Symposium/Luigi NONO and Prometeo

[[Prometeo]] as Non-Opera

LACHENMANN--There are three things I want to say. First, what Mr. ASADA said about STOCKHAUSEN's [[Gruppen]] concerns a mere 19 seconds, but we shouldn't forget that [[Gruppen]] is all of 25 minutes long. Granted there is a moment where the brass hit harmonics from three directions, but that moment is one of the more prosaic sounds in the work. At the same time, there are complex spatial phenomena that constitute some of the most readily comprehensible moments. Relations between NONO and STOCKHAUSEN were ambivalent. If I may transpose it to an image: there was a period for STOCKHAUSEN where he was like a child set down in front of toy train set and he enjoyed playing God, moving the locomotives around at will, which was just the period when he wrote the piece Mr. ASADA was discussing. Now if you say NONO did not have such a period, I'd have to say that he had his child's hour at the computers and machines freely manipulating sounds maybe 20 years later than STOCKHAUSEN. I am a composer who studied under NONO and as such am certainly closer to NONO, so I can assure you that this discussion of the composers in terms of an opposition between BOULEZ and STOCKHAUSEN is problematic. STOCKHAUSEN's spatial concepts are also entirely new temporal concepts. It would take a long time to explain, and I'd rather not.

I am totally in agreement with Mr. ASADA's observations that whereas BOULEZ and STOCKHAUSEN pushed ever outward, NONO's impetus was inward, always inward. The greatest problem with this view, however, is the tendency to mystify NONO's works or NONO himself. For a fact, the structure of his works is unbelievably simple. However, more than implementing this and that to unfold the structure, you could say his efforts were dedicated to the perception of structure itself or to making previously-unheard-of structures possible. In [[Fragmente-Stille, an Diotima]] he wrote heaps of fermata [*20], all annotated to 23 seconds or whatever very precisely. The LaSalle Quartette [*21] debuted it. And at that debut, the LaSalle moved their bows ever so slowly trying somehow to hold on for 23 seconds, but in the end the bowing just can't hold out. Just like at the end of a very slow SCHUMANN piece, they bowed little by little ever so economically until the sound finally died out, and still it didn't last 23 seconds. After that, when NONO learned that the Arditti String Quartet [*22] was to perform this piece, he said, "They won't be able to play this piece, they can't even understand it." And yet when we heard the Freiburg performance, NONO came to me extremely enervated. "Arditti didn't interpret the piece, they realized the music I intended." Even so, Irvine ARDITTI told me, "We have to sustain the sound for 23 seconds. The length of the bow is about 87 cm. So it's simple division: if you scarcely move the bow about 3.2 cm per second, it'll last for 23 seconds." (Laughs) ARDITTI looked at the bow precisely and determined that he had to play it 3.2 cm per second, and as a result all sorts of new broken, shakey sounds came out. NONO told me. "At last we've been able to intercede in the very structure of sound put forth here. LaSalle played this piece as if it were WEBERN. But Arditti laid bare the structures within the sound and expanded them." This drive to penetrate ever inward into the sound, this dissection of sound, so as to experience one part of the essence of music is NONO's vision. And that vision of NONO's can be heard in [[Prometeo]]

Then also, Mr. CHOKI questioned whether it were not perhaps wrong to call this an opera, and indeed this is not an opera. Conversely, I think the work would be all the more easier for the Japanese audience to take in because it is a non-opera. I am very fond of the ideas of the Japanese philosopher NISHITANI Keiji [*23], the notion that within the self is an identical part that is nonself. I think we can hear something very close to that in this piece. When I said that [[Prometeo]] was a non-opera, I meant that it leaps out of the existing space called "opera," it's that sort of opera. Earlier I referred to it as a gigantic madrigal, but it's so gigantic, so very distorted, the question becomes, can it even be called music any more? If the work is a non-opera, can it not at the same time be called non-music? The reason being, music has rhythm, music has harmony, it has conventional musical elements, but here is a work that eschews all of that, does it not? Listening to the piece, we have something close to a primal sound experience. It is nowhere for the concept of music proper to arise; it is the existential site of hearing. Day in, day out, we composers are surrounded to excess by all kinds of sounds, we live listening to all kinds of music. And because we're surrounded by so very much music, we sometimes find ourselves even resenting music, but the fact that this is non-music leads us jaded composers to new vistas in sound--it's that kind of work. Not only are we in the space made possible by Mr. ISOZAKI, we are within the interior of the fragmented sound. Those amorphous clarinets, and more, the ineffably noble songs, it all shapes entirely new contexts.

