Nuria Schoenberg Nono has enjoyed a life of rich musical heritage as she is the daughter of one of the most important composers of the 20th century - Arnold Schoenberg. She is also the wife of the Italian composer Luigi Nono, who made major contributions to music later in the century. In the early 20th century, classical music was moving away from tonality and Arnold Schoenberg had developed an entire new way of composing music with the 12 -tone system. It utilized all 12 tones of the chromatic scale and each one carried the same importance. His serial composing technique was expanded upon by later composers such as: Stockhausen, Boulez, Nono, Babbit, and others. Schoenberg was also a painter, inventor, author, and educator. Some of his composition students included : Alban Berg, Anton Webern, John Cage, Hanns Eisler and many more. The Schoenberg's moved to the United States to escape hostilities in Europe in 1934 when Nuria was 1 1/2 years old. Nuria spent her youth growing up in Los Angeles and shared many wonderful moments with her father.
A few years after Arnold Schoenberg passed away, Nuria attended a world premiere of Arnold Schoenberg's opera "Moses and Aron" in Hamburg, Germany with her mother. It was the first time they had returned to Europe since after the war. It was there that Nuria first met the young handsome avant garde classical music composer Luigi Nono from Italy. Nono taught classes at the Darmstadt school in Germany and was an important composer in New Music of the 1950's. He would continue to write Nuria after their meeting. When she returned to Europe to see Nono's premiere of "Incontri" - which he had written about her - they decided to get married. Nuria moved from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles to the beautiful Italian city of Venice to spend her life with her new husband Luigi. They lived a life of love and music as Luigi composed many classic pieces of New Music and works for the theater. He would always remain on the cutting edge of music as he was constantly experimenting with new composition and performance techniques. When new technology emerged such as electronic instruments, Nono would find a way to incorporate them into his music. Luigi Nono passed away in 1990. In 1993 Nuria established the Luigi Nono Archive to allow his legacy of writings, books, and music to be housed and shared with the public. She is president of the Board at the Arnold Schoenberg Center Foundation in Vienna. I recently talked with Nuria about her life surrounded by music.
R.V.B. - Hello Nuria. This is Robert von Bernewitz from New York... how are you?
N.S.N. - I'm just fine thank you.
R.V.B. - I appreciate you taking this time for me. How was the day over there in Venice? How was the weather?
N.S.N. - It's a very warm and sunny day today... very nice.
R.V.B. - A nice summertime day?
N.S.N. - Yes, but it hasn't been that nice recently. It's just starting to be stable. We've had an awful lot of rain and thunderstorms. It was variable... every day was different. Now we seem to be getting consistent summer weather.
R.V.B. - Do you work every day at the Nono Foundation?
N.S.N. - I work from Monday thru Thursday.
N.S.N. - We have a staff of three. There's a musicologist. (Claudia Vincis) There's a lady who takes care of all the financial things. (Giovanna Boscarino) She takes care of a lot of things and has been with us forever. She makes scans for people if they want to see some of his works. We have approximately 26,000 sketches of his work. People are interested in these and it helps them understand how he composed... the whole process of composition that took place. It's interesting for musicologists, composers, and musicians who want to play his works.
R.V.B. - Do you suppose there are still pieces out there to be retrieved that you haven't acquired yet?
N.S.M. - Not really. People always want first performances. There are enough pieces that are published and available to be performed. There were a couple of pieces that he didn't finish. At one time, they tried to perform a couple of these, but they weren't really complete - so it really didn't make much sense. It's better to do the ones that he finished.
R.V.B. - I understand there was a large library that was carried over from the family. Some of the books are not even music related and you also have people asking for them?
N.S.N. - You're right. The Nono library consists of 13,000 books. A lot of them are scores and music books but most of them are not. They're about anything you can imagine like: theater, poetry, philosophy, history, architecture and art. He was interested in just about everything. It's a wonderful library. We have people who come to us that don't know him as a composer. They can see on the internet that some of the books are very rare. They are in at least 5 different languages.
