Nono: A Pierre Etc

Photo: Nono: A Pierre Etc



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Luigi Nono A Pierre – Dell’Azzurro Silenzio Inquietum,
… Sofferte Onde Serene …,
Omaggio A Emilio Vedova (1960),
Con Luigi Dallapiccola.


A Pierre – Dell’Azzurro Silenzio Inquietum. Roberto Fabbriciani (Flute), Ernesto Molinari (Clarinet).

Experimentalstudio Des Swr.

…Sofferte Onde Serene… . Markus Hinterhäuser (Piano).

Experimentalstudio Des Swr, André Richard.

Omaggio A György Kurtág. Ensemble Experimental.

Experimentalstudio Des Swr.

Con Luigi Dallapiccola. Les Percussions De Strasbourg.

Experimentalstudio Des Swr.


Between 1981 and 1984 Luigi Nono created the first version of his central work of the 1980s, Prometeo. Tragedia dell’ascolto, and went on to produce its definitive version immediately after the premiere. He viewed all the works he composed after his legendary string quartet Fragmente – Stille, An Diotima (1979–80) as “paths leading to Prometeo”. But the piano piece …sofferte onde serene…, written for Maurizio Pollini (with a shadowy part for pre-recorded tape), and his commemorative percussion piece Con Luigi Dallapiccola already reveal initial signs of what would eventually lead, via the string quartet, to Das atmende Klarsein for chorus, solo flute and live electronics (1981). As Nono himself pointed out several times, only with this latter work did he attain what he had sought ever since Al gran sole carico d’amore, his “azione scenica” of 1975.

Revealingly, it was in November 1980, half a year after the quartet’s premiere, that Nono began to work in what was then known as the EXPERIMENTALSTUDIO of the Heinrich Strobel Foundation in Freiburg im Breisgau, headed by Hans Peter Haller. In the first half of the 1980s his overriding goal was the “Tragedia dell’ascolto” Prometeo. Originally this Prometeo was meant to end with the complete Das atmende Klarsein. The works that followed Prometeo proceed, in the main, from the compositional experiences he gained from that piece.

This fact is especially illuminating in the case of Omaggio a György Kurtág, which might be called Nono’s response to Omaggio a Luigi Nono (after poems by Anna Akhmatova and Rimma Dalos) that his friend Kurtág had composed for a capella chorus in 1979. The world premiere of Omaggio a György Kurtág in Florence was, by and large, an improvisation based on a number of agreements reached between the composer and his performers. But this “guided” improvisation in turn drew on the intensive experimental work that Nono had conducted with the players. It was not until three years later that he committed Omaggio a György Kurtág to paper in a written-out score.

All the works that originated in and with the Freiburg EXPERIMENTALSTUDIO, beginning with Das atmende Klarsein, are rooted to a considerable extent in this long-term direct collaboration with particular musicians. In turn, each new work formed a fresh point of departure for its successor. In an initial “experimental” phase Nono was at first chiefly concerned with exploring the timbral potential of each instrument and voice, taking advantage of the studio’s equipment. The resultant written-out scores are based on these experimental and improvisational materials and their potential transformation through live electronics.

No less significant were the ensuing rehearsals; Nono often postponed certain decisions in his written scores for this period of rehearsal. The joint elaboration of a piece with the musicians and the employees at the EXPERIMENTALSTUDIO fundamentally altered not only his method of composition en route to Prometeo and beyond, but also the relation between composer and performer. Several works, such as Risonanze erranti (1986), underwent various successive rewritings with each new performance before a definitive version finally emerged and was issued in print.

Unusually for Nono’s overall musical output, …sofferte onde serene… initiated a long series of small-scale works for the musicians he worked with so intensively. Practically all these musicians, including Roberto Fabbriciani (flute), Ciro Scarponi (clarinet), Giancarlo Sciaffini (trombone and tuba) and Susanne Otto (contralto), also took part in his works for larger forces.

Following the premiere of the string quartet, much ink was spilt about an alleged volte-face in Nono’s music after Al gran sole. But even those who were close to him at the time had little inkling of the reasons behind the noticeable changes in his style in the five years between Al gran sole and the string quartet – a period which managed to bring forth only …sofferte onde serene… and the work for Dallapiccola. Yet the commemoration of the dead unites these late works with Nono’s music from its very inception, as witness Tre epitaffi per Federico García Lorca, Canto sospeso and many other pieces. Nono even viewed his tribute to Pierre Boulez on his 60th birthday, A Pierre. Dell’azzuro silenzio, inquietum, as a backward glance at his first encounters with that composer.

Nono himself responded to such questions in May 1981: “After Gran sole I felt the need to rethink my entire output, and my entire existence as a musician of the present day and an intellectual in society, in order to discover new possibilities of knowledge and creativity. Many concepts and ideas are stagnant; today it is essential to put the imagination as far as possible into the foreground”.

Asked where he wanted to arrive, he replied, “Above all at Prometeo. But at present I have to clarify things for myself and form a better understanding of my own work. Up to now my works of music – in both the positive and negative sense – have been viewed far too schematically and ideologically, and my (musico-)linguistic, stylistic and structural concerns have been somewhat undervalued”. But this left unanswered the question of what drove Nono to these insights. The temptation to seek psychological answers remains great, but there is little likelihood that the answers are to be found in his biography, still less in his writings and letters: Luigi Nono’s biography is his music.

In the course of the 1980s Nono’s alternating periods of euphoria and deep depression seemed to swing further and further apart. But antitheses of this sort were nothing new. “Hardly anyone wandered about more defencelessly with his contradictions”, wrote Helmut Lachenmann, and continued with great perspicacity: “Above and beyond that, the complexity and ambivalence of the man Luigi Nono – his vulnerability and anguish, his warm-heartedness and cruelty, his profound boisterousness and depression, his reckless affection for and often ice-cold detachment from his surroundings, his inflammatory nature in both the positive and negative sense – all this may be further discussed by those who believe themselves equal to human complexity per se, and this with the resources of language”.

Yet Lachenmann was fully aware that Nono, in these years, had questioned himself with unparalleled radicality. After 1975 this vulnerable composer had torn down every protective barrier, even the ideological ones. He had become a seeker, wandering and questioning, and every work on our SACD bears witness to this.

More than that, for the Nono of the 1980s, the absolute centre of his composing resided in listening. He discussed this topic in March 1983 in a lecture delivered in Geneva with the revealing title Error as Necessity: “Hearing music. That’s very difficult. I believe it’s a rare phenomenon today. We hear literary things; we hear what was written; we hear ourselves in a projection …”.

Nono’s final works are prefaced with words by Antonio Machado, words that capture his personal view of composition and its objectives in the image of a wanderer: “Wanderer, your footsteps are / the road, and nothing more; / Wanderer, there’s no road, / the road is made by walking”.

What was crucial to the composer of these works is also of supreme importance for the listener – indeed, for listeners of all challenging music, whether it be medieval monophony, Josquin, Beethoven or the music of our time: a seeking, meandering, exploratory form of listening that opens up new horizons and uncharted universes of sound.

Jürg Stenzl
Translation: J. Bradford Robinson

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