ASADA--I am in near-total agreement with the first two points made by Mr. LACHENMANN. As I said before, dividing extensive spaces on the one hand and intensive spaces on the other is a little too harsh a distinction. Really it calls for a more sensitive discussion. After all, things that are said about one person tend to become critical to somehow strike a contrast. Now, as we happen to be discussing NONO, I admit I oversimplified comparisons with BOULEZ and STOCKHAUSEN. We must recognize the astonishingly high degree of perfection in BOULEZ's works, and those works using electronic modulation such as [[. . . explosante-fixe . . .]] [*24] are truly beautiful. STOCKHAUSEN is also a great composer; his early [[Kontra-Punkte]] [*25], which is to be performed soon at Akiyoshidai, is full of such exactingly fresh beauty you would think it were composed just yesterday--all the more reason the later megalomanic excesses are such a disappointment. That much said, if one had to compare them and NONO on their spatial concepts, I do believe you could say what I said before . . . was the nuance I hope got across.

Now, this second point is extremely important. That is, we must not confuse NONO's peering into the interior of sound with mysticism. NONO is easily typecast. In the past he made political music as a militant communist, which came to a peak with [[Al gran sole carico d'amore]], then from the latter half of the '70s he turns more and more toward melancholic reflection, arriving at [[Fragmente-Stille, an Diotima]] and [[Prometeo]]. In other words, an about-face from things political. Certainly that node of change is not entirely absent. Rather, however, as Mr. LACHENMANN has said, we should emphasize the underlying continuity. For instance, in his very early period NONO is writing pieces based on the poetry of Federico Garcia LORCA [*26]. Of course the key thing here is that LORCA was a poet murdered by the Fascists, and the content of the poems is also important. Only in '87 when NONO came to Japan and lectured on "The Poetry and Though of Contemporary Music" (Gendai Ongaku no Politikusu [The Politics of Contemporary Music], Suiseisha: Tokyo), he cited the word "verde" in LORCA's poetry, noting how the poet emphasized the "r" sound in the word to make a break. And then jumping ahead a little, he states that even Fidel CASTRO uses the severing power of "r" in his speeches. NONO finds a certain politic in LORCA "r" or CASTRO "r." So he is not putting revolutionary texts to music as mere propaganda. If we call NONO's music political, then, we must think on that level of politics from the very outset.

Conversely, we should not consider his works from the latter half of the '70s on simply as a reversal from politics to reflection. Nor moreover, should we mystify this reflexivity. This is an extremely important point. In [[Prometeo]], there appear texts from HESIOD's Theogonia and many other different myths. Yet this is no mere ricorso to mythic sources. Straightaway he gives us mythological texts alongside texts from BENJAMIN. BENJAMIN's Ursprung does not refer to any single "source" recovered by tracing back along linear history. Amidst of the rise of Fascism in the '30s he said that Salvation depends on tiny fissures in the continuum of catastrophe. What BENJAMIN calls Ursprungen [origins] are seen in strata in cross-section. The "micro-messianic power" from his final work On the Concept of History is one of the basic concepts underlying [[Prometeo]], which again has to be understood in context as something quite different from the absolute messianic power expected of the Apocalypse to come.

To put the thing from a slightly different angle, it is decisive that NONO and CACCIARI chose BENJAMIN, and not HEIDEGGER. Mr. LACHENMANN referred to Japanese philosophy and to the ideas of NISHITANI Keiji in particular. Now NISHITANI was a pupil of NISHIDA Kitaro [*27], whose writings are so fraught with riddles that NISHITANI had to explicate and annotate them for us; that was his standing.
Whereas NISHIDA himself corresponds in the German context to HEIDEGGER--corresponds both in theory and politics. NISHIDA's mu [nothingness] to HEIDEGGER's Sein [being] as distinct from individual beings. Problems occur, however, when we start to mystify their "place of mu" (mu no basho) or "site of Sein" as some long-forgotten place beyond the world we live in as actual entities to which we have but to return. That is not only reactionary in theory, politically that line of thinking served indirectly to justify to the militarists in Japan and the Nazis in Germany. It is in that sense I'm saying it's crucial that NONO and CACCIARI chose BENJAMIN and not HEIDEGGER.
Their "origins" are not some facile reclaiming of the meta-historical; they plant themselves squarely in actual historical process and try to get at the immediate strata exposed where that timeflow ruptures momentarily. Which naturally cancels any operatic narrative developing linearly in extensive space. They call it a reverse opera, a false opera, and that is precisely how we have to think of [[Prometeo]].

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