Nono and Adorno as Modernists
The initial aim of this essay was to examine the extent to which Luigi Nono can be considered a modernist in an Adornian sense, paying particular attention to one of Nono’s pieces, Il Canto Sospeso (1955-1956). After some investigation, it is now the author’s view that whilst they might share some modernist philosophical views (Botstein, 2017), some cogently, others unwittingly, they are both on different trajectories. To a certain extent they can be viewed in parallel, where Adorno can be seen as a leading figure of the times, as a social philosopher and theorist upon aesthetics, with a special interest in music (Trippett, 2013). Nono, on the other hand, is one of the main protagonists in an active sense leading the way for modern music (Williams, 2013).
The main points (Iddon, 2013), to be elaborated upon, are of commonality: to do with formalism, Webern and some areas of philosophy (Iddon, 2013).
Some salient points of differences, again to be expanded upon: are to do with text, electronic music and a certain showmanship or theatricality (Iddon, 2013; Santini, 2012).
Some debatable areas, which will need to be discussed: are to do with politics, communism, social conscience, commitment, autonomy, culture, alienation, composing for the future and praxis of theory and practice (Adorno, 2004; Iddon, 2013; Boyd, 1960; Krupa, 2014; Santini, 2012; Leppert, 2005).
Adorno’s views are expressed in many writings, four of whichare of express interest here: The Philosophy of New Music of 1948 where Adorno sets out his stall against serialism (Iddon, 2013);The Aging of New Music (Nielinger, 2015; Iddon, (2013) where he distances himself further from serialism (Iddon, 2013); his Criteria of New Music(Iddon, 2013), where he marginally modifies his views expressed in The Aging of New Music, upon a discourse with Metzger (Iddon, 2013), and Vers une musique informelle (Adorno, 1961; Henau, 2013; Lorens, 2006; Zenk, 1979), where inessence he sticks to his opinions about serialistic music, with some apparent relaxation, especially to the French composers such as Boulez (Iddon, 2013). The latter relaxation seems due to a chance meeting and conversation with Boulez whom he then declares to be musically intelligent (Iddon, 2013).
These all have a bearing upon Nono, because over his time at Darmstadt he gradually develops as a serial composer, yet with a ‘human’ touch (Iddon, 2013). Adorno does not seemto outright condemn Nono, except that as one of the leading figures at Darmstadt, Iddon (2013) thinks that Nono is included in Adorno’s criticism.
However, it is contended that the ‘human’ element of Nono (Iddon, 2013) might be a meeting point between the two. It is further contended that this human element might provide meaning that Adorno can appreciate, and as the Darmstadt audience as a whole seem to appreciate (Iddon, 2013).
In a way Nono’s passion for political causes and text (Iddon, 2013; Nielinger, 2006 & 2015), his extrovertItalian nature (Iddon, 2013) and his own evolving brand of integrated serialism (Iddon, 2013; Nielinger, 2006), together witha strong horizontal narrative sense and measure of coherence (Iddon, 2006), it is contended, might provide ingredients for the sort of qualities that Adorno looks for in music.
This might be over interpreting a musical consensus, since the exuberant points, Nono’s theatricality (Santini, 2012), may well be something that Adorno just cannot accept.Indeed, he could go so far as to consider it ‘kitsch’ as he considered Hindemith’s music (Adorno. 2004), or possibly ‘fetishist’ through its accessibility via the ‘humanness’ factor (Adorno, 2004 & 1997; Mason, 2017).
Additionally, this theatrical side of Nono might be suspect to Adorno, since his philosophy suggests the opposite. Adorno advocates composers being alienated from popular culture, and to seek ways of expressing music for the betterment of humanity (Adorno, 2004; Mason, 2017). The contention here, is that as regards the last point it seems highly likely that Nono’s aim is precisely this, the betterment of humanity, but with an overt political activism. So Nono might partially agree with Adorno on political terms, but only partially so. Nono increasingly involves himself with causes, of workers, the oppressed (Bernewitz, 2016) and even at one rare point a feminist viewpoint (Adlington, 2016).
