[November 2000. Originally appeared in La Folia 3:1.]
My favorite Donatoni’s works are Tema and Cadeau. Donatoni thought of his output as all being part of a continuing, large, perhaps never to be completed piece. Sometimes this resulted in a too-great homogeneity among groups of pieces or pieces written within a certain span of time. For me, Tema and Cadeau highlight what’s unique and most beautiful about Donatoni’s music while also remaining distinct within that body of work.
I think in many ways Donatoni’s use and re-use of similar materials, using both macro- and micro-scale transformative processes (intuitive but derived from long work in the serialist vein), is nothing short of fascinating. I’m drawn to the more crystalline pieces, crystalline not only in the surface sense of clear, translucent scoring but also in the sense of stable but organically transformed musical structures. Listening sequentially to groups of explicitly linked works can be a real lesson in composition.
Andrew Ford’s Composer to Composer (Allen & Unwin, 1993) has an interview with Donatoni that gives the man some character for those of us who never met him. If you haven’t read the interview, you might want to check it out, whether for your own use or for useful quotations for La Folia.
I can’t pretend I know much about Donatoni’s earlier music, and my knowledge of even the accessible later stuff isn’t particularly profound. I have listened thoughtfully (I hope) to most of the available recordings in the U.S. of his music, and I’ve heard at least one major piece (Le Ruisseau sur l’escalier) in concert. I know nothing of really recent pieces, though, since no one is recording them and America hardly knows he exists. [Let’s at least hope for a post-mortem correction. Ed.]