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Was it its plenitude of prolonged silences, which demanded a whole new system of different fermata? Was it the sheer quietude of the piece, whose dynamic level seldom rises above pp, and often delves lower?
Or was it above all the surprise of having this fragile inwardness presented by a composer who had had a reputation for two decades of producing intense, confrontational music with revolutionary political intentions? In the discussion of these three main aspects the quartet — construction, aesthetics, and use of text — I will make comparisons to the ways they appear in selected earlier works of Nono.
The three phases of Luigi Nono In the first important phase of his career, Luigi Nono became known as one of the leading figures in the summer courses for new music in Darmstadt in the s. He was introduced to the milieu by Bruno Maderna and the conductor Hermann Scherchen, but his strong commitment to communism always distanced him somewhat from other dominant composers, like Boulez and Stockhausen.
In , he became a full-fledged member of the Italian Communist Party, and all through his life, he continued to regard his work as a composer as tightly connected to his political beliefs. But in the s, this bond was not as obvious in his music as it would be later. His debut work in Darmstadt in , Canonical Variations on the series of Op. But ensuing works like Polifonica-Monodia-Ritmica and his orchestral settings of poems by Garcia Lorca secured him the respect of his fellow composers, however, and in the early s, Nono was widely regarded as one of the main proponents of serialism.
In , his monumental work Il canto sospeso premiered to great success. It has been described as a modern cantata for soloists, choir, and orchestra, incorporating farewell letters written by political prisoners awaiting execution by the fascists during World War II.
He interpreted this turn as a way of coping with the inhumanity of the topic by resigning from communication. Now without the sense of belonging to the Darmstadt milieu, Nono took new directions. Nono began incorporating documentary material in his works, using taped speeches, slogans and street riots to make his political messages explicit.
However, he never embraced social realism; instead he further developed the means of musical modernism for his purposes. The tapes were electronically manipulated and sometimes blended with an almost violent use of instrumental cluster sounds. Even though, as his pupil Helmut Lachenmann has argued, Nono never ceased developing new sound qualities and compositional structures in his most overtly rhetorical works, it cannot be denied that this music was designed to make a strong emotional impact and inspire to political action.
In the second half of the s, however, things changed. Some concepts and ideas are stale; today it is absolutely necessary to place the imagination in the foreground as much as possible.
His friendship with the philosopher Massimo Cacciari — later to be mayor of Venice — had directed Nono towards enigmatic writers like Walter Benjamin, Rainer Maria Rilke and the pre-socratic philosophers. In addition to his deepened interest in introspective literature, Nono began experimenting with the perception of musical space by employing live electronics. Feeling much closer to the thinking of John Cage than he had done 20 years earlier, he now frequently spoke of — and composed with — silence.
But the details of his music were just as far from chance procedures and aesthetic indifference as they had been. Listening is very difficult. Very difficult to listen to others in the silence. Other thoughts, other noises, other sounds, other ideas.
When one comes to listen, one often tries to rediscover oneself in others. Instead of hearing the silence, instead of hearing the others, one often hopes to hear oneself. That is an academic, conservative, and reactionary repetition.
That is very difficult. I think it is a rare phenomenon today. To wake up the ear, the eyes, human thinking, intelligence, the most exposed inwardness. This is now what is crucial. One possibility is that it is largely a matter of proportions.
Nono clearly searches this expressive force negatively in most of the quartet, through almost painful pauses and prolongations and barely audible sounds. But there are also moments where more conventional gestures of force are transplanted into foreign surroundings, as if they were made subject to a detached analysis.
The score is divided into no less than 52 short sections. Through the approximately 40 minutes of playing time, any repetitions of melodic or rhythmic figures are extremely hard to spot.
The chromatic scale is extended with quartertones. About 40 different bowing techniques are requested by Nono, and the dynamics range from pppp to ffff, although the levels above mf are rarely used. Extreme differentiation — that sounds very much like the serialism of the s. Faced with such multiplicity, it is tempting for musicologists to try to put everything into its right place through analyses that reveal the system behind the chaos. The scale is irregularly shaped, beginning and ending with chromatic steps and consisting of three whole tone steps in the middle, and the descending scale is slightly altered.
