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Luigi Nono (1924-1990)



Complete Works For Solo Tape
  1. Omaggio A Emilio Vedova 4:53
  2. Musiche Di Scena Per "Ermittlung" 22:12
  3. Ricorda Cosa Ti Hanno Fatto In Auschwitz 11:15
  4. Contrappunto Dialettico Alla Mente 19:55
  5. Musiche Per Manzù 17:18
  6. Für Paul Dessau 7:07
  7. Trasmissione RAI 17 Novembre 1968: Contrappunto Dialettico Alla Mente 23:56
  8. Trasmissione RAI 21 Marzo 1970: Ricorda Cosa Ti Hanno Fatto In Auschwitz 3:20

At the end of his life, Luigi Nono habitually used pre-recorded tape and electronics in his works, combining them with live instruments to create a succession of delicate, increasingly rarefied sound worlds. But his exploration of the possibilities of technology had begun more than 20 years earlier and, through the 1960s, he had produced a series of works for tape alone, all of which are brought together in this comprehensive and scrupulously documented collection. The five-minute Omaggio a Emilio Vedova from 1960 was the first of them, and was to be Nono's only exploration of totally synthesised sounds; perhaps for that reason, it now sounds much more dated and cliched than the later works here. All Nono's subsequent tape pieces employed pre-recorded material, often text-based, from a variety of sources; the 1966 Ricorda Cosa ti Hanno Fatto in Auschwitz, for instance, a recomposition of material from his score for a play by Peter Weiss, creates a tapestry of colours from a children's choir and phonetic sounds sung by a solo soprano.

Contrappunto Dialettico alla Mente was originally commissioned for the Prix Italia in 1968, but because of the anti-American sentiments of the texts, it was eventually excluded from the competition. It's the finest of Nono's purely electronic pieces, a beguiling fusion of the sounds of his home city of Venice with a collage of poetic texts that brings his music much closer than usual to the world of his contemporary Luciano Berio. If 1969's Musiche per Manzo is less a finished composition than a series of short soundscapes which were originally intended to accompany a documentary film, then Für Paul Dessau, from five years later, was written for the 80th birthday of the East German composer. It weaves together sound bites from speeches by Lenin, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro with extracts from some of Nono's earlier works that Dessau particularly admired. It might be an occasional piece, but it's one put together with all Nono's usual concentration over every aural detail.


Various Tracks
  1. La Fabbrica Illuminata - 1964 - soprano, choir and tape

  2. Das atmende Klarsein - 1980-81 - bass flute and tape

  3. A Pierre. Dell'Azzurro Silenzio, Inquietum - 1985 - choir, contrabass flute in G, contrabass clarinet and live electronics

Above tracks from History of Electronic / Electroacoustic Music (1937-2001)


Canti di vita e d'amore & Other Works (1972)
  1. Canti di vita e d'amore (17:25)
  2. Per Bastiana (15:13)
  3. Omaggio a Vedova (4:55)

Track 1: for soprano solo, tenore solo and orchestra.
Track 2: for magnetic tape and orchestra in 3 groups.
Track 3: for magnetic tape.




NONO, Luigi (Venice, 29.1.1924 - Venice, 8.5.1990)

LIFE AND WORKS. Born into a family of artists – his grandfather Luigi was a painter and his uncle Urbano a sculptor – Nono took an interest from an early age in cultural history and art. His interest in music was encouraged by his parents, who were amateur musicians and who owned a sizable collection of recordings. From 1943 to 1945 he studied composition with Malipiero at the Venice Conservatory, where there was an emphasis on vocal polyphony and the madrigal tradition, as well as an awareness of the music of the Second Viennese School, Stravinsky and Bartók. Nono’s experiences of the war, of the Nazi occupation and the Resistance were fundamental to his general development, while musically his meeting with Maderna was critical; from 1946 onwards they forged a long-lasting association. A small community of musicians grew up around them in Venice who, through the examination of the contrapuntal, harmonic and formal foundations of European art music, aimed to develop a new musical language. Their main point of reference was Dallapiccola, who belonged to the preceding generation of Italian composers and with whom Nono developed a relationship of reciprocal esteem and friendship in 1947. The group shared in particular a desire to discover and learn from the Second Viennese School.