A contention here is that Adorno might perhaps wonder if this is all for self-aggrandisement reasons, whether Nono is being completely truthful in a way that Adorno advocates in many of his writings, for instance Minima Moralia of 1951 (Redmond, 2005; Craig Brittain, 2010). Nuria Schoenberg Nono’s statements in an interview with Robert von Bernewitz (2016), as echoed in another earlier interview (Ricordi, 1985) seems to indicate otherwise:
Nono wanted to express in his works and in his life … that people should be aware of all the horrible things going on in the world… which can be: personal suffering, bad working conditions, oppressive governments, and other things. It’s very interesting that at the end of all of his works[,] when there’s a text at the end of just about every one of his works, it’s always about hope … just like in La Fabbrica Illuminata, it ends up that things won’t always be like this – things will change. That was a really wonderful moment. Nono really wanted to denounce the bad situations. He was always optimistic and always hoping that things could change for the better. Last year in Amsterdam, there was a big festival with a lot of music dedicated to him and they had a big conference as well. A musicologist who had just written a book in English on his works gave a lecture. She showed that in the works that don’t have a text, at the end - there’s a certain conservation of sound/tones that does exactly the same thing. They end up in a way that opens out to a better future. It is so beautiful and I’m glad it has become known. I tell people when they ask about politics that it wasn’t about that kind of politics. It was really believing in the possibility of doing something to make the world better.
Two recorded instances of relations between Adorno and Nono have been found. The first is in Nielinger’s analysis of Il Canto Sospeso (2006), where Adorno, who previously committed to endorsing Hans Werner Henze with a letter of support, then backs out, upon hearing that Nono has already done so (Nielinger, 2006). Nielinger (2006) thinks that this is due to Nono being a member of the Italian Communist Party. It is contended, that the fact that Nono is a communist demonstrates a form of ‘commitment’ which is something that Adorno espouses (Adorno, 1962; Carroll, 2002; Krupa, 2014). Of course a difference as regards Nono’s political affiliation to communism is highlighted. Adorno espouses ‘autonomous’ music where both ‘commitment’ and ‘autonomy’, for Adorno, have political aims as regards betterment of society (Adorno, 2004; Fagan, IEP; Paddison, 1991).
As regards Il Canto Sospeso (1955-1956) Redhead (2015) considers Nono to display both: ‘commitment’ as regards the use of text (this could even be regarded as ‘commitment’ in Sartrian terms as justified by Carroll (2002) and as applying to Il Canto Sospeso in musical terms) and ‘autonomy’ in terms of the musical construction, use of voice parts and the ‘instrumental ensemble’ (Redhead, 2015). The contention here is that it is likely that Adorno’s views remain in the theoretical and polemical domain (Craig Brittain, 2010), whereas Nono’s views lead him to take action (Boyd, 1960; Krupa, 2014). Adorno disavows student revolt which could be in line with his sort of thinking (Iddon, 2013). He expresses a view that he does not want this sort of behaviour (Iddon, 2013). Nono basically seems not to shy away from a fight if needed (Flamm, 1995; Nielinger, 2006 & 2015; Iddon, 2013). Adorno may not approve of this sort of behaviour, yet as regards the discussion as to their respective classification of being moderns it seems irrelevant. It may colour eachother’s opinion of eachother, but this is merely a question of style of behaviour rather than belief system as applied to music. Possibly, there is some element of Nono’s behaviour being integral to the sort of music that he composes (Iddon, 2013; Nielinger 2006 & 2015).
It seems highly likely from a class session with Goeyverts and Stockhausen (Iddon, 2013) and Adorno’s own writings, The Aging of New Music, The Criteria of New Music and Vers une musique informelle, that Adorno is simply out of step with new music after Schoenberg (Iddon, 2013)—over whom he displays some subsequent ambivalence (Iddon, 2013). Metzger essentially proves that Adorno does not really keep up with New Music (Iddon, 2013). In this respect it is possible that Adorno does not attend Nono’s concerts. This might, at least partly, explain the silence of comment from Adorno on Nono’s music, for no explicit approbation or converse can be found.
