canti sul ponte di vita e d‘amore

L.Nono: Polifonica; Canti, Canciones, caminar sonando           wergo 6631-2

Text: Peter Hirsch

The term „song“ - written as canto, canciones or Lied - can be found throughout the entire work of Nono. Especially in the 1950s and early 1960s the insistence on song represented for Nono a kind of counterbalance to the then ruling esthetic of serialism. Naturally he felt himself just as obliged as most of his contemporaries to the Viennes School out of which serial technique developed: from the very beginnig however he tried to connect the emphasis on a primary material with the demands of cantalena. As with Webern, often one note can form a melody, two become a counterpoint - even of contradictory nature. Or: the whole world of Flamenco (in „Canciones a Guiomar“) is brought together in a single chord on the guitar, its rhythm in just one beat of the hand on the instrument. Isolated sounds. In „Canti per 13“, probably Nono‘s most pointillistic piece, every single tone is subject to rigorous serial organization including its dynamic and articulation. And still this piece for 13 instruments which seldom play more than one note at a time claims to be a set of „songs“. Nono speaks of a first part that sings and a second that dances. Where separated single notes must be „song“; where (in the best case) sustained conjunctions of two, three or four notes are to be heard as a melody - as if stood on its head; where „dance rhythm“ is only percieved in the highly organized, varying occurences of pich repetitions: that is where these „Songs for 13“ become „songs and dances“ on the ruins of a past which is quite consciously viewed as being irretrievably lost.
  A polyphony of searching, wandering single tones. At the beginning of „Polifonica-Monodia-Ritmica“ every note is to be played as an „echo tone“ - like an echo of something that no longer exsists. The piece beginns as it were with its ending. There is no ‚beginning‘; there is only hesitation; a careful touching, an almost inaudible emerging out of nothing; isolated cymbals played with feathers. As so often there is this consistently distanced handling of the percussion: tom-toms that are stroked with thumb and fingers rather than struck; in contrast there is a cymbal tremolo that should recede to a triple pianissimo played with wooden sticks: because this is, in the end, impossible the sound remains a permanent disturbance of the following canto: the „Monodia“ becomes a song as if over the clatter of weapons.
  „Monodia“: one could consider this piece Nono‘s first „canto sospeso“ in the sense of ‚floating‘. Suspended song swaying between heaven and earth, anchored nowhere, restless, free song on one hand, which on the other also has an element of displacement. Uninhabited song in which the shadows of the past only allow us to recognize vaguely the outlines of that which once was contained within. Discrepancy is what remains: the interruption, the stagnation of time, the caesura which are the legacy of this century. The consequent reaction of many artists was no longer to believe in an unbroken continuity of tradition. From this comes the hesitant beginning, the consistent faltering, this music on the verge of becoming mute.
  As much as the layer of soft, „dissolving“, „dying“ sound is tied to Webern‘s precedent, just as much are Nono‘s silences something new and completely his own, and that from the very beginnig. Even though his treatment of silence became more radical with the passage of time right up to his late „Prometeo“, there can be found already in the early „Canciones a Guiomar“ that inner hesitation which resembles a startled gasp, the arrest of time, the pause with held breath. This demonstrates not only that a shift by Nono to introversion never occured; it also shows how this kind of writing comes from Nono‘s awareness of interruption and how deeply he distrusted inherited and apparently accepted forms of expression. (It is not by chance that the title „canto sospeso“ has a second meaning of „interrupted“ or „invalidated song“.) In no way are these pauses soothing or meditative in an esoteric sense; on the contrary, they increasingly become black holes, abysses of fear, torturous silences that no longer allow any connection from one point of sound to the next, radical interruptions that become the point of departure for a new search for sounds, a search that consciously includes an area of noise on the border between stillness and sound.

  In spite of the almost 30-year separation in time the wandering world of „Hay que caminar sonando“ is just as much influenced by that as „Canciones a Guiomar“ with their prolonged resonances that fade into nothing. The last part of „caminar“ ends with twelve seconds of silence - ‚con arco fermo‘ (with the bow held in place) at the end of a never ending resonance of the last porous wooden sound - ‚crini/legno‘ (played with hair and wood of the bow). Crumbling sound on the edge of inaudability, endangered silence. The silence of Kafka‘s sirens before whom Odysseus in vain plugged his ears.
   Particularly clear on this CD is the seam between Nono‘s early and late soundworlds, and how closely related they are to another: the transition from the siren-like resonances in „Canciones“ to the icy, high strings in „Hay que caminar sonando“ seems indistinguishable and reveals both pieces to be the expression of the same searching spirit.
  Final observation. Listening or heard Utopia: on a dark night, music of a white flash of lightning („Come una centella blanca en mi noche obscura“ - the central phrase of A. Machado‘s „Canciones a Guiomar“). The shining crystalline sound of an ending era, of a „time after“: Pure metal: high cymbals, crotales.
  Music from the beginning of a reality beyond our own. In another of Nono‘s Machado settings there appears: „Ha venido la primavera“. ‚Frühlingserwachen‘.

(English translation: J.P.Thomas and W.R.Rieves)