Stockhausen, particularly in his mature aleatoric style. His gifts as a master of his craft are most fully revealed in his orchestral works and chamber music, which are notable for their imaginative manipulation of sonorities and colours. His compositions have been conducted by Claudio Abbado, Pierre Boulez, Bruno Maderna, Salvatore Accardo, Alain Meunier, and many others.

In addition to his memberships in the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and the Accademia Filarmonica of Rome, the French government honoured Franco Donatoni as a Commandeur of l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1985. He also won many prizes, including: Liège in 1951 for Quartetto; Radio Luxembourg in 1951 for Concertino and in 1953 for Sinfonia; International Societry for Contemporary Music in 1961 for Puppenspiel; Marzotto in 1966 for Puppenspiel nį2; Koussevitzky in 1968 for Orts; Psacaropoulo in 1979 for Spiri.


Franco Donatoni is among the most prominent Italian composers of his generation, along with his contemporaries Luciano Berio and Nono. Donatoni's most prominent early influence was Béla Bartók, along with his countryman Petrassi. To them one might trace the roots of Donatoni's distinctively vibrant rhythmic style and concern for instrumental colour.

In the 1950ís, 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 1950ís. 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 what stands virtually as 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. (Some of the music that was in circulation by that time remains available and published.) Etwas ruhiger im Ausdruck is based on a fragment of a Arnold Schoenberg piano piece that includes the title phrase as a performance instruction. Donatoni found a new way to compose via the proliferation of A. Schoenberg's seed material.

Another crisis arose in 1974, precipitating a break in productivity that lasted more than two years. The first piece after that hiatus was Ash, written on commission from the Chiagi academy. Donatoni's wife convinced him to accept the commission and complete the work. Although the composer is convinced that his crises reappear every seven years or so, there have been none so devastating as that of the mid-1970ís.

Franco Donatoni's late work is characterized by driven rhythms, quick-cut changes in texture, and compulsive development of constrained melodic material. Pieces from this period include the quasi-cello concerto Le Ruisseau sur l'escalier (The Brook on the Staircase, 1980), L'ultima sera (1980), Tema (1982), the woodwind quintet Blow (1989), and the solo piano Françoise Variations (1983-1996). He has written a great deal of vocal work, though his instrumental work is better known. In a macro-scale refraction of the development processes within his pieces, Donatoni continues to reuse and re-contextualizematerial from one piece to the next. For example, his instrumental work Tema uses material from the vocal-and-ensemble work L'ultima sera. Titles, too, are subject to anagrammatic and other transformations, leading to chains of relationships: for example, Tema deriving from the middle part of L'ultima, and the piece names Ala and Rima combining for the later title 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. The technique and invention of this output relies on, but is not limited by, Franco Donatoni's assimilation of the major tenets of avant-garde musical thought since the 1950ís.


Dramatic: Opera:
Atem (1983-1984; Milan, February 16, 1985)

La lampara (1957)

Concertina for Brass, Timpani, & Strings (1952)
Concerto for Bassoon & Strings (1952)
Overture for Chamber Orchestra (1953)
Sinfonia for Strings (1953)
Divertimento I for Violin & Chamber Orchestra (1954) and II for Strings (Venice, September 10, 1965)
Musica for Chamber Orchestra (1955)
Strophes (1959; RAI, January 30, 1960)
Sezioni (1960; North German Radio,
Hamburg, May 14, 1962)
Puppenspiel I (1961; Palermo, October 8, 1962) and II for Flute & Orchestra (Valdagno, September 17, 1966)
Per orchestra (1962; Warsaw, September 24, 1963)
Black and White for Strings (1964; Palermo, September 6, 1965)
Doubles II (1970; Venice, January 15, 1971)
To Earle I for Chamber Orchestra (1970; Bolzano, February 2, 1971) and II (1971-1972; Kiel, September 2, 1972)
Voci (1972-1973; Rome, February 3, 1974)
Espressivo for Oboe & orchestra (1974; Royan, March 24, 1975)
Duo per Bruno (1974-1975; West Gennan Radio, Cologne, September 19, 1975)
Portrait for Harpsichord & orchestra (1976-1977; Radio France, Paris, October 6, 1977)
Le ruisseau sur l'escalier for Cello & Chamber orchestra (1980; Paris, April 30, 1981)
Sinfonia Op. 63 "Anton Webern" (Naples, May 13, 1983)
Diario '83 for 4 Trumpets, 4 Trombones, & orchestra (1983-1984; Milan, February 16, 1985)
Eco for Chamber orchestra (1985-1986)
Concerto grosso for orchestra & Electronics (Bologna, June 5, 1992)

