Nono, Luigi, remarkable Italian composer who earned a unique place in the history of modern music through his consistent devotion to social problems; b. Venice, Jan. 29, 1924; d. there, May 8, 1990. He became a student at the Venice Cons. (1941), where he received instruction in composition with Malipiero (1943–45); also studied law at the Univ. of Padua (graduated, 1946); later had advanced harmony and counterpoint lessons with Maderna and Scherchen. A man of extraordinary courage, he joined the Italian Communist Party while the country was still under the dictatorship of Mussolini, and was an active participant in the Italian Resistance Movement against the Nazis. In 1975 he was elected to the Central Committee of the Communist Party, and remained a member until his death. Although his works were extremely difficult to perform and practically all of them were devoted to Leftist propaganda, he found support among a number of liberal composers and performers. At the end of his life, he acquired an enormous reputation as a highly original composer in the novel technical idiom as well as a fearless political agitator. In his technique of composition, he followed the precepts of Schoenberg without adhering to the literal scheme of dodecaphonic composition. As a resolutely “engaged” artist, Nono mitigated the antinomy between the modern idiom of his music and the conservative Soviet ideology of Socialist Realism by his militant political attitude and his emphasis on revolutionary subjects in his works, so that even extreme dissonances may be dialectically justified as representing the horrors of Fascism. He made several visits to Russia, the last in 1988, but his works were rarely performed there because of the intransigence of his idiom. He made use of a variety of techniques: serialism,” sonorism” (employment of sonorities for their own sake), aleatory and concrete music, and electronics. Perhaps his most militant composition, both politically and musically, is his opera Intolleranza I960, ( utilizing texts by Brecht, Eluard, Sartre, and Mayakovsky; the work is a powerful protest against imperialist policies and social inequities. At its premiere in Venice on April 13, 1961, a group of neo-Fascists showered the audience with leaflets denouncing Nono for his alleged contamination of Italian music by alien doctrines, and even making a facetious allusion to his name as representing a double negative. Nono was married to Schoenberg’s daughter, Nuria, in 1955; they separated on friendly terms after several years; they had 2 daughters. Nuria settled in her father’s last residence in Los Angeles, while Nono traveled widely in Europe. He died of a liver ailment at the age of 66.
Variazioni canoniche ( for Orch., based on the 12-tone row of Schoenberg’s Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte (Darmstadt, Aug. 27, 1950); Polifonica, monodia, ritmica ( for Flute, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Saxophone, Horn, Piano, and Percussion (Darmstadt, July 10, 1951); Espana en el corazón ( for Voices and Instruments, to words by Garcia Lorca (Darmstadt, July 21, 1952); Der rote Mantel, ( ballet (Berlin, Sept. 20, 1954); La Victoire de Guernica ( for Voices and Orch. (1954); Canti ( for 13 Instruments (Paris, March 26, 1955); Incontri ( for 24 Instruments (Darmstadt, May 30, 1955); Varianti ( for Violin, Strings, and Woodwinds (Donaueschingen, Oct. 20, 1957); La terra e la compagna ( for Soloists, Chorus, and Instruments (Hamburg, Jan. 13, 1958); II canto sospeso ( for Solo Voices, Chorus, and Orch., to texts from letters by young men and women condemned to death by the Fascists (Cologne, Oct. 24, 1956); Intolleranza 1960, ( opera (1960–61; Venice, April 13, 1961); Sarà dolce tacere ( for 8 Solo Voices, to texts from “La terra e la morte” by Cesare Pavese (Washington, D.C., Feb. 17, 1961); La fabbrica illuminata ( for Voice and Magnetic Tape (1964); music for the documentary play Die Ermittlung ( by Peter Weiss, dealing with the trial of Nazi guards (Frankfurt am Main, Oct. 19, 1965); Sul ponte di Hiroscima ( for 2 Soloists and Orch., commemorating the victims of the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima (1962); A Floresta é jovem e cheja de vida, ( oratorio to texts from declarations by the Vietnam guerrilla fighters (1966); Per Bastiana ( for Electronic Tape and 3 Orch. Groups (1967); Non consumiano Marx ( for Electronic Sound (1968); Voci destroying Muros ( for Women’s Voices and Instruments in Mixed Media, featuring a machine gun pointed toward the audience (1970); Y entonces comprendió ( for Voices and Magnetic Tape, dedicated to Ché Guevara (1970); Ein Gespenst geht um in der Welt ( for Voice and Orch., to words from the Communist Manifesto (Cologne, Feb. 11, 1971); Corno una olà de fuerza y luz ( for Singer, Piano, Magnetic Tape, and Orch. (1972); 2 piano concertos (1972,1975); Al gran sole carico d’amore, ( opera (1974); ...sofferte onde serene (...for Piano and Tape (1976); Con Luigi Dallapiccola ( for 6 Percussionists and Live Electronics (1979); Fragmente- Stille, an Diotima ( for String Quartet (1979–80); Das atmende Klarsein ( for Bass Flute, Chorus, and Live Electronics (1980–81); Quando stanno morendo (...for 4 Women’s Voices, Bass Flute, Cello, and Live Electronics (1982); Omaggio a György Kurtág ( for Trombone and Live Electronics (1983); A C. Scarpa architetto, ai suo infiniti possibili ( for Orch. (1984); Guai ai gelidi mostri ( for 2 Altos, Flute, Clarinet, Tuba, Viola, Cello, Double Bass, and Live Electronics (1984); Prometeo, Tragedia dell’ascolto (1984; rev. 1985); A Pierre: Dell’azzurro silenzio, inquietum ( for Chorus, Flute, Clarinet, and Live Electronics (1985); Risonanze erranti a M. Cacciari ( for Alto, Flute, Tuba, Percussion, and Live Electronics (1986); Découvrir la subversion: Omaggio a E. Jabés ( for Mezzo-soprano, Narrator, Tuba, Horn, and Live Electronics (1987); No hay caminos, hay que caminar...A. Tarkovsky ( for Orch. (1987).
