DG 20th Century Classics
A collection of '70s works made under the direction of Claudio Abaddo and Nino Antonellini, respectively. On this disc, the great 20th century avant-garde composer's electro-acoustic work is presented in the highest standard, as one would expect from eutshe Grammophon. The three pieces of the title were composed between '68 and '78, and are considered by many to be the quintessential works by the Venetian composer. Atonality is used to express the subject matter of "Como Una Ola de Fuerza y Luz"; the text of the operetta addresses the communist revolutionary politics of which Nono sympathized throughout his life. The work uses a small orchestra, tape, and the soprano of Slavka Taskova, and is an arresting display of vertuosic composition using an avant-garde language of a 20th century master. "Sofferte Onde Serene" is an extraction on the relationship between piano and live tape machine that is explored in the previous piece in the context of the orchestra. Nono achieves stunning effects of interactivity beween pre-recorded and live piano performed by Maurizio Pollini. "Contrapunto Dialettico Alla Mente" is a 1968 tape and vocal piece which is highly politicized, a critique of the Vietnam War. Using a poem by revolutionary poet Sonia Sanchez on the assassination of Malcolm X, the European composer used his removed viewpoint to ruminate on the politics of the time. Within the context of his dexterous skill as a tape music composer, this piece comes to life as a strongly narrative and sonically complex modernist work.
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NONO:COMO UNA OLA DE FUERZA Y LUZ
.....SOFFERTE ONDE SERENE ...
CONTRAPPUNTO DIALETTICO ALLA MENTE
"The presence of history in the music of today" is the title of a lecture delivered by Luigi Nono in Darmstadt in 1959: it is a formulation that embraces the central elements of his own activity as a composer. Nono's music crosses the frontiers of the purely-musical, confronting and adopting a stance towards socio-political reality, which is expressed in his avant-garde musical idiom and in the subject-matter - particularly obviously in respect of the texts Nono has chosen to set. The resistance to Fascism is at the centre of his works of the 1950s (for instance Il canto sospeso, which sets texts taken from letters of resistance fighters who were condemned to death): the very recent past, still reverberating in the then present time. History is "present" in Nono's music in the technical sense too: earlier music is often invoked by formal ideas, treatment of texts and actual quotation, but always in an altered, assimilated form, amalgamated in the compositional fabric, "translated" into a modern musical idiom: history is appropriated by the present. This "total engagement, ideological and technical" (Nono's own term) goes back to his work with his friend and teacher Bruno Maderna and with Hermann Scherchen. The "dirty war" of colonial France against the Algerian independence movement - a bad shock to the European Left - creates a caesura: in Nono's music of the 1960s and 1970s, beginning with the stage-work Intolleranza 1960, the subjects are more immediate, the political expression and the musical language more radical. Twelve-note or serial processes, generally treated freely, remain important; Nono's work in the electronic studio (from 1960) led to the introduction of new materials: tape-recorded "documentary" sounds, modified electronically, and often combined with "life" instrumental and vocal sounds. The "concrete" material often relates to real-life social concerns: the situation of metal workers in La fabbrica illuminata (1964), the trial of Nazi concentration-camp executioners in Ricorda cosa ti hanno fatto in Auschwitz (1965), and student unrest in Musica-Manifeston. 1 (1968-69). The tape composition Contrappunto dialettico alia mente (1968) refers to the madrigal-comedy Il festino nella sera di giovedi grasso avanti cena (Small Party before Dinner on the Evening of Carnival Thursday) by Adriano Banchieri (1608). Nono wrote of it: "I'm seeking to reflect the type of musical process used by Banchieri: the focus on the voice, introduction of sound material of the time, humorous and parodic distortion especially in the lyrical and dramatic elements . . . but in today's actuality . . .". Nono's title ironically refers to "contrappunto alia mente", a favourite practice of Banchieri's time involving the improvisation of a counterpoint to a given bass - and the titles of the four episodes in the piece ring the changes on the titles of madrigals by Banchieri. The human voice is at the centre of the work, extended by electronic processes and by "concrete" material. Each episode demonstrates a different way of treating text and voice. The first "contrapuntally" elaborates sung vocalizations and spoken, whispered, screamed or sung fragments of a poem by the black American Sonia Sanchez about the assassination of Malcolm X, the black civil-rights campaigner. From restraint and mourning the music passes on to the vital sounds of everyday life, using material recorded on the market places and waterways of Venice. The second and third episodes are based on experimental texts by Nanni Balestrini. The dominant elements are the sounds of speech, much modified electronically: the second episode circles with an increasingly menacing denseness around the word-field "distruggere" ("destroy"); in the third the sound of a woman's voice speaking the episode's title is distorted to comic, absurdist ends, and transformed to a birdlike twitter by increasing the speed of the tape. The fourth episode heaps up layers ("contrapuntally" again) of material from its three predecessors, electronic sounds and - enunciated with great clarity - the bitterly ironic text of a pamphlet opposing the Vietnam War. Nono dedicated the work to Douglas Bravo, the leader of the National Liberation Front of Venezuela.