Certainly, the second recorded direct reference to Adorno and Nono in Iddon’s account of Darmstadt (2013) demonstrates that Nono thinks that Adorno is not au fait with new music when he writes to Steinecke asking for Adorno to be left out of proceedings (Iddon, 2013). Up until that point there seems no reason to believe that relations are in any way sour between Nono and Adorno (Iddon, 2013). It seems that it all stems from the Goeyverts incident, supplemented by some subsequent machinations of Eimert and a rather protracted debate between Metzger and Adorno as mentioned above (Iddon, 2013). This in a way questions whether Adorno can be seen as a real modern musically, thereby begging the question as to whether Nono can be measured on Adornian standards as a modern.
In Adorno’s defence, from his writings, the answer must be resoundingly in the affirmative, as regards intention. He considers himself to be a modern by implication at least since he is prescriptive of it (Adorno, 2004; Mason, 2017). There are so many references to the role of a modern composer in Adorno’s written works and at times he indulges in detailed musical analysis with cogent views (Borio, 2007).
Adorno’s view of modern music is affected by his views on art (Adorno, 1997), aesthetics (Adorno, 1997), morality (Craig Brittain, 2010), a revisionist concept of Marxism and his and Horkheimer’s Critical Theory where real needs of modern society are paramount (Fagan, IEP). DeNora (2003) considers that this could be updated further, but in a way this is unfair as an assessment of Adorno at the time of the 1950s as from a later current perspective. Whilst there are some dissenting voices in the United States (Jay, 1984) at that time, there is a noted subsequent tendency for Americans to become increasingly supportive of Adorno and his views generally (Jay, 1984). It can be undoubted that many hold Adorno to be an authority on several matters and that includes the role of modern music (Trippett, 2013).
Simply, Adorno is against old music that resonates of previous techniques that almost foster a dumbing down of listeners, where the meaning is untruthful in modern terms. Under this guise he fosters dissonance and atonalism. He wavers about Stravinsky and Schoenberg, in the end settling on Schoenberg as showing the way forward with his serialism. However, when Schoenberg starts to develop a following, of Berg, Webern and others, it appears that rules of serialism start to emerge, which then raises a new historical aspect, which for Adorno is totalitarian and fascist (Mason, 2017). His famous invective against this situation is embodied in his Aging of New Music as mentioned above. However, it seems as if Adorno’s dialectic approach becomes evident, since he inveighs against the old formalism, yet in his response to the new music that he is hearing, he seems to be wanting to retain a measure of formalism (Iddon, 2013).
He likes repetition of the sort that Beethoven used, although strictly speaking, Adorno does not like repetition from the point of view of new music as expressed in his Philosophy of Modern Music of1958 (Adorno, 2004). Anyway, he does not like the sort of repetition that he is hearing at Darmstadt. For him it is cold and static. As regards new music at Darmstadt, Adorno does not understand that some of the music can appear to be static and sometimes as with Stockhausen there can be a deliberate attempt to achieve just this. There is an element to do with time and spatialisation.
Again, Adorno is interested in this area as evidenced with his discussions with Benjamin (Phillips, 2012), yet he does not seem to recognise this at Darmstadt. Adorno consistently calls for ‘antecedent and consequent’, a main sticking point in the Goeyverts incident, and ‘coherence’, yet he does like some Webern. Again he seems to change his mind sometimes about Webern, certainly always liking his early music, such as the Six Bagatelles Op.9, but not, initially, his later works—then, he seems to have a change of heart after his discourse with Metzger, and then laud Webern’s later works.
There is some commonality here with Nono, in that Nono, along with actually all or most other new composers at Darmstadt, retains the right to change certain of his parameters, so that the end result is not fully pre-determined. Boulez for all of his seeming mathematical precision in the end seems to be a great exponent of this freedom, which is possibly the main point which Adorno likes about Boulez after his change of heart about him.