Quartetto I (1950), II (1958; Florence, March 23, 1962), and IV (Palenno, October 5, 1963) for String Quartet
Viola Sonata (1952)
Harp Sonata (1953)
Movimento for Harpsichord, Piano, & 9 Instruments (Milan, November 30, 1959)
For Grilly for 7 Instrumentalists (Rome, May 24, 1960)
Asar for 10 Strings (1964)
Etwas ruhiger im Ausdruck for Flute, Clarinet, Violin, Cello, & Piano (1967; Rome, February 1, 1968)
Souvenir I: Chamber Sym. for 15 Instruments (Venice, September 12, 1967) and II: Orts for 14 Instruments & Speaker ad libitum (Paris, March 21, 1969)
Solo for 10 Strings (1969)
Estratto I for Piano (1969; Trieste, February 19, 1970), II for Piano, Harpsichord, & Harp (Brescia, June 9, 1970), IV for 8 Instruments (Rome, February 3, 1974), and III for Piano & Wind Octet (1975; Milan, February 12, 1976)
Lied for 13 Instruments 0972; Siena, September 3, 1973)
Jeux pour deux for Harpsichord & Organ (1973; Royan, March 28, 1975)
Duetto for Harpsichord (Brescia, June 5, 1975)
Lumen for 6 Instruments (Siena, August 27, 1975)
Ash for 8 Instruments (Siena, August 27, 1976)
Musette per Lothar for Musette (Siena, August 27, 1976)
Toy for 2 Violins, Viola, & Harpsichord (Turin, June 23, 1977)
Algo for Guitar (Milan, November 2, 1977)
Ali for Viola (Paris, June 26, 1978)
Spiri for 10 Instruments (Rome, June 18, 1978)
About... for Violin, Viola, & Guitar (Siena, August 25, 1979)
Argot for Violin (Siena, August 25, 1979)
Nidi I for Piccolo (Venice, September 26, 1979) and II for Baroque Tenor Flute (1992)
Marches I for Harp (Berkeley, November 25, 1979) and II for Harp, 3 Women's Voices ad libitum, & Chamber Ensemble (Alessandria, September 18, 1990)
Clair for Clarinet (Siena, August 26, 1980)
Tema for Chamber Ensemble (1981; Paris, February 8, 1982)
Small for Piccolo, Clarinet, & Harp (Siena, August 25, 1981)
The Heart's Eye for String Quartet (Venice, October 7, 1981)
Fili for Flute & Piano (Venice, October 7, 1981)
Lame for Cello (Siena, August 26, 1982)
Feria I for 5 Flutes, 5 Trumpets, & Organ (Bologna, September 24, 1982) and II for Organ (Milan, June 17, 1992)
(28) Franfois Variationen for Piano (1983-1989)
Rima for Piano (Cortona, July 9, 1983)
Alamari for Cello, Double Bass, & Piano (Siena, August 29, 1983)
Ala for Cello & Double Bass (1983; Siena, August 23, 1985)
Ronda for Violin, Viola, Cello, & Piano (La Rochelle, June 24, 1984)
Lem for Double Bass (Sesto San Giovanni, March 31, 1984)
Ombra for Bass Clarinet (Certaldo, July 26, 1984)
Darkness for 6 Percussionists (Strasbourg, September 18, 1984)
Cadeau for 11 Instruments (Turin, July 7, 1985)
Septet for 2 Violins, 2 Violas, & 2 Cellos (Cremona, September 22, 1985)
Omar for Vibraphone (Siena, August 23, 1985)
Refrain I for 8 Instruments (Amsterdam, July 7, 1986) and II for Chamber Ensemble (Melbourne, September 29, 1991)
Arpege for 6 Instruments (1986; Paris, March 30, 1987)
Flag for 13 Instruments (Milan, May 9, 1987)
Ave for Piccolo, Glockenspiel, & Celesta (Strasbourg, October 3, 1987)
Short for Trumpet (Cosenza, May 9, 1988)
La souris sans sourire for String Quartet (1988; Paris, December 18, 1989)
Cloche I for 2 Pianos, 8 Winds, & 2 Percussion (1988-1989; Strasbourg, September 19, 1989), II for 2 Pianos (Rome, October 1, 1990), and III for Chamber Ensemble (Ravenna, July 21, 1991)
Frain for 8 Instruments (1989)
Soft for Bass Clarinet (Fenno, July 31, 1989)
Midi for Flute (Turin, September 27, 1989)
Hot for Soprano or Tenor Saxophone & Chamber Ensemble (Metz, November 17, 1989)
Blow for Wind Quintet 0989; Milan, February 11, 1990)
Caglio for Violin (Milan, November 28, 1989)
Chantal for Harp, Flute, Clarinet, & String Quartet (Geneva, July 12, 1990)
Het for Flute, Bass Clarinet, & Piano (Siena, August 22, 1990)
Rasch for Saxophone Quartet (Graz, October 6, 1990)
Spice for Violin, Clarinet, Cello, & Piano (1990; London, February 19, 1991)
Holly for Chamber Ensemble (1990; Toronto, March 22, 1991)
Bok for Bass Clarinet & Marimba 0990; Rome, April 8, 1991)
Sweet for Flute (1992)
Sincronie for Piano & Cello (Huddersfield, November 28, 1992)