In 1948 Nono and Maderna took part in Scherchen’s conducting course in Venice, following which they worked together for the publishers Ars Viva. For several years Scherchen became their mentor, and through private lessons (at Rapallo, 1952–3) Nono studied further the compositional techniques of Bach, Beethoven, Schoenberg and Webern. On Scherchen’s recommendation he was accepted as a student on the 1950 Darmstadt summer course, at which the first performance of his Variazioni canoniche sulla serie dell’op.41 di Schönberg provoked contrasting reactions. In Darmstadt he attended classes given by Varèse, whose influence became progressively more apparent in his work. Until 1959 – the year of his controversial lecture Geschichte und Gegenwart in der Musik von heute – he continued to take part at the Darmstadt courses (from 1957 as a teacher), during which many of his compositions were performed for the first time and important discussions and meetings took place. He came into contact there with members of the Schoenberg school, in particular the violinist Rudolf Kolisch, with whom he collaborated on the composition of his Varianti; in 1955 he married Schoenberg’s daughter, Nuria. The Darmstadt summer courses confirmed Nono’s leading position and, together with Boulez and Stockhausen, he became a key figure in the European avant garde.


Nono’s musical technique and artistic stance developed not only through contact with the international musical community, but also from works and figures in other cultural fields. His friendship and later collaboration with the painter Emilio Vedova, his study of the theatrical ideas of Meyerhold, Piscator and Josef Svoboda, his exposure to the philosophical and political thought of Gramsci and Sartre, and the poetry of García Lorca, Neruda, Eluard, Pavese and Ungaretti were of crucial importance at that time. From these poets Nono took the texts for his vocal works of the 1950s : Tre epitaffi per Federico García Lorca, La victoire de Guernica, La terra e la compagna and Cori di Didone. In the last two of these, and in the unquestionable masterpiece of his first decade’s work, Il canto sospeso (1955–6) to texts by condemned prisoners of the European Resistance, Nono made use of a new style of singing which involves the fragmentation of the text and its attachment to musical structures which vary from a single line to diverse types of textural layering. Nono’s intense involvement in the social issues of his time gave rise to a style in which sound and text are inextricably linked; in which the work takes a firm hold in the ‘real’ world, as a kind of a historical record. Increasingly, Nono used texts with political references (he had in 1952 become a member of the Italian Communist party), culminating in the stage piece Intolleranza 1960 which, at its first performance in Venice (1961), provoked protest and uproar. It represented a turning-point, not only because for the first time it made concrete Nono’s ideas for a new form of music theatre which he had been developing in the 1950s, but also because it revealed the extent of the political conflict in which the composer felt himself involved: racial intolerance, fascist violence, exploitation of the working classes, and the struggle for freedom and independence in developing countries.


Nevertheless, Nono must still have felt his means of musical expression to be insufficiently developed to articulate these ideas; for immediately after Intolleranza 1960, he turned to work almost exclusively with electronics. In the RAI Studio di Fonologia in Milan he began work on a new stage composition, which was to evolve into a series of uncategorizable works. The first was La fabbrica illuminata (1964) for female voice and tape, the tape part comprising sounds recorded in a factory, workers’ voices, a choir and the soloist herself (originally Carla Henius). A floresta è jovem e cheja de vida (1966) and Y entonces comprendió (1969–70), among other works, went to confirm certain fundamental aspects of Nono’s musical thought: the use of vocal material, with singers and actors chosen for their particular timbre and quality of gesture; interaction between live voices and their alter ego on tape; amplification to highlight aspects of the sound which would otherwise be difficult to perceive; diffusion of the sound from different points in space; and, last but not least, the employment of texts which document contemporary history. These works represent an avant-garde stance which, abandoning traditional musical narrative and grammar, employs the most advanced technical means in order to expose the structures of political power.