N.S.N. - I met him in Hamburg at the world premiere of my fathers opera "Moses und Aron". It's the first time that my mother and I had come back to Europe after the war. We met there and it was a very short acquaintance. He wrote me a lot of postcards and letters. We met again, a few weeks later in Rome, where there was a very big contemporary music festival. We were there for about two weeks. He took me to see all of the sites and the museums in Rome. It was fantastic. He was very knowledgeable about art, architecture, and history. He showed me Rome better than any guide could have done. We got very close during that period. Then I went back to the States and we wrote to each other for about a year. I came back to Darmstadt where he was teaching and having performances. In the meantime, he had written a piece that he dedicated to me at Darmstadt during the summer courses. The first concert had a work in it that was called "Incontri" which means encounters or meetings. It was supposed to be for my return to Europe and meeting him again. It was very, very successful. It was the first piece that they played at the concert. It got so much applause that they repeated it. The few days before, I arrived prior to the concert, we had already decided that we were going to get married. So after the fantastic performance and all of the applause, there was a big dinner. The mayor of the town was there and all the people who ran the festival. There was also a lot of people there who knew my father - who had passed away a few years earlier - who were musicians that had worked with him. I had never met any of them because they had stayed in Europe, and of course I grew up in America. It was quite a big party. (Haha) He proposed to me in Darmstadt before the summer courses. I was staying with my uncle who was teaching there (Roudolf Kolisch). He was the 1st violin of the Kolisch Quartet that was later the Pro Arte Quartet in the States.
N.S.N. - Exactly. That's right. I was staying with them and they knew my husband because he taught at Darmstadt. My uncle taught chamber music there. He knew my husband before I did. My husband had been going to Darmstadt for several years and was very well received there and he was all happy about this. (Haha)
R.V.B. - He also wrote a piece named "Liebeslied" for you.
N.S.N. - Yes, he wrote that in 1954, while I was still in Los Angeles.
R.V.B. - How do you feel about that?
N.S.N. - I felt great about it. Nobody had ever written something like that for me before. My father had written a little thing for me when I was around 2 years old. I didn't get to hear "Liebeslied" until years later because it wasn't performed for quite a while. It said "for Nuria" on it and it was very nice.
R.V.B. - During this time period, I guess you picked up out of the United States and moved to Venice? How did you enjoy your first years there?
N.S.N. - It was interesting because it was so different. I came from Los Angeles and went directly to Venice. Venice was just the opposite of Los Angeles. (Haha) It's pretty much the opposite of any other city. You walk everywhere and you meet people all of the time. When I first got there, we walked through the town. Luigi would constantly meet people who were either cousins of his or people that he knew. He would say, "This is Nuria". These people would look me up and down and would say, "Oh yeah, she looks nice". (Haha) I was being scrutinized by all of his friends and family. His parents were extremely nice... they were really wonderful. I had a very funny experience when I was first introduced to his father. His father was considered a very rigorous, strict kind of person. People were worried - "How is this going to work out?". She's the daughter of Schoenberg. My father-in-law liked Wagner's music. They were musical people. They went to the opera and concerts all of the time. Schoenberg wasn't his favorite cup of tea. When I got there, my husband said, "This is Nuria". He said "Does she speak Italian?". I said, "No"... "Does she speak French?"... "No. I speak German and English". (Haha) He looked at me and said, "Did you study Latin?". Luigi also looked over to me and said, "Did you study Latin?". I said, "I guess I had a year in high school" - which is really nothing. I really didn't remember anything at all. My father in-law started speaking to me in Latin.
N.S.N. - I watched his face and when he smiled, I smiled. When he looked serious - I looked serious. At the end he said, "Ah, she's a very intelligent girl.". We got up and went into the living room where they had an old record player console. He took out this record and he played it. It was "Transfigured Night". I guess he went to a record store and asked if they had anything on Schoenberg and luckily they had this. My mother in-law and sister in-law were standing there all emotional and he started crying. He embraced me and was wonderful to me... always. I was very lucky to have wonderful parents-in-law.
R.V.B. - That's very nice. When you got settled into your new life, your husband obviously did a lot of writing. Were you present when he did this or did you give him space.
N.S.N. - I stayed clear. He would tell me what he was doing. He would have me read the text if it was a work that had text. He would explain a little of it to me but basically when he composed, he was closed in his room and that was it. There were times where we didn't communicate very much because he was concentrating day and night on his composition. Luckily, I'm a daughter of a composer and this was no problem for me. I knew that I had to leave him alone and let him work and it worked out very well. When he finished it was a joy because he was a very nice and pleasant person, and everything was fine. It was something that I didn't have too much of a problem with.
N.S.N. - People came over to our house a lot for dinner. He loved to invite people - mostly on the spur of the moment. Luckily, I had a little experience cooking. I could whip up a meal for 10 people on short notice. Our place was always full of guests, especially during the Venice Biennale Festival, where people came from all over the world. During the Music Beinnale, we had theater groups, singers, performers, composers, their wives, husbands, and friends. It was nice and I loved it. It really was a wonderful life.
