Regular readers know that I have taken a great interest in recordings made available by Germany’s Südwestrundfunk (SWR, “Southwest broadcasting”) radio network. SWR has been using their own SWR>>music digital download series, as well as physical releases on the hänssler CLASSIC label, to circulate an impressive library of historical recordings. However, for about 40 years SWR has run the EXPERIMENTALSTUDIO des SWR at their Freiburg facility. This studio has provided a base of operations for composers such as Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Luigi Nono; and the studio now has a partnership with NEOS Music to circulate recordings from its archives. One recording of particular attention provides a review of Nono’s ventures into the electronic domain; and, while it was released back in September of 2012, it definitely deserves attentive listening.
What makes this recording particularly interesting is that it covers a span of time during which Nono progressed from writing music for instrument(s) with tape accompaniment, “…sofferte onde serene…” (suffered serene waves), composed in 1976, to works for instruments with live electronics. Three of these later works are on this NEOS Music recording, a commemorative piece for Luigi Dallapiccola, composed in 1979 and performed by the six percussionists of Les Percussions de Strasbourg, “Omaggio a György Kurtág” for alto voice (Susanne Otto), flute (Roberto Fabbriciani), clarinet (Ernesto Molinari), and tuba (Klaus Burger), composed in 1983 and revised in 1985, and a piece for bass flute (Fabbriciani) and double bass clarinet (Molinari), composed for Pierre Boulez in 1985 with the subtitle “Dell’azzurro silenzio, inquietum” (the “inquietude” of blue silence).
Probably the best known works to combine one or more acoustic instruments with a prerecorded tape are those in the Synchronisms series by Mario Davidovsky. As the title suggests, these involve impressively virtuoso demands of synchronization with the strictly defined pace of a recording. However, they run the risk of allowing little room for expressiveness from the performer(s). Nono’s tape, on the other hand, is decidedly less rhythmic, creating an “environment” in which the pianist (Markus Hinterhäuser on this recording) can exercise more liberty in interpreting the score. While the tape does little more than expand the environment in which the pianist is playing, so to speak, the effect on this recording is one of a striking departure from the usual conventions of a piano recital.
When live electronics become part of the process, one begins to appreciate Nono’s interest in exploring new approaches to sonorities and how they may be combined. In the Kurtág “homage” piece, the electronics seem to mediate between the extremes of high and low registers, while, in the piece for Boulez, Nono seems to use electronics to supplement the need for highly specialized blowing techniques for these two “extreme low register” instruments. The piece for Dallapiccola, the earliest of the three, also seems to use electronics to call attention to the activities of the performers and may thus be approached as a preliminary study (working with percussion, rather than pitched instruments) to the other two.
Here in the United States Nono’s name was known as one of the new generation of composers emerging in Europe following the Second World War, but he was probably just as well known for having married the daughter of Arnold Schoenberg. If Nono was always kept on the fringes by the American establishment, this may have had to do with his joining the Italian Communist Party in 1952, a time when the Cold War was particularly bitter. Here in San Francisco Nono has received more attention in recent years, primarily through the programming efforts of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, particularly with the performance of one of Nono’s most elaborate works for solo instrument (violin) and “projected” sounds, “La Lontananza Nostalgica Utopica Futura” (the distant nostalgia for a utopian future). Since Nono died in 1990, there is no reason why his politics should remain an issue; and recordings available through the EXPERIMENTALSTUDIO des SWR make it clear that his achievements deserve more attention.