Interview with Nuria Schoenberg Nono

Interview with Nuria Schoenberg Nono

On January 29 Luigi Nono would have turned 90. May 8 will mark his 24th anniversary of death, and since then his music has never ceased to attract audiences. On the contrary, it has enjoyed more and more attention on the programs of the world’s most prestigious concert halls, opera houses, and festivals. On our blog we wish to pay homage to this great musician.
We have interviewed his wife Nuria Schoenberg Nono, who founded the Archivio Nono in Venice in 1993, today a fundamental host for research and study of Nono and contemporary music in general.

When and how did you meet your husband?
I met my husband in Hamburg in 1954, at the first concert performance of my father’s opera, Moses and Aron. My mother and I had returned to Europe for the first time since we left in 1933 to live in exile in the United States.

What was your impression when you heard the music of Luigi Nono?
After Hamburg we met in Rome during a Festival of New Music. There I heard Luigi Nono’s music for the first time. It was a brilliant performance of the second Epitaph for Garcia Lorca, with Hermann Scherchen conducting and the great flautist, Severino Gazzelloni. I sat next to Nono and was fascinated by the piece. I realized that he was an important composer.

This year sees the 50th anniversary of the world premiere of La fabbrica illuminata (September 9). Did you experience the world premiere? If yes: what was it like? Did you enjoy it? How did the audience react? And what do you think about the role of this work today?
Yes, I was at the world premiere. It was amazing. Carla Henius live and dialoging with the recorded and electronically elaborated sounds of her own voice, the harsh loud sounds of the steel mill, the tender hopeful soprano solo at the end: all of this left one with a feeling of having experienced something forceful, never before heard. I remember the performance as a great success. Today it is one of Nono’s most performed works, with many different singers in many parts of the world.

How would you describe your husband’s work to someone who has not heard it before? What is, in your opinion, Luigi Nono’s most important contribution to the aesthetical development of music?
Every work of Nono’s is always, as he has said and written many times, related to an experience or an emotional moment, which he expresses using the methods and techniques currently available. Whether it is the human voice, an orchestra or a combination of live performers and electronics, the means he uses serve to communicate ideas and feelings to the listeners.

How did the perception of Luigi Nono’s music change in his life time and during the past 20 years?
When his music was first performed in Germany, in Hamburg and in Darmstadt, he was hailed as an Italian composer with great promise. Later in Italy the reactions to his operas, Intolleranza 1960 and Al gran sole carico d’amore were partially influenced by the fact that he used so-called “political” texts. Critics took sides for or against his compositions according to their political views. There was very little real music criticism concerned with the actual composition. I often speak to groups of young people and try to explain to them that what Nono endeavored to transmit to his audience was not just a “political” message but rather to make them aware of the injustice and the inhuman situations which people in his own time (individuals, people who worked in coal mines or factories, in different countries etc.) were living in. But not only that. At the end of most of his compositions there is a statement of hope: hope for a better, more just world. So, to sum it up: he cared about human suffering and he was hopeful for the future.

Are there any extraordinary performances of Luigi Nono’s work coming up in 2014? Is there anything you are particularly looking forward to?
There will be many performances to mark Luigi Nono’s 90th birthday. I am looking forward to the Holland Festival in June where several works of his, including Prometeo, will be performed. The same is planned for the Festspielen Zürich in July. The Luigi Nono Archive Foundation is cooperating by supplying exhibition material and photographs to different institutions. On the 29th of January there will be an 'Hommage a Luigi Nono' in the National Centre for Contemporary Arts in Moscow. In Venice a concert and other events are planned at the Teatro La Fenice, which we are organizing in cooperation with the Europäischen Akademie für Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Montepulciano, the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, the Centro Tedesco di Studi Veneziani.

What are the archive’s goals?
The Foundation’s main purpose is to promote the conservation and the dissemination and utilization of the contents of Luigi Nono’s legacy concerning his works. The Foundation pursues these goals through the following activities:
– sorting, cataloging based on scholarly methodology
– acquisition and conservation of source materials relating to Luigi Nono’s works
– assisting visitors and scholars and organizing guided tours of the Archive
– promoting conferences, interpretation courses, research seminars, lectures, video series, exhibitions and similar events for the purpose of disseminating and expanding the awareness of Luigi Nono’s works and ideas
– publication of studies, catalogs and source materials as well as a periodical newsletter about the activities of the Archive
– any other cultural initiative for the purpose of fostering the above activities.

What projects are you working on in the archive?
Besides the activities mentioned above, which are always in progress, we are preparing a special publication to celebrate Nono’s 90th birthday anniversary. It is a “collector’s item”, an elegant edition of about 40 dedications to Luigi Nono found among the 13,000 volumes of his personal library. Images of the dedications as well as the transcription thereof in the original language and in English and short biographical notes on the relationship of the authors to Luigi Nono make it an interesting testimony to the broad cultural and worldwide connections which characterized his life.

Who are your visitors? What countries do they come mainly from?
Our visitors come from many different places: Italy, German-speaking countries, England, Portugal and Spain, France, as well as the USA and Australia. The Far-East is also present by way of Chinese and Japanese students. There are also group visits by students and their professors. Not all our visitors are students or music scholars; there are quite a few performers, architects, artists and tourists who show up at our door.

How is the archive funded? Is it a foundation? Do you receive financial support by the government? 
The Fondazione Archivio Luigi Nono ONLUS is a non-profit foundation. It is funded partly by contributions from the “Friends” of the Foundation. Recently, due to the economic crisis in Italy, there has been a sharp reduction in contributions from Government sources.
The Cultural Department of the City of Venice, had in former years made contributions for the Archive’s activities. There are no such contributions for 2013 and 2014. The Ministry of Culture has also reduced its donations to a minimum, if not totally absent. Fortunately, the rooms for the archive in the ex-convent of Saints Cosmas and Damian, are rented to the Foundation by the City at a “diplomatic” rate. Recently the Nono heirs have had to contribute significant sums of money to balance the budget. We are attempting to find sponsorships from other sources but this is difficult because if there is any possibility at all, it usually concerns specific projects and not funds which can be used for the administration of the Foundation and in particular for the salaries of the personnel.

How are you dealing with the changes in technology?
From the beginning of our existence we have sought to use the most up-to-date technology available to us, when it served our purposes. In 1993 it would have been impossible for us to scan the large paper formats Nono used for his sketches and scores, so we opted for laser color copies on standard A3 size paper (often it was necessary to use 2-4 copies in order to keep the copies in a 1 to 1 ratio with the originals). This turned out to be an excellent choice, since people perusing the copies need not wear gloves and can compare non-adjacent pages with one another simultaneously. The originals of the over 23,000 pages of sketches are conserved in archival conditions in a vault, so that their colors will not fade and the climate changes will have no effect on the paper. Each of these pages is described in detail on a database, present on our website. Many letters and all photographs are scanned and cataloged. Eventually all materials will be digitized for conservation purposes.

In commemoration of the great friendship between Luigi Nono and the conductor Claudio Abbado, who recently passed away, Mrs Nuria Schoenberg Nono kindly asked us to emphasize the following article by Claudio Abbado:

My Silent Friend: Remembering Luigi Nono
by Claudio Abbado, In: Contemporary Music Review Vol.18:1 (1999) pp.3-5