Blasts from the Past: Aldo Clementi – Madrigale

by 5:4

My next blast from the past is a rather lovely work by the Italian composer Aldo Clementi, who died in 2011. Clementi’s interest in both bell-type sounds (music boxes, carillons, etc.) and the notion of self-generating music can be heard to good effect in Madrigale, composed 35 years ago, in 1979. The title would appear to reference the Italian madrigale; originating in the early 14th century, these were usually written for two voices, setting idyllic texts—typically pastoral scenes or expressions of love—and characterised by their use of decoration, particularly melismas. Clementi’s work echoes some of these aspects, composed for two pianists (piano four hands) and tape; the piano is prepared with different materials used in each octave (beyond this Clementi doesn’t make specific demands), while the tape contains a pre-recorded part played by glockenspiel and vibraphone. This combination of metallised and plasticised percussive timbres creates a rich, bejewelled soundworld akin to a large music box, which Clementi reinforces by the heavily mechanical nature of the work’s material as well as its method of execution. In essence, the tape part acts as a click track of sorts, marshalling the pianists through a strict, linear rallentando that continues throughout Madrigale‘s 9-minute duration. At first, the tempo is rapid, pianists and tape creating a dense, swirling cloud-like texture formed from cycling patterns and phrases, but after barely more than a minute the music begins its inexorable, entropic drag, falling away dynamically as its tempo approaches ever closer to zero.

A charmingly simple piece, Madrigale says something quite strong about the ambivalence of the power of the moment, encapsulating the intensity of its energetic outburst, and the subsequent falling away and collapse in its wake. But i don’t hear the piece as yet another bland illustration of the ubiquity of decay—on the contrary, Madrigale is surely more positive than that: the way the pianists persist undaunted in their rotating patterns of musical material irrespective of the work’s gradual grinding to a halt is rather poignant; would that all things could continue with such focused determination towards their inevitable ends.

This performance was given by pianists Mats Persson and Kristine Scholz; the percussion part was recorded by Jonny Axelsson.

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