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  A Response to `Where did all the Nono go?` (Paul Driver, The Sunday Times, 28/10/2007).  Bevillia at 13:00 on 07 April 2008

Yet again, Paul Driver's criticisms do not stand up to scrutiny. Driver attempts to belittle Nono's 'slim' oeuvre, yet it far exceeds, say Boulez - one of the composers he attempts to draw unfavourable comparison with. In fact, it could be argued that it was Nono, not Boulez, who really enriched harmonic possibilities - as, for example, in the rich (often microtonal) structuring of Canti di vita e d'amore, Per Bastiana, Como una ola de fuerza y luz, Al gran sole carico d'amore, or the multiplication of textures to be found in Prometeo - tragedie dell alscolta or La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura. When one considers such large-scale pieces as Intolleranza, A floresta e jovem e cheja de vida (which received a magnificent performance at the QEH in October, 2007), Al gran sole, Prometeo, Resonanze erranti, Caminantes....Ayachucho, Nono's oeuvre is substancial.

As for the 'brutally direct spiritual requirements' of Nono's music, the same invective could be directed towards middle-period Beethoven. Nono's art speaks of real human values; he does not pamper his audience with seductive musical propoganda like Hanns Eisler, for example. For with Nono, political revolution coincided with musical revolution; the Gramscian-Marxist aesthetic demanded a rejection of bourgois cultural forms and artefacts (which Nono considered 'mere plaisanteries a la Louis XVI') and a remaking of music profoundly relevant (and still relevant) to our time. Nono's political convictions actually fuelled his revolution in music (something Driver's colleague, Geoff Brown, employed by The Times, does not seem to understand. See Brown's amazingly imperceptive online review - 05/11/2007).

This likewise concurred with Nono's invention of new musical forms (which is not, however to exclude such 're-cognitive' moments as to be found in Intolleranza, Al gran sole.....Sofferte onde serene.....and Prometeo amongst other pieces). Nono, the tireless innovator, had to create new forms to suit the purposes of each of his works, and in the process, he redefined what music could be. For as the Italian musicologist, Luigi Pestalozza noted with regard to La lontananza, 'in this splendid music, sounds relate to each other like stars in the universe, not through formal necessity, but so as to give it form, to create it'.

This brings me on to Driver's misbranding of Nono as a 'pointillist' composer. Such pieces as the early Epitaph per Frederico Garcia Lorca, Canti di vita e d'amore, Al gran sole and La lontananza could hardly be described as pointillist! In addition, there is nothing pointillist about Fragmente-Stille, an Diotima - a string quartet from 1980, as it is mainly composed of homophonic utterances....chords. Fragmentation yes, pointillism no. As Nono himself, once remarked,

I have never composed in a pointillist fashion - that is the invention of the critics. A musical concept in which every 'point' is hermetically sealed is an expression of thinking that is totally alien to me. After all, applied to everyday life this would mean that everyone is sufficient unto themselves, and that people only have to work towards self-realisation....Thus in my early pieces, sound 'points' are not really very important. For example, pitch is less significant than the intervals or the musical relationships surrounding musical figures; and these relationships are not confined to what is called the veritcal and horizontal, but affect all levels of composition, like a net which extends in all directions. (quoted in Pauli, Frankfurt, 1971).

Nono's music never gave Modernism its 'plinkety-plonk' bad name. Such stereotyping partly resulted in the aftermath (and the 'after maths') of Boulez's Structures and Stockhausen's Kreuzspiel following the example of Messiaen's Modes de la valeurs et d'intensities. However, Nono's works, from the very beginning, were informed by a socio-political moral dimension. They were too poetic, too indebted to 'extra-musical' sources of the time, as the Epitaph or the latin-American inspired rhythms of Composition No 1 make clear.

Neither should Nono be accused of 'wanting to wipe away the tonal tradition'. That happened 40 years earlier with Schoenberg (even if the Austrian composer did have some reservations later). Besides that, atonality for Schoenberg never existed; he prefered the expression 'pan-tonal' music, and in the context of Nono (with his profound tonal relationships and structures ramifying through all dimensions) I see why.

Driver derides the 'dozen or so' pieces performed at the 'Fragments of Venice' festival, yet that is at least equal to the number performed at Huddersfield 95, where Nono was the main focus. Above all, he fails to give credit where credit is due, and cite Luigi Nono - Fragments of Venice as the most important UK festival of the composer's music to date. In addition, Prometeo is not simply an 'electro-acoustic' piece, but is composed for two conductors, live ensembles, vocal and instrumental soloists, choruses, live electronics and a specially designed auditorium. The fact that Prometeo will at last be performed in the UK is an extraordinary acheivement itself. Paul Driver should simply admit that the music of Luigi Nono is not to his taste; however, that is no grounds for illegitimate criticism.

Stephen Beville.

(c)April, 2008.

  Re: A Response to `Where did all the Nono go?` (Paul Driver, The Sunday Times, 28/10/2007).  Misuc at 22:12 on 11 May 2008

Last night I underwent an experience that confirmed for me how right your description of stunning sense of what - as you remind us - should rightly be called 'pantonality' (tonality-within-atonality), of his breathtaking new 'paradigm' on monody/polyphony and motif/melodic structure/form... There is no contemporary music with the same natural poetic/dramatic power as 'Prometeo'.. It was an experience of the order of the St Matthew Passion, or the equivalent of a Joyce novel or a Rothko painting, or a genuine scientific advance: , put in the effort and you get back so much more than you put in: such simple beauty/truth.

I am sorry not to be able to describe what this music is. I would like to get to see the score and find out just what he did, and how it works. All I know is that, after this, music cannot be the same any more.

As for Paul Driver, I have not met him, so far as I know. But as a composer I have personal experience of him as a shallow sycophantic critic.