It may well be that part of Nono’s success, after his first largely unsuccessful Variazionicanoniche sulla serie dell’op 41 di Arnold Schoenberg of 1950, is due to this creative autonomy over his material, thereby rendering it to sound ‘human’. On top of this he uses techniques, such as having an overall architecture, partisan songs woven in, such as Jemanjain Polifonica-Monodia-Ritmica of 1951 and Brazilian rhythms introduced by Eunice Katunda and percussion upon meeting Edgar Varèse, so in some ways he is displaying a measure of the sort of formalism that Adorno likes (Iddon, 2013).
Again, there is another obvious point of similarity between Adorno and Nono and that is as regards Webern. In Iddon’s ‘Webern Event’ of 1953 Nono and Adorno take the stance of asking for a coherent, emotional response to the meaning in Webern’s work, instead of using mathematical charts and tables. However, in a later talk Nono does just that, adopting a mathematical approach,when explaining his own music, yet he does admit that the emotional viewpoint needs stating (Iddon, 2013).
Certainly the direction in which Nono is going, and probably has been set on from the start, is to use electronic music, as with others at Darmstadt, notably Stockhausen, Varése, Robert Beyer and Werner Meyer-Epler, and tapes, all within an increasingly radically theatrical performance—along with the use of text as set to music (Iddon, 2013). This is a highly controversial point that will be discussed further shortly. The electronic music, the future use of tapes, the overt theatricality, along with the mathematical pre-determination of serialism—and Adorno’s view of text needs evaluating in the forthcoming examination—are all probably way beyond what Adorno seems to tolerate as authentic truth-speaking music.
With the sheer abundance of Nono’s political works (Williams, 2013) it must surely speak of a great commitment and belief in social issues. Williams (2013) calls Nono the “great political figure of the musical avant-garde.”.
Adorno is constantly wanting to avoid identity forming, non-reification of the thing at the heart of music, concerned with objectification and non-objectification, the difference between subject and object, mimesis, utopia and even the ‘messianic’.
Possibly Adorno might consider Nono’s increasing use of devices as a reification obscuring the essential truth at the heart of music. Craig Brittain (2010) interprets the ethical points above as ‘inverse theology’ and as an instance of Adorno’s dialectic thinking. However, despite Adorno thinking that these ‘messianic’ and ‘utopian’ states are unreachable, for him, they are yet to be yearned for and sought (Craig Brittain, 2010). Surely this is another meeting point with Nono who maybe in a more pragmatic sense has a constant seeking for hope. This is evidenced in a later work, La Lanontanza nostalgica futora utopica (Rutherford-Jonson, 2012), as the title suggests, and in the interview, as above, with Nuria, Nono’s wife, where she states that Nono always ended with a note of hope (Bernewitz, 2016). Incidentally the same interview endorses Nono’s genuine commitment to political causes.
As regards Adorno’s philosophical points as above it is contended that Nono would undoubtedly have been acquainted with these. As Nuria stated (Bernewitz, 2016) his library consisted of over 1300 books;Nielinger states that he had early editions of texts to do with Il Canto Sospeso (2006). He had a degree in law, came from an old cultured family and was surrounded by fellow experts and enthusiasts in Venice, his home, and at Darmstadt, the laboratory of intellectuals, composers and performers trying to find the new way of music after the second world war (Iddon, 2013). The point is that Nono is well versed in philosophy, as indeed are the audience at Darmstadt (Iddon, 2013), and that he simply expresses himselfdifferently to Adorno. He admits that he and Maderna are the two Italians (Iddon, 2013), seeming to imply that they are hot-blooded characters. After his first real successful performance at Darmstadt one critic reports that he stands at the front whilst the crowd applauds waving his arms above his head like a winning prize fighter (Iddon, 2013). His letters are liberally filled with exclamation marks and question marks, which seem to indicate quite an excitable personality (Flamm, 1995; Iddon, 2013; Nielinger, 2006 & 2105).Goeyverts in the company of Stockhausen and his first wife, Doris Andreae, called Nono ‘lyric’. This may relate to Nono’s character or to the text element yet to be discussed, or both. In any event, these extrovert traits seem to be quite the opposite of Adorno. Mason attests to this (2017). It seems to suggest that Adorno and Nono are simply in different worlds, so to compare one against the other or measure one against the other seems spurious. They are just different—yet with, almost unknown to them, some similarity of views, as outlined already.