The 1960s witnessed intense confrontation between the theory and the practice of Marxism, and Nono played a significant role in these events. In 1965 he realized a tape score for the play Die Ermittlung by Peter Weiss; the following year he worked on material for Living Theatre; 1967 saw his first long trip to Latin America where he met the leading figures of cultural and political opposition; and in 1968 he collected materials from the student protests in Paris, which are used in Musica-manifesto no.1. The texts Nono employed during this period together create what amounts to a map of socialist culture: from Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, Bertolt Brecht and Malcolm X, to revolutionary documents from various continents. Nono’s theatre piece Al gran sole carico d’amore (1972–4) – in which events from different epochs are fused together under the common theme of women’s struggle for liberation – is both the synthesis and conclusion of his openly declared political position.
With the string quartet Fragmente–Stille, an Diotima (1979–80), he seemed to be entering a more private phase in his career, focussed on more abstract musical concerns. But although Nono worked with new ideas in this and subsequent pieces he did not abandon the fundamental aesthetic and technical issues of the previous decades. For example, form constructed from a discontinuous series of fragments – with which Nono had experimented for the first time at the end of the 1950s in the orchestral Diario polacco ’58 – was now brought to the fore, with a considerable reduction in the length and dynamic level of what might be described as sonorous islands, amid a scenery of silence. There continued, too, the conception of the performer as a source of individual material, developed through collaborative exchange with the composer (in the 1970s this way of working had, with Pollini, given rise to Como una ola de fuerza y luz and … sofferte onde serene …). And Nono remained convinced of the need for technology in the process of musical creation. Indeed, the themes of violence, oppression and utopian tension had not disappeared either, only now they were no longer dealt with on a historical or documentary level, but rather on an individual level, taking on a quasi-ontological significance. Two factors, in particular, contributed to the characteristic features of this period: Nono’s meeting with the philosopher Massimo Cacciari, and his work at the Experimentalstudio der Heinrich-Strobel-Stiftung in Freiburg. The eclectic thought of Cacciari – strongly influenced by Hölderlin, Nietzsche, Rilke and Walter Benjamin, and also by the study of myth and Jewish mysticism – became an inexhaustible source of inspiration. The texts for Nono’s pieces were now formed from collections of fragments of literary and philosophical writing undertaken in collaboration with Cacciari; while in the Freiburg studio he worked closely with a team who were mastering the most advanced techniques for transforming sound in real time and diffusing it in space. His concept of ‘composition’ broadened, now taking into account the internal evolution of sound and its spatial trajectory. The most important project born out of the Freiburg experiments and his collaboration with Cacciari was Prometeo (1984), a large-scale work which represented a new stage in the development of that form of music theatre which, from the time of Intolleranza 1960 onwards, Nono had defined as azione scenica. However, during the composition of Prometeo every narrative, scenic and visual element was eliminated; there remained only a gigantic wooden structure, the shape of which resembles the keel of a boat, but whose function is that of a gigantic resonating case which the architect Renzo Piano planned for the interior of the church of S Lorenzo in Venice. Nono defined Promoteo as a ‘tragedy of listening’, alluding on the one hand to Greek tragedy with its stasimons and choruses and on the other to a drama which unfolds within sound itself. During the composition of the work he also turned at times to various shorter compositions for voices, a small instrumental ensemble and live electronics: Quando stanno morendo (Diario polacco no.2), Guai ai gelidi mostri and Risonanze erranti. The same years also saw the appearance of two major pieces for full orchestra – A Carlo Scarpa architetto, ai suoi infiniti possibili and No hay caminos, hay que caminar … Andrej Tarkowskij – in which conceptions of sound requiring the use of computers are re-thought on a purely acoustic level.



COMPOSITIONAL THEORY AND PRACTICE. Nono’s output reflects a continuous and coherent evolution in compositional technique, which goes beyond the controversial developments of 1959 (his polemical lecture against the Darmstadt circle) and of 1980 (the explicit emphasis on the internal dimensions of music). His notion of sound as a complex event with its own internal mobility, a notion that emerges explicitly in his last decade, is already evident in the early works which established his international reputation. These pieces, often discussed under the rubric of ‘integral’ serialism, bear the trace of the contrapuntal techniques of the Franco-Flemish school, which he had studied, and their influence on the dodecaphonic canons of Webern and Dallapiccola. However, even in his first work, the Variazioni canoniche, the principle of canon is varied to such an extent that it is no longer recognizable, even while it continues to serve as a basic structure. Variation, meanwhile, is redefined as a structural procedure involving the progressive transformation of the note row’s motivic content, using permutations of both pitch and duration (these parameters now being placed on an equal footing).


For a while Nono worked more intensively on the idea of the row as initial material, leading to ever-changing melodic-harmonic groupings. In Tre Epitaffi per García Lorca, Due espressioni and La victoire de Guernica, he also experimented with the serial development of rhythms from popular tradition, especially Spanish. However, the risk of a disparity between the compositional principles in operation and the material used – which, though fragmented and re-arranged, was still ‘recognizable’ – soon became a cause of dissatisfaction. Incontri announces his move to a more abstract, integrated kind of construction: durations and dynamics are linked together serially, and timbres, registers and textural density become fundamental musical parameters. In the essentially ‘physical’ concept of continuously evolving ‘sound complexes’, driven by a carefully designed macrorhythmic profile, the piece displays significant evidence of Varèse’s influence. With Il canto sospeso Nono reached the climax of his maturing process. The nine movements which comprise the work are all rigorously organized according to serial principles, though the number of elements, and how they are combined, varies from piece to piece. Starting with a limited nucleus – an all-interval row and a Fibonacci sequence – diverse results emerge, the nature of which depends directly on the meaning of individual texts and the dramaturgy of the work as a whole. Melodic splintering, in particular, marked by sharp contrasts of register and dynamics, introduces a new kind of signifying relationship between word and sound. In the instrumental and vocal compositions which immediately followed – Varianti, Cori di Didone, La terra e la compagna, Diario polacco ’58, Sarà dolce tacere, and Ha venido: canciones para Silvia – serial techniques are no longer used to generate new material but instead to determine the internal articulation of the sound aggregates. For example at the beginning of Varianti, a single pitch is varied using a sequence of changing instruments and dynamics: a Klangfarbenmelodie in miniature in which a kind of polyphony is created within the sound which endows it with extraordinary energy. These methods form the beginnings of the late orchestral compositions of the 1980s, such as A Carlo Scarpa architetto, ai suoi infiniti possibili, in which Nono worked extensively with single pitches, varying them by means of microtonal inflections, different combinations of timbre and texture, and spatial mobility.


