Luigi Nono // Franz Liszt
Canti di vita e d’amore. Sul ponte di Hiroshima / Eine Faust-Symphonie
- Salle Pleyel
Canti di vita e d’amore (Songs of Life and Love) by Luigi Nono cover three subjects: mass destruction, the tortured individual, and hope, both uncertain and impatient.
Dramatic blocks of orchestral sound conjure up the 200 000 victims of the bomb that hit Hiroshima and which is cursed for eternity in the song of a man whose face and hands are burnt by radiation. A veil conceals his face and, instead of fingers, a steel claw plucks the delicate strings of the instrument. Nono developed ideas of the philosopher Günther Anders (1902-1992), author of The Atomic Threat – Radical Considerations, seeing nuclear death as a warning, and decrying our blindness in the face of the apocalypse.
The second movement is a monody, intense and pure, where the solo soprano provides the voice for Djamila Boupachà, a prominent figure in the Algerian independence movement, a symbol of life, love and freedom in her constant struggle against colonial oppression and the torture she suffered at the hands of French troops.
The last movement includes verse by Cesare Pavese (1908-1950) in a song of joyfulness, striking strings, and with bells and metal resounding vibrantly, extolling love, not beyond the realms of reality, but “in the awareness of life.”
Nono, as a musician of political Utopia, challenged any idea of naive humanism as being, by definition, powerless. In contrast, Franz Liszt, in A Faust Symphony, offers a spiritual interpretation of redemption with a celestial image of peace and serenity. There is his supreme mastery of long developments built on simple motifs or even simple intervals, and also the orchestral virtuosity of the three portraits of characters from Goethe: Faust, Gretchen and Mephistopheles, the third being the figure of negation, solely employed in distorting and destroying the previous themes. But in the atomic age, as Günther Anders suggested, perhaps the Faust who dreamed of being a Titan has already died.
Luigi Nono, Canti di vita e d’amore. Sul ponte di Hiroshima
Franz Liszt, Eine Faust-Symphonie
Anu Komsi, soprano
Andrew Staples, tenor
Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France
Men’s Choir, Radio France
Sébastien Boin, choirmaster
Tito Ceccherini replace Mikko Franck, conductor
Coproduction Radio France and Festival d’Automne à Paris
With the support of Mécénat Musical Société Générale and the Ernst von Siemens Foundation for Music
Same concert/program: Festival de Laon (Cathedral), Laon, October 1, 8.30 PM (bookings: 03 23 20 87 50)
The concert in Paris will be recorded by France Musique radio station.
Master of Sounds and Silences*
Listening to Venice
In Venice, in the evening, the bells of the campanile ring out announcing the Angelus or Vespers. On La Giudecca, by the water shimmering between the island and San Marco, a magic acoustic spell is cast as the water, the canals, the labyrinth of narrow streets echo to the ringing of the bells, transforming them, changing the speed and shape of the sound waves, superimposing the sounds in a rich, dense polyphony, adding subtle pauses, to the point where it is soon impossible to identify the source of the sound.
Luigi Nono spoke of...
... being able to listen to the red and white stone of Venice at dawn.
... being able to listen to the infinite spectrum of colors on the lagoon at dusk.
The cycle devoted to Luigi Nono, the Venetian composer, by the Festival d’Automne à Paris extends over two years, 2014 and 2015, and is an invitation to experience such listening, to listen to the magic of the landscapes of the Laguna, the whisper of water, of wood and stone, “with awareness always related to our life,” and forever moving.
Space thus plays a part of the composition. Nono liked to refer to the Venetian masters of the Renaissance, to Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli, and Claudio Monteverdi; he had studied them when at the Conservatorio Benedetto Marcello after the war, with Gian Francesco Malipiero and Bruno Maderna, a close friend. The works of the Venetian masters would change according to the site for which they were intended, where they would be performed, being determined by the materials (marble, woodwork or tapestries) and the path the music would trace there. Composing first means listening. Each space clearly has a right and a left, a stereophonic movement, following the dual choirs of the past, the cori spezzati positioned face to face either side of Saint Mark’s Basilica. There are also circles and horizontals, ellipses and points, a front and back, an up and down, and the tempting prospect of breaking the frontal one-sided relationship of concert halls set by social ritual and pre-conceived ideas, the tempting prospect of breaking such a relentless visual focus to achieve listening within.
Slow, thorough attention to sound shall be the means of rediscovering the art of listening, now impaired by modern civilization operating at saturation point. And silence is then a link. Many works by Luigi Nono provide this link to be heard, a link that becomes essential to grasp each sound, for each sound is unique and fragile, never to be duplicated, never to be confused with another. This is the case of the three compositions Omaggio a György Kurtág, Risonanze erranti and “Hay que caminar” sognando.
Nono was outspoken in his criticism of any form of listening that was “academic, conservative, reactionary,” where it was certain that every reassuring habit and illusion would be obstinately confirmed. The art of listening for Nono could be described more as attention paid to others, to the intrinsic quality of the difference of others. Nono saw the works of Arnold Schoenberg in the light of his own readings of Jewish philosophers, and found the music to hold a lesson drawn from Hebraic thought, and that was to listen rather than to believe. Extremely fine dynamic nuances, down to ppppppp, bordering on silence, shun ambient chatter and urge the audience to strain to hear. It might be imagined that Friedrich Hölderlin (another author Nono read with great interest) would have spoken of “harmony of spirits.”