As regards the text element, really Nono displays a consistent interest in using text in music (Iddon, 2013). He is aware of this (Flamm, 1995) and as such it is hard to criticise him for this. Stockhausen who was already using text seems to misinterpret Nono’s use in Il Canto Sospeso, which may be explainable on two counts (Iddon, 2013). Firstly, he is asked by Steinecke to talk about this at relatively short notice, when Stockhausen is not really acquainted fully with the work and as Iddon suggests it may also be a case of competition since Stockhausen may consider his use of text to be more advanced. One of Stockhausen’s criticisms is as regards the use of vowels, yet Stockhausen is already experimenting with vowels (Iddon, 2013). The main criticism though is as regards the setting of the last words of freedom fighters condemned to death and the scattering of their words across parts in a way that in Stockhausen’s opinion renders them incomprehensible (Flamm, 1995; Nielinger 2006). For Nono this is his expressive way of presenting the text, which actually can be followed, as Nielinger points out (2006) and where they are stacked on top of eachother they increase the emotional impact according to Nono himself (Flamm, 1995) (See Example 1).
This also has to be assessed in the light of Adorno’s stance on ‘no poetry’ after the war (Iddon, 2013; Nielinger, 2006): “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” (Adorno, 1983, 34 in Nosthoff; 2014; Craig Brittain, 2010), which later he amends in two stages to be poetry may be used and to then ‘must’ be used (Iddon, 2013) as in his Negative Dialectics of 1966 (Adorno, 1977; Craig Brittain, 2010): “Perennial suffering has as much right to expression as a tortured man has to scream; hence it may have been wrong to say that after Auschwitz you could no longer write poems”, which he further amends to: “…one mustwrite poems, in keeping with Hegel’s statement in his Aesthetics that as long as there is an awareness of suffering among human beings there must be art as the objective form of awareness.” (Craig Brittain, 2010).
Iddon in a talk at Christ Church University (2016) demonstrated that early post war poetry was being written with coded messages of hope and Nosthoff (2014) considers that this is an issue long debated over subsequently. Nonetheless, it is a sensitive issue which must surely be something that was germane for Adorno as well as others at the time at Darmstadt. This could be a sticking point for Adorno as regards Nono. Nielinger’s opinion is that Adorno simply cannot bring himself to consider anything to do with music that has a direct reference to the holocaust (Nielinger, 2006) and possibly Il Canto Sospeso comes into this category and other works of Nono’s.
There are two versions of the text and Nono chose the second and later one which included a wider remit covering European resistance fighters as opposed to the first which referred to Italian partisans killed in their resistance fight (Nielinger, 2006). Simply by opting for a wider encompassment seems to accord with an Adornian sociological view (Fagan, IEP).