Nono’s humanistic outlook was formed out of an insatiable curiosity for the viewpoints and methods of other artistic genres (theatre, literature, painting, architecture and cinema) and a strong interest in all human forms of communication (from the workplace to politics, from philosophical thought to the mythical and religious sphere): he believed that art is never exhausted in its technical capacity, that it reflects the totality of human experience. His entire body of work from Il canto sospeso onwards can be seen as an attempt to provide a satisfactory answer to Sartre’s question, ‘Why write?’; the Sartre-like reply, while varied in its musical expression over the course of time, was ‘in order to fulfil our duty to produce the world’. This is the source of Nono’s socio-political stance, completely at odds with that of, say, Eisler or his contemporary Henze. It was not for him a question of reproducing in music the emotions of suffering, scorn, anger, rebellion, desire and love of which the texts speak, or to which the titles of instrumental compositions refer; rather, it was the idea of formulating on a musical level, in the unshakable unity of sound, issues for which humanity demands urgent resolution: ‘To listen is to know’.


Fired by the conviction that all artistic activity must be motivated by ethical and political considerations, Nono considered that, for a piece to make an impact on reality, the composer must be familiar with the most advanced musical techniques of his age. The compositions in which Nono dealt explicitly with political issues thus became those in which he experimented most with electronic technology. In A floresta é jovem e cheja de vida, for example, the voices of a soprano and several actors, the sound of sheets of copper being struck and the multiphonics of a clarinet are transformed in the studio by means of a set of modulators and filters; the same sound sources interact live with the tape, creating situations of tension and resolution which redefine on a new semantic level texts from Fidel Castro, Patrice Lumumba, an anonymous student from the University of California, a South Vietnamese soldier, an Angolan guerrilla and Italian manual workers. In Quando stanno morendo (Diario polacco no.2) texts by Russian poets, including Blok and Chlebnikov, serve as catalysts to portray experiences in prison and exile in countries under the Soviet regime. This was also the first of Nono’s major works to treat voices and instruments in performance by means of a coordinated system of live electronics – involving delay, reverberation, harmonic spectrum modification and control of the movement of sound in space.
In his last decade, Nono saw his use of technology as having a positive role with regard to cultural, and hence social, emancipation. Nevertheless many commentators have continued to view the period quite differently, as one of individualism and the metaphysical; Nono’s image of Utopia redefined through his own concepts of ‘other ways of listening’ and ‘possible infinities’. These last works not only call for a new attitude to sound perception, but also require that spaces in which we listen, notation, the attitude of the performer and the whole conception of compositional work be changed. The position of performers and listeners was altered by placing individual instrumentalists or orchestral groups in different parts of the hall, while the fluctuating interior of the sound could now be controlled entirely through computer programmes, realized through collaboration with technicians. Such programming was adapted to every new environment, and this called for a new flexibility in musical notation, as well as the most sensitive understanding of the performers who – with their continuous micro-variations in pitch, dynamic and timbre – both act in and react to the overall sound production. There is now no longer a principal performer, but each member of the team, including the technicians, forms part of a larger reciprocally-acting mosaic of members. Virtuoso players are required, but not in the traditional sense of an athletic display of numerous notes and complex rhythmic figures; instead there is a sort of ‘static’ virtuosity, calling for concentration, control of the most subtle oscillations in sound and the ability to interact with the other ensemble participants. A work is thus no longer the product of a solitary composer, but the result of a continuous exchange of ideas within the triangle of composer–performer–technician. At the end of his artistic pilgrimage, Nono was still as rigorous and tireless in his experimentation as at the start. He tackled head-on many of the most salient questions of musical language of his time, and in so doing, opened up new horizons in composing and listening. He occupies a position at the very forefront of 20th-century music.

(Gianmario Borio)




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