Paul Griffiths argues that the heaping up of tritones — because of the properties of the scala enigmatica — is one of the aspects that give the work its consistency. Nono willingly shared his thoughts about the subject. What interests me much more than the structure here, is the quality of the sound. And significantly, given that Nono is constantly counted among the leading serialists, Griffiths regards his works from the s as atonal, but never really serial.
The comparison with Polifonia-Monodia-Ritmica reveals a vital distinction between the early piece and the quartet. Although there are frequent pauses in Polifonia- Monodia-Ritmica, there are no silences in the emphatic sense. Even within one bar, there is no overarching pattern of movement, no reminiscence of dance, and the movement from one acoustic moment to the next is only done with extreme hesitation.
I have already discussed the extreme differentiation of the sonic material, and how it has roots back to the early pieces of Nono. But the really significant move that Nono does in the quartet is to let the differentiation of the material become perceptible for the listener through the prolongation of sounds and insertion if silences.
The listener is not overwhelmed by information, but has the opportunity to reflect upon each sound or constellation of sounds.
A timely question is whether such a frequency of silences and fermata lends an aura of significance to any material. Who is Diotima? It is an interesting angle, and Nono himself often talked about this aspect in Musil. Many of the quotes are from the letters to Diotima in Hyperion, or from the Diotima poems. But the succession of text fragments does not constitute any discernible plot, Rather, each text fragment is isolated, and not very clear in itself, since Nono cuts of the beginnings and ends of the sentences with ellipses.
And does this manoeuvre have similarities to something he had done in earlier works? Of course, they are not sung; Nono does not make a traditional musical setting of poetry. In the discussion with the audience after the premiere, he even seems irritated that the texts has been printed in the concert programme, because it appears to have given listeners the distracting idea that the musical fragments illustrate the literary ones.
Even though they are not supposed to let the text fragments influence their playing in a programmatic way, Nono does not shy away from conjuring up poetic images for the performers.
What then, does this way of using text mean for the listener? Had he done something like that before? First, and least surprisingly, many of his works are homages: to his daughters, to painters and architects he admired, to composer friends in celebration or commemoration. The poem is in written in the score and set to a melody, but it is not supposed to be sung, but played by a flute. Stockhausen was undeniably right in stating that the actual meaning of the letters is frequently inaudible because of the complexity of the work.
For Nono, the meaning and historical background of the letters constituted the context of his work. It inspired the creation of the music, and it was presented as its conceptual frame. But what about the many overtly political works in his second period, which often include tape recordings of actual political events and situations?
The extra-musical context is of course put to the front in these works. In spite of the documentary material, the radical politics as such are not stated directly in the works. Rather, the sound documents that are used have this politics as their overarching context; and this context is intended to be transposed to the music. What Nono seems to strive for, is a humanly engaging context for his works, but simultaneously, he does not want that meaning to be tied to the musical structure in an unequivocal way.
In short, his aim is autonomous music which somehow — possibly through a negative dialectics — functions in a political way in society. In line with this interpretation, several commentators have stated that Nono did not stop making political music in his last period. But the manner has changed from rhetoric to silence, from persuasion to listening. Good listening was, for Nono in his last decade, a political act — good listening that would be searching for the other, and not only for echoes of the self.
However, I described the insertion of silences and seemingly endlessly prolonged sounds as the radically new feature in the quartet. This use of silences empowered the listeners, making the minute differentiation of the material perceptible in a new way, and opening up large spaces of reflection. I claimed that his primary focus was not on conveying a text, but on creating an engaging human context for his works.
However, the actual music was always meant to be regarded as autonomous on a detailed level. Nono had a preference for creating a vivid context while composing, and he regarded these extra-musical contexts as important, but not all- immersive aspects of his works.
He never lost faith in the possibility of combining politics with a modernist musical idiom. Whatever the context of a work, it was simultaneously conceived as an autonomous musical structure, with its material always highly differentiated and demanding the utmost concentration of the listener. But what was the turn made by Nono in the quartet, then?
The key word tends to be inwardness, and it seems that the turn was largely a turn towards not only personal, but also artistic self-reflection. Notes Bibliography. Related Papers. Presenting absence: constitutive silences in music and sound art since the s. By Juliana Hodkinson.
Fragmente - Stille, an Diotima, for string quartet