R.V.B. - Did you have a performance room in your house where maybe they would bring their instruments?
N.S.N. - No. It was more of a social event and they had lots of things to talk about.
R.V.B. - I know that some of your husband's work is politically orientated. Was it ever a problem going out into the town? Did you ever catch any flack for it?
N.S.N. - We actually took part in some of the demonstrations in Italy. For instance when the police shot Rudi Dutschke, there were demonstrations all over Europe. Italy was very politicized in those years and there were demonstrations in Venice. Young people really wanted to show that they were on the side of the people who were being affected by injustices. I have to tell you what I tell a lot of people. We have a lot of students coming into our archives - which is actually a very beautiful place with a large consultation room - where people can look at books and sketches. There are laser - colored copies of sketches so they can easily get them out to study them. All of his 26,000 sketches of works have now been scanned digitally, so they can be looked at on computers also. It's a wonderful space and we often have students come here from other countries as well. When they come here I say, "I know that your teachers probably told you that Luigi Nono was politically engaged, I don't know what that could mean to you now?". Politics has changed in Italy and other countries. It's not about wanting a better world, it's mostly about having more power and more money. The people who are engaged in politics are people who are looking for more power and money. So I say, "Is that what you think he did?". They started looking at me like they think I'm crazy. I say that in the 50's, 60's, and even the 70's, there were people that you could really look up to. People who were seriously concerned with the country and with the arts. They really cared. The mayor of Rome was the most important art historian in Italy at one time. The mayor of Venice was a philosopher. You had people who had a completely different education.
R.V.B. - That's the kind of people that you want in power.
N.S.N. - Yes. So I say, "Just forget the word politics and think of human suffering". What Nono really wanted to express in his works and in his life also, was that people should be aware of all the horrible things that go 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. That you can change things and the situation... things will be better. I said this to a class of young high school kids once, and one of the kids said, "Oh yes, 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 that had just written a book in English on his works gave a lecture. She showed that in the works that don't have words, that don't have a text, at the end - there's a certain conservation of sounds/tones that does exactly the same thing. They end up in a way that opens out into 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.
R.V.B. - That is a beautiful thought and a fascinating concept to his music. Are there any specific performances that you have witnessed from your husband that really stood out for you?
N.S.N. - The first performances of the three works for the theater were all fantastic. He also looked for a stage director and stage designers who were very special. He had Claudio Abbado conducting them and Maurizio Pollini playing the piano. He had such wonderful performers. In the last 10 years when he was working with electronics, he also had the very best avant - garde people in the field working with him. Every performance was very, very special. He didn't call them operas but the three works for the theater were very, very exciting.
N.S.N. - The first one "Intolleranza" was performed at the La Fenice Theater in Venice. That was where La Traviata was also performed for the first time. "Al Gran Sole" was performed in Milano, under the auspices of the Scala Theater. It wasn't in the Scala theater because they rehearsed for about 2 months. That wouldn't have been possible in the Scala because they were doing operas one after another. They had a chance to build a wonderful stage and really work on the production. It's one thing that's really important because there's nothing worse for modern music - and contemporary music - than a bad performance. (Haha) If a work is not performed well and it doesn't come over as it should, it doesn't communicate with the audience.
R.V.B. - It could have a lasting effect.
N.S.N. - It's never going to get to the public. I'm against bad performances. (Haha) Nono's third work for music theater is called: Prometeo. Tragedia dell'ascolto and was premiered in Venice in the St. Lorenzo Church. The architect, Renzo Piano, designed a wooden structure, which was mounted in the huge church. It contained the 4 orchestral groups, several soloists, a chorus, 2 actors, on different levels all around the audience which sat on chairs on the ground floor. There were many loudspeakers above, below and around the entire structure and by the use of "live electronics" and with the expertise of the technicians from the Freiburg Experimental Studio, the music produced all around the audience moved through the entire space. It is difficult to explain in a few words. The experience was unforgettable. [It has been performed in Germany, Austria, UK, Belgium, France, Holland and Italy] Claudio Abbado conducted the first performance in Venice. We just recently had this wonderful event in Boston at Tufts University. There was a 5 day Nono Festival there, where they had fantastic performances. They had workshops and a very interesting conference on electro-acoustical music - on his especially - and on new things that they are doing in music now. The science of the new music is very interesting.
R.V.B. - That's great that you are so involved with your husband's legacy.
N.S.N. - We're hoping to do the same thing in California. My husband's writings are going to be published in English for the first time next year, by the University of California Press. It's a very good translation and it's about a lot of different things. It's not just musical.
