Two large works from Italian composer Luigi Nono, recorded at Germany's Experimentalstudio des SWR under the direction of Andre Richard.
Guai ai gelidi mostri / Quando stanno morendo. Diario polacco No. 2
Label: NEOS Music
Released in: Germany
GUAI AI GELIDI MOSTRI - WOE BETIDE THE COLD MONSTERS
In March 1983 Nono wrote to a close friend, the painter Emilio Vedova, whilst staying in the Black Forest: "I felt at the time, and still feel that I have to compose unforeseen and unforeseeable music for the Carnevali. What interests me personally is [...] not only the grey, not only the prefabricated ruptures, but also the BEAUTIFUL NEWNESS THAT EXPLODES - TRAGICALLY - ALSO VIOLENTLY - BUT WHICH ASPIRES TOWARDS THE MOST GENTLE NEWNESS". At that time, Nono was in a preparatory phase at the Freiburg Experimentalstudio of the Heinrich Strobel Foundation where, together with director Hans-Peter Haller, he was able to explore new possibilities of structuring time and space and to study live electronics.
The postmodern philosopher Massimo Cacciari was also inspired by Vedova's mask-like pictures and sculptures. Since the early 1980s, Cacciari had accompanied Nono's work as a friend and author, providing too the libretto for Guai ai gelidi mostri. Drawing on the principle of free association, the philosopher arranged a number of fragmentary quotations in a certain order. The act of reading these multilingual texts takes the reader into mythological and philosophical areas of thought.
The text is divided into four sections, whose titles refer to the pictures of the same name by Vedova, and paraphrase with ambiguous wordplay the "stato" (i.e. the "state" or the "State"), describing it as the "most cold monster". Cacciari opens the first section of "In Tyrannos!" with the vocabulary of Nietzsche's Also sprach Zarathustra, using quotations from Franz Rosenzweig's "Das Wort der Gewalt" to point this up with telling effect.
There follow quotations from works by Gottfried Benn, Ezra Pound, Lukrez, Ovid, Walter Benjamin, Carlo Michaelstaedter and Rainer Maria Rilke, which allows Cacciari to evoke a utopian condition of ideals in the Nietzschean sense, one in which human beings may not continually be alienated from themselves and thereby become superfluous. Simultaneously, Cacciari gives us an insight into a future, one in which man is capable of breaking out of the icy grip and learns how to live with the "discontinuous gods", finally abandoning all disquiet ("Pone Metum").
Guai ai gelidi mostri is a work of extremes, one in which Nono's desire to avoid predefined focal points and musical gestures becomes concrete. Placed in a semicircle in front of the audience, all eight interpreters are treated as soloists and amplified by microphones. Their sounds are transformed by live electronics and distributed in space by loudspeakers that must be placed in the concert hall as asymmetrically as possible.
In a self-referential manner, Nono wins the entire material for Guai ai gelidi mostri from earlier compositions such as Das atmende Klarsein or Quando stanno morendo. Diario polacco n. 2. Nono transposes these sonic fragments, distributes them among different instruments, and places them in a new order. Nono also experiments with the music's temporal structure, encroaching on it by leaving the parameters of time to chance and determining new note values by the roll of dice.
The frequent annotations "Josquin" and "Dadi" (dice) in the sketches clearly demonstrate Nono's musical thinking, in which any given aleatoric moment is intimately connected with historic-cultural phenomena. The three low string instruments create a rhythmically fluctuating continuum of sound in sustained note values. Their parts are furnished with a plethora of performance markings, similar to the score of the string quartet Fragmente - Stille, an Diotima. Gently, as if hidden behind acoustic masks, their chords begin to glow. The sounds emerge from the halaphon - a device that can control sonic movement in real time - and roam around the concert hall.
The two altos weave sustained syllables within this fragile architecture of sound, whereby Nono in no way sets Cacciari's text to music, but alights on single words that for him would seem to hold meaning. Nono often allows the vocal part to fan out in its lowest register, achieving this by adding alternating fourths and fifths as live electronic intervals. Suddenly, striking wind chords disrupt the fitful continuum of sound. Their attacks undergo upward, microtonal transposition with the publison and are layered in feedback loops, the acoustic result becoming hardly bearable.
These assaults on the audience can, in terms of the text, be understood in a political way. However, when Nono integrates them at a later point into his "tragedia dell'ascolto" (A tragedy of listening), Prometeo, they become more a radicalized sign of his aesthetic programme, and are designed to cause of maximum irritation so that the consciousness may be opened for otherness and the sense of reality be expanded to one of possibility.
Birgit Johanna WertensonTranslation: Graham Lack
QUANDO STANNO MORENDO. DIARIO POLACCO N. 2
In the early 1980s Luigi Nono began to explore in a more thorough way the technical possibilities of manipulating sound in real time, a process known as live electronics. These early experiences, gained at the Freiburg Experimentalstudio, led to Das atmende Klarsein and Io, frammento da Prometeo, and were followed in 1982 by Quando stanno morendo. Diario polacco n. 2, a work for two sopranos, mezzo-soprano, alto, bass flute, violoncello and live electronics.
In terms of forces, the composer additionally demands that the cellist should play three instruments in alternation; each is stringed in the regular way, but the four strings are tuned in microtones lying around the pitches F, F sharp and C. Various texts are set in the composition, including ones by Eastern European poets Endre Ady, Aleksandr Blok, Velemir Khlebnikov, Czesław Miłosz and Boris Pasternak.