Experimentation with electronics plays a central role in this art of listening. From 1960 to 1976, Luigi Nono composed at the Phonology Studio at the RAI in Milan, working there on a regular basis. His generosity and constant concern for outcasts and victims of injustice, for those forgotten by history, brought a clearly political dimension to his works, as can be seen in this cycle with compositions such as Canti di vita e d’amore, A floresta é jovem e cheja de vida and Como una ola de fuerza y luz. He enjoyed the company of musicians such as Hermann Scherchen and Karl Amadeus Hartmann; for all three, music had to be built on the demands and values of the struggle against oppression and intolerance, embracing aspirations and hope, even to the point, at times, of using the metallic sounds of the massive rolling mill and blast furnace at the local (Italsider) steelworks.
Nono was thus part of the history of his time, and he traveled: to Prague, where he discovered the Laterna magika and the stage designs of Josef Svoboda; to Moscow where he had discussions with Dimitri Shostakovich, and was enchanted by Yuri Lyubimov’s Taganka Theater; to Berlin, both West and East, where he would often see the composer Paul Dessau and, in 1968, took part in the International Vietnam Congress, and in demonstrations organized by student movements. During a three-month trip to South America in 1967, he gave seminars in Argentina and Peru, and ended up being thrown out of Peru for speaking out in defense of political prisoners. Then there was Cuba, and Alejo Carpentier, discussing Edgard Varèse whom he had met some years earlier in Darmstadt.
Soon there was more than pre-recorded tape; sound was transformed with live electronics, using techniques which Nono had mastered in the early 1980s at the Studio in the Heinrich-Strobel Foundation in Freiburg (Germany), on the edge of the Black Forest. Here again there was space, but there were also filters able to modulate a given timbre, sounds programmed with different delays and timed intervals, one musician’s movements intersecting with the path of another musician, also moving, and so on. What was emerging was an aspiration to fields unknown, a quest to find other signals, other intervals, other nuances, other tempi and ways of playing, reviving techniques rarely used, drawing on forms of physical resistance inherent in the instrument as an object: for a stringed instrument, the bow, bridge or table, producing acoustic contact between horsehair or wood against the strings, even the physical breathing of the instrumentalist, and delicate Aeolian sounds. The result is the resonance of utterly original elements, each opening uncertain horizons, commanding attention as the ear listens in the distance to a holistic entity, both nostalgic and utopian. Every sound, every fragment, offers scope for multiple listening ventures, for discovering other paths, countless paths. The performers play a dual role, listening to themselves, individually and as an ensemble, listening to the transformation of the sounds they have just played, responding to them and composing within the given spatial context and in relation to the other musicians.
If the cycle were to be given a shape, it would be the geographical form of an archipelago, of islands separated by water and linked by the sea, sailing, but not the Odyssey across oceans. The art of Nono features myriad lines drawing such a voyage within each work. Prometeo (in the 2015 Festival d’Automne program), with the libretto developed by Massimo Cacciari (citing Hesiod, Aeschylus, Euripides, Goethe and Walter Benjamin), is divided not into acts or scenes, but into islands, reminiscent of the maps and charts of times past.
The archipelago formation also takes shape in Nono’s taste for the paintings of Tintoretto. Nono, and his friend the painter Emilio Vedova, would gaze intently at a Tintoretto, seeing lines of force winding in a spiral or fan shape, with sublime colors and light featured equally: islands of light altering the perspective and hierarchy of foreground and background. “Look at the way he [Tintoretto] splits the center, producing an enhanced polycentric design, with signs, breaks and colors.”
The vast cycle devoted to Luigi Nono presented by the Festival d’Automne à Paris may be seen as an archipelago design, with rarely performed works (some to be heard in France for the first time), played by musicians from the new generation, taking over from the original “Nono musicians” who gave the world premières, the ambition being to hand on the art to the next generation. (Other works are yet to be performed in Paris, e.g. the “azione scenica” Al gran sole carico d’amore).
The cycle also features major and rare compositions by some of Nono’s close friends (figures such as Bruno Maderna, Karl Amadeus Hartmann and György Kurtág), and by his student Helmut Lachenmann with whom he would discuss ideas, and developed a very special and intense dialogue. Further composers in the program from more recent generations feel a strong fascination for Nono’s music (Wolfgang Rihm, Heinz Holliger, Olga Neuwirth and Gérard Pesson). These manifold ramifications have extended and will highlight the extraordinary value of the works of Luigi Nono, continuing and transcending time.
*“Master of sounds and silences” is the inscription on the plaque outside the house in Zattere, Venice
Luigi Nono // Karlheinz Stockhausen // Wolfgang Rihm // Julien Jamet
« Hay que caminar » sognando, Rotary Quintet...October 9
Luigi Nono // Helmut Lachenmann // Clara Iannotta
Omaggio a György Kurtág ...October 17
Für Paul Dessau, Ständchen für Tini...November 6
Ricorda cosa ti hanno fatto in Auschwitz...November 14
Luigi Nono // Karl Amadeus Hartmann // Bruno Maderna
Como una ola de fuerza y luz...November 18
- Luigi Nono, esquisse pour Canti di vita e d’amoreArchives Luigi Nono, Venise © Ayants droit Luigi Nono
- Luigi Nono // Franz LisztLuigi Nono à Freiburg, 1987 © Guy Vivien