ICC Report

Luigi NONO

Luigi NONO and Prometeo


Translation : Alfed BIRNBAUM

A Dialectic of Progress and Regression

Helmut LACHENMANN--Between 1958 and 1960 I studied composition under Luigi NONO. This coincided exactly with when Darmstadt [*1] was in the throes of searching for a "new music." Three central figures dominated at Darmstadt back then: BOULEZ, STOCKHAUSEN and NONO. Around the time I began my studies under NONO, while all three utilized the same techniques, it was becoming clear that NONO was taking a completely different path from the other two. To the other composers, NONO seemed stuck in a neo-Webernian [*2] expressionist mode.

Yet in 1958, when STOCKHAUSEN came out with [[Gruppen]] [*3] and BOULEZ with [[Improvisation sur Mallarme]] [*4], both highly ornamental virtuoso works, NONO criticized them as recidivist backtracking to status quo bourgeois music. Whereas NONO as a composer really delved into the notion of music as "punctual," which had its beginnings at Darmstadt, BOULEZ and STOCKHAUSEN had strayed from such thinking and become more ornamental. Not only that, we might even say that NONO differed from BOULEZ and from STOCKHAUSEN in his philosophy, the ideology behind the music; his concepts of freedom were something radically apart. At the same time, NONO once wrote me this in a letter: "Look out for BOULEZ. His music is just like STRAVINSKY's. He's trying to recreate the court music of Louis XIV, who'd stay in the palace listening to music instead of hunting."

On the other hand, NONO continued to use the various affective forms of the tradition--exposed elements of pathos, for instance, such as in a fanfare--things that BOULEZ and others had rejected from their structuralist thinking. What differed from music up until then, however, was that these sounds appeared in forms broken down by his own unique methods. NONO did not employ such sonorities in any embellished or virtuoso or ornamental way; rather his creativity lay in dissecting closer and closer to the very inner nature of the sounds, creating from within the broken pieces. Works like [[Varianti]] or [[Il canto sospeso]] [the suspended song] exemplify this approach. We can discern a dialectic of progress and regression in NONO's works from that period. Trumpet parts, for instance, carry associations with BEETHOVEN's fanfares, the tympanies echo of military music. Even in the vocal parts we hear something of traditional European bel canto. Not that he uses them as-is; they're twisted and bent into an expression that is all his own. Nor does he take an exotic museum-like perspective, merely giving us another walk-through tour of instruments and voices as they were used in other Western music. Rather, his "scandalous" experiments at the time, we might say, lay in breaking down the old even as he maintained it. [[Fragmente-Stille, an Diotima]] and [[Prometeo]] are often cited as major turning points in NONO's ouevre, however, I disagree. I can't help hearing [[Prometeo]] as one gigantic madrigal. That is to say, even as he uses the old categories, they are unbelievably transformed, opening up new conduits to the act of listening.

ISOZAKI Arata--Personally speaking, around when I first met NONO, somehow I gathered that this Akiyoshidai International Art Village Concert Hall was to be built for the Japan premiere of [[Prometeo]]. In Paris there is a park called Parc de la Villette. Originally fairly outlying, it now finds itself right beside the periferique loop road. In the early '80s, an international competition was held for redoing the park as part of MITTERAND's Grands Projets [*5]. The brief for the competition called for an arts center complete with a large exhibition space, a music school and a concert hall. An international jury was convened of something under 20 persons from around the world, myself as one of the judges from the architect side, and in the jury representing the artist-musicians was NONO. Several other architects were also on the jury, including Renzo PIANO [*6], and even more landscape designers, the chairman of the world's landscaping association--this was an all-out world effort to create landscape design here. For a fact, the architects and artists were relegated to the adjunct role of creating the "receptacle" structures. The idea being to make the park international, in a word, a gift from Paris to the next century. We reviewed and debated nearly 1,000 proposals sent in from all over the world, but landscapers' proposals were just not interesting. To the architects, they seemed stuck in 19th century thinking. There were several interesting proposals from architects, but the general consensus was that they were unfeasible. The two professional camps were on a collision course and the whole thing became a fighting match.