R.V.B. - What do you remember about coming to America?
N.S.N. - Nothing. I was a year and a half old.
R.V.B. - You spent your youth growing up in California.
R.V.B. - When were you first aware that your father was involved in music?
N.S.N. - As soon as I became aware of things. I remember going to a dance school - they used to do that back then. Girls had to go to dance school and learn how to dance - it was a social gathering. We had a car pool and one day we driving there with this mother, and she asked, "What does your father do?". They always had to find out what your father did to see if it was worth being in the car with you. (Haha) I said, "He's the world's greatest composer." She said, "Oh, then you must be very rich." I said, "No, not at all." She said, "Oh, I'm so sorry." (Haha) I told this at home and my parents laughed their heads off. That's how they judge a person. It was a very funny situation. I knew not because my father told me, but because he played music with us and made lots of toys for us. He was very good at making things out of wood.
R.V.B. - Apart from his music achievements, he was very handy with making things, like a chess set. What did he make you that you remember?
N.S.N. - I think one of the first things was... he collaborated with my mother who was the electrician on the project... they made a traffic signal. It had the three colored lights and you could turn them on and off. It was for our tricycle and bicycle traffic around the garden. It was a wonderful thing and we just loved it. He made board games. He made a lot of things that didn't really exist in those days or at least they weren't common. I used to think that Scotch tape dispensers didn't exist but he made one out of wood. It had a razor blade on it so it would cut the tape. He made a lot of things that were useful for his work also. He would save every little scrap of paper, string, or other things to use, to make something with. He made other toys for us. He made a wooden square game where you slide the tiles around to put the numbers in the right order. They are made out of plastic now. We still have it. It's in the Schoenberg Center in Vienna. He also made a clothes hanger for my mother for skirts. I don't think they had them at that time. He attached two clothespins to a regular hanger. He would make practical things to help around the house. He was always thinking of things to make. My mother would go shopping at the market and he would stay in the car. He always had these little sketch books that he made out of recycled paper. He would take these little pieces of paper and sew them together. He never threw anything away that could possibly be used. He would sit in the car and make a sketch for an opera or something musical, or he would make a little caricature of somebody... or figure out some mathematical thing. He was always working and his mind just never stopped inventing things.
R.V.B. - You had mentioned that you gave your husband space when he was working. Was your mother and father's relationship the same? Did she give him space also when he was working? Did they have a very good marriage?
N.S.N. - Definitely... yes. He had two rooms. One was his composing room - with lots and lots of books. He was lucky to be able to bring over all of his books when he left Europe. When he composed, the doors were closed and nobody bothered him - "Daddy's working and no noise". We had a big garden when we were in California so most of our time was either in school or out of doors. We knew that we couldn't bother him. At lunch time or dinner time you could call him and he would come out and tell us stories. If we ate, we would get these great stories. He was wonderful with us, but we knew we had to respect the times when he was working. Of course he spent a lot of time teaching. He was at UCLA for about 8 years. He was teaching for about 10 hours a week. He would prepare his courses and think about people as individuals. The tests that he gave were amazing because he gave individual tests to people in his counterpoint and composition classes. There are wonderful papers in the Schoenberg Center in Vienna. You can see them on the internet also. A test was like, "Dear Mr. Stein. Here is a theme for your exam. You will be very happy with this because it will show what you can do". He really thought about people. There were girls who took his courses because they thought it would be easy. They took home economics and music.
R.V.B. - It was the sign of the times.
N.S.N. - He felt sorry for them, so he would give them easy things to do and pass them. He was really nice that way. He was very proud because he had Jackie Robinson in one of his classes.
R.V.B. - That is something to be proud of.
N.S.N. - He was proud. Robinson had to go to baseball practice, so my father would let him go. I remember that and it was really nice. He liked athletics - sports.
R.V.B. - I saw a few pictures of him playing tennis.
N.S.N. - He played until he was about 65. I got to see him play. He was very interested in my brother's career as a tennis player. My brother Ronnie was a very good tennis player. When he was a junior around 15, he was one of the best in the country. My father would go to all of the tournaments. He invented this system for writing down the match. He would write every point. He had these symbols and it would show where the person hit the ball, whether it was in the net, out, to the right, to the left, double fault. Every once in a while there's a comment about the other guy cheating. (Haha) He took it very seriously and he loved to watch.
R.V.B. - You were around 21 when you got married?
N.S.N. - I was 22.
R.V.B. - Did you date anyone prior to that?
