Dubravko Detoni (born in Križevci, Croatia, 1937) is a composer, pianist and writer. He was educated in Zagreb, Sienna (Guido Agosti), Warsaw (Witold Lutoslawski) and Darmstadt (Karlheinz Stockhausen, György Ligeti), and studied with John Cage in Paris. He has written more than a hundred musical pieces, theatrical spectacles, multimedia and performance pieces, books of poetry, essays, commentaries and radio and TV programmes. As the founder and leader of the Ensemble for New Sound, ACEZANTEZ, he has performed across Europe, Asia and America.
Detoni’s compositions have been performed at all major international music festivals and have been published in over forty editions. He has received a number of awards and honours for his work, in Croatia and abroad. For his piece ‘Dolce Furioso’ he received the Croatian Discography Porin Award for Lifetime Achievement (2007).
Critics hold that, in his compositions, Detoni discloses his aspiration for balanced musical expression – mostly an expression based on dramatic changes and contrasts – while avoiding aggressive programmatic statements and illustrations, as is a customary trademark of contemporary avant garde music. He employs classical instruments and the heritage of electronic music to an equal extent, but in order to enrich the sound he frequently combines the expressive possibilities of both idioms.
A major part of Dubravko Detoni’s poetry is written as prose poetry. This specific, hard to define poetic form, rendered on a page as prose but distinguished by elements common to poetry – such as elaborate rhythms, intricate figures of speech, assonance, consonance and startling images – suits Detoni very well. His prose poems bear the mark of an artistic resolution: to avoid description, metaphors, simile and other staple poetic devices usually associated with, so to say, mainstream lyricism and poetry in general.
In an effort to build a bridge between music, as his first vocation, and poetry – as a means to convey his inner feelings, thoughts and states of mind stemming from one and the same field of artistic expression – Detoni employs language in a manner akin to the surrealists. And it was precisely a surrealistic poetics that enabled him to move freely through that field and to apply extra pressure where needed in order to write. His strange and beautiful prose poems have been described by critics as pictorial and verbal protuberances, gaining form in the process of cooling down from the very energy that initiated them.
In Detoni’s prose poems words are, in a similar vein to all poetry, generated as building blocks and elements used to construct multilayered meanings. Words can be abstract, as well as concrete, actors unified and scattered around in the same writing process, at times linked in metonymic chains and running away from the frame of the poem to convey meaning in unexpected directions. And sometimes they operate as vessels that contain letters and sounds, intended to anchor certain layers of the poem and prevent the always present danger of the poem falling apart under the apparently chaotic and relentless pressure of overwhelming emotions.
On the other hand, emotions are triggers to draw our attention towards what Detoni called “letters of Nature”, a non-verbal field which is “contagious with words”. As such, emotions offer us a glimpse of, and conceal from us, something lost and hidden that could have sublime qualities. Something sublime is often presented as inhumanly pure, as a background for “wild reverberations of silence”.
For Detoni, that silence is a place where poetry grows. A very similar understanding underlies his poetry for children. “Making a book for children,” wrote Detoni, “is like climbing a rainbow to steal a piece of the moon from the sky, it is like sitting at the top of a hill in silence, at the throne of the world, and slicing silence like bread.”
Panopticum musicum, essays, MIC, Zagreb, 1981
Glasovir na koturaljkama (Piano on Rollerblade), essays, Svjetlost, Sarajevo, 1989
Prekrasno čudovište vremena (Beautiful Monster of Time), essays, Mladost, Zagreb, 1989
Dimnjačar briše kući nos (Chimneysweeper Wipes Nose of the House), poetry for children, Mladost, Zagreb, 1991
Trulo svjetlo (Rotten Light), poetry, HSN, Zagreb, 1996
Noćni svirač (Night Player), poetry for children, Školska knjiga, Zagreb, 1996
Predasi tišine (Silence's Pauses), essays, MH, Zagreb, 2001
Priča prema gore (Upward Story), poetry, Meandar, Zagreb, 2005
Atlas života (Life Atlas), essays and prose poems, Fraktura, Zagreb, 2009
Info on Detoni in English, with link to his composition ‘Dolce Furioso’
Paradigm Disc publisher
Music Biennale Zagreb
Detoni comments on his compositions
(Croatian/English, requires PDF reader)
Detoni’s Croatian book publisher
Excerpts from Panopticum musicum in Croatian
Atlas života Excerpts from Detoni’s new book in Croatian