Even in the 1960s, not only did Nono (a member of the Italian Communist Party since 1952) demonstrate his political allegiance in his compositions, but he also took part in practical political and cultural-political work. This commitment, and collaboration with Maurizio Pollini and Claudio Abbado, led to the composition of Como una ola de fuerzayluz (Like a wave of strength and light, 1971 -72), the first work by Nono to give a leading role to the piano. During the preparatory work in the studio with Pollini (in September 1971), "news reached me from Chile of the accidental death of Lusiano Cruz, one of the young leaders of the M.I.R. (Movement of the Revolutionary Left)", Nono wrote. "I had got to know him in Santiago in June of that year as a man of powerful intelligence, and a solid friendship had developed. His presence in absence determined the choice of the final sound structure, its raison d'etre. I expanded the first draft by adding a singing voice (soprano) in some lines from a poem by the Argentine Julio Huasi... a poem about Lusiano Cruz." The voice, entering after an orchestral introduction, sets the character of the prologue, accompanied by the sounds of female chorus and solo soprano on tape. From beginning to end of the work, the live part is augmented by taped material - vocal, electronic and piano. The prologue is followed by a dialogue between piano and orchestra; starting in a very low register, the sound is steadily led up into higher regions and brightened, until at the end of the "live" section it reaches the top of the piccolo range - "a 'long march' from the low to the high register: highest tension" (Nono), so the meaning is scarcely that of "per aspera ad astra". Inasuccession of "waves", the dynamic and textural densities rise to their maximum level, create clenched blocks of sound of alarmingly unchained energy, and sink back to a minimum. In the conclusion -tape alone - the choral and solo soprano sounds of the prologue and the wave movement of the central part return as reminiscences: the dedication of the work is "Lusiano Cruz para vivir" ("That Lusiano Cruz may live"). The title of.....sofferte onde serene... (translatable, perhaps, as .....serene waves suffered. . .) has an indeterminate, hovering quality which derives from the unusual order of the words. Composed in 1976 and dedicated to Maurizio and Marilisa Pollini, it marks the new phase in Nono's compositional career that followed his second stage work Al gran sole carico d'amore (1972-75). The big contrasts, the "contrapuntalism", the use of heterogeneous materials, all the things characteristic of his earlier music, are abandoned here. Piano clusters are studied in a variational light; Nono shows particular interest in the control of the swelling and subsiding of reverberation, deriving an enormous variety of nuances from different kinds of attack and pedal-use, from stamps on the pedal that set the whole instrument reverberating, or - in the case of taped sounds -from careful electronic modifications. Taped and live sounds form independent planes without conflict: they complement and enlarge each other, with echoes and pre-echoes, and often run inseparably into each other: different aspects of a single object, musical musings on identity. The piece also contains some personal elements: sorrow for the death of relatives of Nono and Pollini, and the sound-world of Nono's home town of Venice:
" In my house on the Giudecca in Venice the sound of various bells rung in different ways and with different meanings reach our ears continuously, day and night, through the fog or in the sunshine. "They are indications of life on the lagoon, on the sea.
"Calls to work and to meditation, warnings. "And life continues there in the painful and calm necessity of the 'balance of the deep interior', as Kafka says." (Luigi Nono). .....sofferte onde serene... was the composer's first step along a new path, which has led him via the string quartet Fragmente - Stille, An Diotima to Prometeo; where it will lead him eventually is still uncertain.
-Doris Dopke (translation: Mary Whittall)