As regards the musical technique the treatment of words as a parameter intimately linked to the other parameters and in an atomised way seems to definitely speak of a modernistic approach (Iddon, 2013; Nielinger, 2006). This bespeaks the structuralism of Wittgenstein (Richter, IEP) and Derrida (1979) yet to come. In fact, the integrated serialism as used in Il Canto Sospeso as demonstrated by Nielinger (2006) is a cleverly structured piece of music that is groundbreakingfor the time (see Example 2). As alluded to already Stockhausen does not fully understand the piece. Nor does Bailey a later analyst, who solves part of the puzzle of the construction of the piece (See Example 3 for the coherent whole or ‘constellation’ in Benjamin’s and Adorno’s term). It is not until even later that Nielinger is able to, working from Nono’s notes (Redhead, 2015), complete the picture. Her article (2006) and book (2015) on Nono reveal that Il Canto Sospeso is definitely modern. It has taken Schoenberg’s serialism and as part of the live working through of those at Darmstadt of how to develop from there, which Adorno and others do not seem to appreciate, to produce a compelling and acutely felt emotional, yet non-sentimental, testament to the dead resistance fighters. To a certain extent, as with music generally, it depends upon who interprets the music and plays it. Boulez’s version is clinical and atomised (2002), revealing a Webernesque rendition, whilst the rendition by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Claudio Abbado (1995), with the texts, using the original 1954 Einaudi (Flamm,1995) version read out before the music starts cannot be more evocative. The Berlin Philharmonic version is simply musical, where notes are played conventionally in the well-known tradition of the Berlin Philharmonic bringing out the musicality of notes. Both versions are valid. As regards the allusion to Webern, this deserves a section almost to itself, so important is Webern to the discussion. Webern has already been discussed in connection with Adorno’s and Nono’s views, but time and time again the question of Webern arises. It is an unfinished story. Nono, even after his semi-disastrous Variazioni in 1950,was hailed by some as the new Webern and definitely after his second piece Polifonica-Monodia-Ritmicain 1951 and then thereafter. Nono repudiates this claim(Flamm, 1995; Iddon, 2013) stating that early influence is more from a joint study with Maderna of fifteenth century canons and polyphony, but later—perhaps rather like Adorno! – changes his mind and admits to a Weberian influence (Iddon, 2013). It is amazing that after all the new experiments that emerge from Darmstadt there is a constant discussion about Webern. It is heartening that Nono eventually admits the Webern influence, since it seems patent upon first hearing in the Variazioni, long pregnant pauses, Weberian silences, note dispersal in a sound scape, rather as in Il Canto Sospeso, so despite categorically stating that he was not a pointillist to his reporter friend Hansjörg Pauli (Flamm, 1995), he is. But he is more than a pointillist, to be fair to him. He is a futurist, an experimenter, a pioneer that will lead towards modern theatrical sonic productions (Boyd, 2012), building on the Italian theatrical tradition, use sound space as in Saint Marks church Venice all those years ago, point towards film sound effects, use radios, go out to factories, almost use shock effects as sometimes experienced in jazz. As Santini (2012) stated in such works as Al gran sole carico d’amore (2009-2011) and Intolleranza (1960) he can display use of electrical music, tapes, spatialisation and other dramaturgical effects, amplification, ‘doubling’, ‘con-fusion’, ‘fragmentation, non-linearity, simultaneity and multiplicity’. These are all techniques that would not agree with Adorno’s philosophy (Leppert, 2005). It is a pity, because many of these techniques actually accord with his notion of time and space, in a Bergsonian sense, as discussed with Walter Benjamin (Phillips, 2012). Some modernists and post-modernists of today actually think in terms of Adorno when dealing with open scores and time even in a utopian sense (Thomas-Smith, 2015; Paddison, 2015)—so maybe there is accord after all—maybe some of the words of Adorno in his eight lectures between 1950-1966 (Taruskin, 2010) such as ‘ the reduction of music to bare material in fact needs subjective legitimisation’ and his view that integral form needs a bottom to top approach (Taruskin, 2010) somehow went into Nono’s brain and helped form the modernist that he is and maybe the music that Nono entertained those at Darmstadt with actually on occasions pleased the great Adorno too. In any event they are both moderns, just different people with different things to say, yet essentially about the same thing, truth in music.
(Example 1, Integrated Serial technique, Layering, Fragmentation and Text passing across parts, Il Canto Sospeso, Nono, Luigi, Il Canto Sospeso, Edition Eulenburg No. 8029, first edition © Ars Viva Verlag (Herman Scherchen) GmbH 1957, and © translations 1995)
(Example 2, Integrated Serial technique, Layering and Density of Text, Pitch, Rhythm, Duration & Dynamics, Il Canto Sospeso, Nono, Luigi, Il Canto Sospeso, Edition Eulenburg No. 8029, first edition © Ars Viva Verlag (Herman Scherchen) GmbH 1957, and © translations 1995)
(Example 3, Overall Design of Il Canto Sospeso, Kathryn Bailey, 1992)
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