They were selected by the philosopher Massimo Cacciari and used by Nono in such a fragmentary way that they are for the most part only partly capable of being understood. Diario polacco n. 2 is a work that does not evince a precomposed structure: the process of genesis is based on guided improvisation carried out by the players themselves, musicians with whom Nono carried out his musical experiments in the Freiburg Studio. Experimentation played a major role for the composer during the 1980s, in this, a key phase of his work.
Nono made sketches of the results of these experiments, and the role played by the singers and players as well as the technicians in the studio is not to be underestimated. The composer used these documents as the primary compositional material for a new piece. In an interview on the day before the premiere, Nono related how there was still no final score of the work and that there would only be one after the piece had been played, an idea that has much to do with the poetics of ingenuousness and quest.
According to Nono himself, "One must change the way we cast the very purpose of music today." In fact, there exists in the Luigi Nono Archive a hand-written "preliminary score" that is dated exactly one month before the premiere in Venice and which probably would have served as the basis for all later changes. Those emendations which are relevant were to affect the use of live electronics.
Diario polacco n. 2 is cast in three movements, the middle one of which is dominated by instruments and the manipulation of their sound by live electronics. The accusatory verse of the Russian poet Khlebnikov, taken from his "Mosca - chi sei?" and which is most prominent in the timbral relationships within the movement, is pointed up dramatically by a cello passage best described as a violent and droning din. Here Nono calls for a special bowing technique whereby the player is to use two bows in order to sound all four strings, ones tuned in principle to the same pitch height, but one differentiated by microtonal inflections.
Looking at the earlier sketches it becomes apparent that Nono once considered using a viola da gamba for this work, but only decided later to use the violoncello. In the outer movements, in which high voices indulge in lengthy melismata typical for Nono's late works, many a reminiscence of Renaissance music and its prediliction for canonic structures may be felt. Just as with many earlier pieces (such as La fabbrica illuminata for example), the composition ends with an a cappella movement, which forms a kind of lament and uses once again verses by Khlebnikov. The quiet nenia "Quando stanno morendo, gli uomini cantano" (When they are dying, men sing) announces a political dimension to the music of Nono in his final years.
The reason for composing this work was also a political one. In 1981 Nono had received a commission for a work to be included as part of the Polish festival "Warsaw Autumn"; and in that very year Poland was rocked to its foundations by a military putsch that demanded the trade union Solidarnosc be disbanded and which led to the arrest and internment of intellectuals and union members. The military state of emergency declared by General Jaruzelski was only lifted in 1983; the 1982 festival never took place.
Nono's "Polish Diary" must be understood as a direct charge against dictatorial violence and military might. His political engagement as an artist was always characterised by solidarity with those oppressed. For Nono, who had been a member of the Communist Party since 1952 and whose thought was free from any ideological jaundice, it was the Marxist imperative that governed: "jettison all relationships in which man is seen as a lowly, debased and demeaned being" - a principle that served, too, for countries in which oppression of so-called socialist realism took place.
The musical form of Diario polacco n. 2 is evidence enough of this critical view, the aural imaginings closely realised: "Today, more than ever, the artistassumes responsibility for not making final decisions married to any sense of volition." The open formal structures and the way the work came into existence, the plasticity of sound, the restive and fragmentary texture all manage to change in a most egregious way the central question "Moscow - who are you?" into a transaction and bear witness to Nono's mature political engagement.
Matteo Nanni, Translation: Graham Lack
At The Squid's Ear!
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Label: NEOS Music
Catalog ID: NEOS SACD 10801/2
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Format: 2 CDs
Packaging: Digipack Double CD
Noa Frenkel, Susanne Otto-alto
EXPERIMENTALSTUDIO des SWR:
Michael Acker, Reinhold Braig, Joachim Haas, sound direction
André Richard-conductor/artistic director
Heike Heilmann, Petra Hoffmann, Alexandra Lubchansky-soprano
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Guai ai gelidi mostri (1983)
for two altos, flute, clarinet, tuba, viola,
violoncello, contrabass and live electronics
Arrangement of texts by Massimo Cacciari
01. Parte I 27:40
02. Parte II 7:34
03. Parte III :40
04. Parte IV 8:22
Noa Frenkel/Susanne Otto, alto - Roberto Fabbriciani, flute
Ernesto Molinari, clarinet - Klaus Burger, tuba - Susan Knight, viola
Christine Theus, violoncello - Ulrich Schneider, contrabass
EXPERIMENTALSTUDIO des SWR
Michael Acker/Reinhold Braig/Joachim Haas, sound direction
André Richard, conductor/artistic director
38:58 Quando stanno morendo. Diario polacco n. 2 (1982)
for four female voices, bass flute, violoncello and live electronics
On texts by Czesław Miłosz, Endre Ady, Aleksandr Blok
and Velemir Khlebnikov
Arrangement of texts by Massimo Cacciari
01. Parte Ia 4:54
02. Parte Ib 3:39
03. Parte Ic 5:38
04. Parte IIa 3:38
05. Parte IIb 2:45
06. Parte IIc 2:44
07. Parte IIIa 8:09
08. Parte IIIb 3:30
09. Parte IIIc 4:00
Heike Heilmann/Petra Hoffmann/Alexandra Lubchansky, soprano
Susanne Otto, alto - Roberto Fabbriciani, flute - Christine Theus, violoncello