N.S.N. - In America, yes. Nobody terribly interesting. I had boyfriends yes.
R.V.B. - Do you think that people treated you differently because of who your father was?
N.S.N. - They had no idea who my father was. It didn't really come into play. Maybe a few people.
R.V.B. - What did you have planned for yourself when you reached adulthood?
N.S.N. - I was in Pre-Med. I graduated in Zoology, which people think means tending to animals in a zoo. (Haha) I received good scientific training at UCLA. It's a big help in the archive.
R.V.B - What was one very sweet moment that you had with your father?
N.S.N. - I have a photograph of him and me going for a walk on my night table. I'm just about 5 years old. It's so nice, and I think about when we would walk up the street. In those days on Rockingham Avenue - which is where our house is STILL. At the end of the street it was wild. Now there's a gated community and it's very ritzy. For my father, it must have been like going to the Vienna forest. They have beautiful woods where people go for walks. That was something very tender and really nice. He was really a good father to all of us. My brothers were very young when he died. Larry was only 10. I was lucky to get a lot more time with him. I remember when he wrote the "Ode to Napoleon". He had me read the Byron poem. I guess he must have told me that it was against Hitler. It was not an ode because Byron admired Napoleon, it was the opposite. We had a lot of nice moments. I remember when he explained to us about the solar system. He used all kind of lamps in the house. The big standing lamp was the sun and he walked around with another lamp that was the earth. He was always doing things with us.
R.V.B. - I know that his archives originally started out in California. When did you become involved with the process?
N.S.N. - I was already living in Europe at that time. For his 100th birthday, they had a big opening there at USC. It looked like something that was really going to be important. In the first years it may have been, but there wasn't very much going on there. It was a beautiful building that was purposely built to be the Schoenberg Institute. Private people contributed a lot of money for it, but they've since taken it down. They built a new building there and just threw it away. I wasn't directly involved but I spent at least 6 months there of the year, for around 4 years... not continuously. When I prepared this Schoenberg documentary book - which I didn't write a word in except the introduction/preface - it was all made from the pictures of the documents and the texts of my father. It's supposed to be like going through an archive. This was way before they had the archive in Europe. It's a very good book. It has about 2,000 images. I worked there for at least 4 years on it. I read everything he wrote there. I looked at every photograph and all the mail that he had received. There were thousands and thousands of documents. That was very, very good for me because I learned a lot more about him that I didn't know of... his relationships with other people. It was a wonderful experience for me. I wasn't very much involved there in general, but then they decided they didn't need it. It wasn't making any money for the university. They said they'd be happy if we got out - so we did - and we got a much better place.
R.V.B. - Is your original house in Los Angeles a landmark now?
N.S.N. - For our family it is, yes. (Hahaha) Los Angeles is not a place that pays attention to Schoenberg. People do visit from Europe a lot. My brother and his wife are very generous and show them around.
R.V.B. - Do you live in the same Nono house in Venice?
N.S.N. - Our daughter lives in our family house... she's a painter. I have my own apartment. I've been in this apartment for about 20 years. It's close to the archives so I can get up late - run over and not be more than a half an hour late. (Haha)
R.V.B. - How are you feeling these days? Are you in good health?
N.S.N. - Yes. I'm in good health. I have high cholesterol.
R.V.B. - So do I.
N.S.N. - Who doesn't? How would the pharmaceutica companies survive if we didn't all have cholesterol? Don't get me started on that! (Haha) It's very strange that all of a sudden everybody has high cholesterol. For the most part I am fine.
R.V.B. - That's great. I appreciate you taking this time with me. I enjoyed the stories and the conversation. I learned a lot about your husband. He created some very unique music. I noticed that he stressed that space is important in music.
N.S.N. - Exactly. That was really important to him. He was very much influenced by the St. Marks Basilica. The 16th century composers wrote music for the choirs that were around the congregation. The music came from everywhere. That started him thinking about it. Venice is also like that. They have wonderful films on Nono and Venice and I'm trying to have English sub-titles made on them. He's on a boat and he explains this... all about Venice and all the sounds that you hear. When you walk around, there are no cars or anything. You hear the water, you hear the steps on the stones, the wind, and the seagulls. There's an awful lot going on all around you. He feels that music should also be like that. You can listen to more than one thing at a time... and from different sources in space... at the same time. That's one of his philosophies.
R.V.B. - Very nice! Venice sure sounds like a beautiful place and I'm glad you're enjoying yourself. Thank you for your time.
N.S.N. - My pleasure.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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