J. Stenzl, ed., L. N.: Texte: Studien zu seiner Musik (Zürich, 1975); F. Spangemacher, L. N., die elektronische Musik (Regensburg, 1983); C. Henius, Schnebel, N., Schönberg, oder, Die wirkliche und die erdachte Musik: Essays und autobiographisches (Hamburg, 1993); M. Taibon, L. N. und sein Musiktheater (Vienna, 1993); L. Jeschke, Prometeo: Geschichtskonzeptionen in L. N/s Hörtragödie (Stuttgart, 1997); J. Stenzl, L. N (.(Reinbek, 1998).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis Mclntire
The Italian composer Luigi Nono (1924-1990) was one of the most socially engaged of 20th-century composers. His Marxist political views influenced most of his avant-garde compositions.
Luigi Nono was born on January 29, 1924, in Venice, Italy, where his father was a prosperous engineer. He started studying music in 1941 at the Venice Conservatory. He received his doctorate in law in at the University of Padua while studying music with composer Gian Francesco Malipiero. In 1946 he began studies with composer-conductor Bruno Maderna and with German conductor Hermann Scherchen, who both became early proponents of his work. Nono also attended the important Summer Course for New Music in Darmstadt, Germany, where his first compositions, which were strongly influenced by composer Anton Webern, were performed.
Nono was an active member of the Italian Communist Party, and he often used Marxist texts and revolutionary writings as a basis for his compositions. In the mid-1950s, his highly ideological scores attracted notoriety. "An artist must concern himself with his time," Nono said. "Injustice dominates in our time. As man and musician I must protest." The Canto sospeso (1960; "Suspended" or "Interrupted" Song) for soprano, alto, tenor, mixed chorus, and orchestra is one of his most important and characteristic works, showing his concern with the human condition, expressed in a highly sophisticated and complicated musical language. The texts are taken from farewell letters written by young captured resistance fighters awaiting execution by the Nazis. The British critic Reginald Smith Brindle described the work as "so full of tragic emotion, or compassion for the agony of mankind, [that it] is surely the most poetic product of its generation."
Nono's next composition to attract wide attention was his opera Intolleranza, first composed in 1960 and revised in 1970. It attacked racial segregation and nuclear weapons. The theme of the work is opposition to all totalitarian systems that restrict individuality and freedom. The protagonist is a miner who seeks the meaning of life. There are three main scenes: a mine cave-in, a political demonstration crushed by the police, and a catastrophic flood. The work employs multimedia techniques. Scenes of injustice are projected on multiple screens, along with the faces of the principal singers. Even the audience sees itself in projected images so it cannot ignore its involvement. The chorus, which plays an important role, is heard from a pre-recorded tape, the sounds emanating from loudspeakers placed throughout the auditorium. At its premiere in Venice in 1961, the audience rioted.
Intolleranza was produced in Boston in 1965. Nono was denied a visitor's visa because of his membership in Italy's Communist party, but after two Boston newspapers and a large group of musicians intervened he was allowed to enter the United States to conduct his work.
Nono's A floresta e joven e chea de vida (1967; The Forest Is Young and Full of Life) was another multimedia protest work, against United States involvement in Vietnam. It consists of taped sounds and highly amplified live sounds produced by a singer, a clarinetist, reciters, and six percussionists who bang on bronze sheets. The work is characterized by an enormous volume of sound, described as depicting mass panic after the collapse of a metallic bomb shelter. It was probably more successful as political propaganda than as music.
Nono's Sul Ponte del Hiroshima (1962) was written in opposition to the atomic bomb. His Y Entonces Comprendió (1970) included a tape recording of Cuban premiere Fidel Castro reading letters of Marxist guerilla fighter Che Guevara. His second opera, Al Gran Sole Carico d'Amore, written in 1975, focuses on the revolutionary Paris Commune of 1871. Nono also wrote several works inspired by his visits to Nazi concentration camps; a third opera, Prometeo; and a work for violin, tape and electronics, La Nostalgica-Futura.
Nono's early works were influenced by composer Arnold Schoenberg. In 1955, Nono married Schoenberg's daughter Nuria. They had two daughters, Silvia and Serena. Nono died of a liver ailment on May 6, 1990.
Nono's work is discussed in Paul Henry Lang and Nathan Broder, eds., Contemporary Music in Europe: A Comprehensive Survey (1966); and Eric Salzman, Twentieth-Century Music: An Introduction (1967); Nono is also discussed in Brian Morton and Pamela Collins, editors, Contemporary Composers (1992); and in Stanley Sadie, editor, New Grove Dictionary of Opera (1992). □