Il libro dei sette sigilli for Soloists, Chorus, & orchestra (1951)
Serenata for Woman's Voice & 16 Instruments (Milan, April 11, 1959)
Madrigale for Chorus & Percussion Quartet (1968)
Arie for Voice & orchestra (1978; RAI, Rome, March 15, 1980);
... ed insieme bussarono for Woman's Voice & Piano (Strasbourg, November 7, 1978)
De Pres for Woman's Voice, 2 Piccolos, & 3 Violins (Radio France, Paris, February 9, 1980)
L'ultima sera for Woman's Voice & 5 Instruments (1980; Radio France, Paris, June 18, 1981)
Abyss for Woman's Voice, Flute, & Instruments (Metz, November 18, 1983)
In cauda for Chorus & orchestra (1983; Cologne, December 6, 1991)
She for 3 Sopranos & 6 Instruments (Rome, September 24, 1983)
Still for High Soprano & 6 Instruments (Milan, April 21, 1985)
O si ride for 12 Vocalists (1987; Paris, May 19, 1988)
Cinis for Woman's Voice & Piano (Strasbourg, September 21, 1988)
Ase: Algo II for Woman's Voice & Guitar (1990)
Aahiel for Soprano or Mezzo-soprano, Clarinet, Vibraphone or Marimba, & Piano (1992)

Quartetto III (1961; Venice, April 15, 1962)

Questo (Adelphi, Milan, 1970)
Antecedente X (Adelphi, Milan, 1980)
Il sigaro di Armando (Spirali Edizioni, Milan, 1982)
In-oltre (Edizioni L'Obliquo, Brescia, 1988)

Source: Bakerís Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997); Wikipedia Website (October 2010); IRCAM Website (2008); All Music Guide (Author: Robert Kirzinger); Casa Ricordi Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (August 2011)

Franco Donatoni: Short Biography) | Arrangements/Transcriptions: Works | Recordings

Links to other Sites

Franco Donatoni (Wright Music) [PDF]
Franco Donatoni (IRCAM) [French]
Franco Donatoni (Casa Ricordi)
Franco Donatoni (Hollywood Bowl)

Franco Donatoni (Wikipedia)
Franco Donatoni - Biography (AMG)
Franco Donatoni (Classical Composers Database)
Counterpoint Music Library - Composer Information


G. Mazzola Nangeroni: Franco Donatoni (Milan, 1989)
Settembre Musica, edited by Enzo Restagno (EDT, Turin, 1990), was dedicated to the Franco Donatoniís life and work

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