The French Ministry of Culture who sponsored the competition began to think that if this kept up the architects and landscapers of the world were in danger of never speaking to one another again. When all of a sudden NONO stood up and said, "So far I've listened to the opinions of both professions, but there's nothing worth discussing, nothing to show the 21st century. The landscapers are hopelessly 19th century, the architects are hopelessly 20th century, and no one's reading forward from here. I don't want anything to do with this jury." So saying, he went home. I was enthralled with this stand up play of his. Because two years prior, when I was designing the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, I ran into the same sort of deadlock with the client, and just stood up and walked out. Remembering that, I had to think, "Good show!" It made me feel close to NONO as a person. Of course, when it came time for the second jury, he came back and judged together with everyone. And that's when the decision went to the proposal by Swiss-born architect Bernard TSCHUMI [*7]--the landscapers lost. And the proposal selected at next stage of competitions for the Cite de la musique music facility in the Park was by French architect Christian de PORTZAMPARC [*8]. The combination of these two rounded out the Park and facilities. In the midst of all these political circumstances, I realized that when NONO stood up and walked out, this was his way to break the stalemate wide open, the posture he assumed to get things moving. Now here's a man, I thought, who knows how to operate. That's one of the first things about him that earned my respect.

Then when he was invited to come to Suntory Hall in Tokyo [*9], I was able to spend more time with him, and we came to a very personal relationship, so much so that ultimately I ended up designing his tomb for him where he was buried on Isola San Michele. So when plans were drawn up for the Hall at Akiyoshidai and HOSOKAWA Toshio [*10] was saying, "Let's do [[Prometeo]] for the launch," I was overjoyed. Actually, it was Renzo PIANO who'd served on the same jury who created the staging for the original premiere in Venice in '84. The competition I was just talking about took place from the end of '82 to the beginning of '83, I think it was, right around the time NONO was in the throes of giving shape to [[Prometeo]]. That's when I met him.

Well, I was thrilled with HOSOKAWA's idea for the Japan premiere. Only there was one problem: I can scarcely read music. I didn't have a clue how to approach music as an architect. So I was relieved to hear HOSOKAWA tell me, "No, even if you could read normal scores, you wouldn't be able to read the score for [[Prometeo]]. This is no ordinary score." That being the case, I decided I might as well work from scratch. The one and only lead I had to go on was Andre RICHARD [*11], who told me concretely how to best interpret the spatial structures in [[Prometeo]]. As I understood it, the movements of [[Prometeo]] called "isolas"--"Isola Prima," "Isola Seconda," etc.--were apparently suggested to the scenario by Massimo CACCIARI's [*12] unique contribution to contemporary philosophy, the "archipelago" thesis, so that the time-space arrangement of these "islands" forms the composition of [[Prometeo]]. That is how I understood it. So what I had to do, then, was create "islands" in space. Islands in both the volumetric and floating sense. They could be in the audience seating or they could be on stage. Whatever was present could be scattered free-floating through space. I communicated [by fax] with RICHARD, and later with him directly when he came to Japan, about these physical arrangements and established the placement and size of the orchestra pit. It was my idea to try to create a spatial parallel between our view of the world as "archipelagos" and the concretization of the performing space in "archipelagos."

Another thing, the image of this hall had to do with its being here in Akiyoshidai. Now Akiyoshidai is a cartesian tableland with stalactic cavities. That is, with caverns. So, during the design process I hit upon the idea, what if I overlap the cave image with that of the islands. A glass-walled court filled with water brought up front and center--this would be one of the floating islands. Actually, all the various lodges of the Village are floating like islands. So this idea of putting together a collective body of islands each with its own function referred not only the Hall but extended to the overall layout concepts. That is, the spatial configuration of this entire Art Village came to manifest the vision NONO and CACCIARI imagined in [[Prometeo]] as reassembled within the conditions of Akiyoshidai here in Japan. Yesterday, listening to the Japan premiere of [[Prometeo]], the flow of the sound in this space created here was exceptional.

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