Interview: Nuria Schoenberg Nono about Luigi Nono‘s last orchestra pieces

Interview: Nuria Schoenberg Nono about Luigi Nono‘s last orchestra pieces

Nuria Schoenberg Nono talks about Luigi Nono’s orchestra pieces A Carlo Scarpa, architetto, ai suoi infiniti possibili and No hay caminos, hay que caminar... Andrej Tarkowskij.

LUIGI NONO: A Carlo Scarpa (1985)

Who was Carlo Scarpa?
Carla Scarpo was an important architect and a wonderful human being. Just like Luigi Nono he was born in Venice and lived there for most of his life. He was a professor in architecture at the university of Venice, and he was in contact with Frank Lloyd Wright and other great architects from very early on. Later in his life, Carlo Scarpo moved to Japan, where he died.

What relationship did Luigi Nono have to Carlo Scarpa?
The friendship between them was very close. My husband and I often visited him, because we could always meet interesting people at his place. It was also possible to meet him quite late in the evening - even at midnight his wife would cook pasta for everyone. Carlo Scarpa was very well educated. He had a gigantic collection of books. I remember when we were standing on Piazza San Marco one night he was able to spontaneously tell us the history of every single building.

What is his architecture like?

For example, he designed the interior of many museums by combining tradition and modernity. It is amazing how he did it. . One of his most well-known works is the Olivetti showroom at Piazza San Marco. Generally, his work is very detail oriented. He determined every detail. A piece of wood must be a specific kind of wood; a screw must be made from a very specific metal.

Can this attention to detail also be found in Nono’s orchestra piece A Carlo Scarpa?
Certainly. It was no coincidence that Gigi only used two notes. And these notes are by the way c and e-flat (s), the initials of Carlo Scarpa.

Are there more references in the music?
Luigi Nono wanted to portray Carlo Scarpa in all his facets. This composition has 72 bars, which corresponds to Carlo Scarpa’s age: he lived to be 72 years old.

Carlo Scarpa

How does this orchestra piece relate to Venice?
Luigi Nono was deeply attached to Venice. The colors, the sounds of the water, the stones, the bells of Venice – once you know this reference, you will hear it in the music. This becomes very obvious in ... sofferte onde serene ... where you can immediately recognize the bells of Venice and the movement of the waves. Stefan Litwin once asked my husband how he should perform the work. And Gigi just showed the movements of waves with his hands. The bells of Venice can be found everywhere in Luigi Nono’s music, especially in A Carlo Scarpa, where they are particularly important.

When performing this work, the musicians are distributed in the performance space. Does this also relate to Venice?
Yes. In St. Mark's Basilica spatial music was performed as early as the  16th century. Gabrieli and other composers distributed the choirs throughout the church.

A Carlo Scarpa was Luigi Nono’s first work after many years that does not require electronics. What is the reason?
He probably thought that he could express his message better with a “pure” orchestra work. Or maybe he just wanted to work differently.

The effects of electronics are created by using micro-intervals and spatial sounds.

That is correct. By the way: space was always an important component of his music. In his first orchestral works he had already divided the orchestra into different groups.

LUIGI NONO: No hay caminos, hay que caminar... Andrej Tarkowskij

Luigi Nono’s last orchestra work also includes a dedication in the title: No hay caminos, hay que caminar... Andrej Tarkowskij. Which relationship did he have to the movie director?
Luigi Nono’s favorite movie was Tarkowski’s Andrej Rubljow. I remember watching it together with him. This movie was very important to him, Gigi always talked about it. However, he did not enjoy the movies that Tarkowski filmed later here in Italy at all. However, he was enthusiastic about Tarkowki’s last movie Offret (Sacrifice). By the way: the two never met each other.

In what way did Luigi Nono transfer Tarkowski’s style into his composition?
With this work he simply wanted to express his admiration for Tarkowski. There certainly is a connection between the movies and the spatial style of composition.

Luigi Nono uses micro intervals in both works, which makes some orchestras hesitate to perform them…
If you go to a theatre these days to hear an opera from the 19th century, you unfortunately also hear many quarter tones. Sometimes you don’t even know which tone the singer is attempting to sing. It bothers me to hear how out of tune some singers are. In Nono’s orchestra pieces the situation is entirely different, because he consciously used micro intervals. He composed them in a way that they sound good. Generally I believe that most musicians nowadays are used to micro intervals. And in the past these hesitations that you mention almost always proved to be false.

How did the peculiar title No hay caminos, hay que caminar... Andrej Tarkowskij come about?
Gigi was in Spain, and he saw an inscription on a wall of a monastery: “Traveler, there is no way to travel, only travelling.” He immediately wrote that down in his notebook.

It is a line from a poem by Antonio Machado…
… which has been misquoted on that monastery wall. There are some people who claim that Gigi took this line from a book of poems. But that is not true. He actually saw the inscription on that wall. And I believe he was not aware that it is a line from Machado.

How does the orchestra work relate to Prometeo?
The idea of not having a fixed way was very important to him. Luigi Nono was against any kind of dogma. You have to go your own way – he always advocated this concept.

His string quartet Fragmente – Stille, An Diotima is often described as a turning point. Do you agree?

He just did not stand still, he was always evolving. There are some composers who have a big success with one work and then continue writing this work over and over again for their entire life. Luigi Nono can be recognized in each single work, but his style of expression changed according to the text, instrumentation, composition method and technology that he used. Prometeo is also political!

In what way?
Here at the Luigi Nono Archive in Venice we often have students visiting us. Before they come their teachers and professors tell them that Nono was politically engaged. So when they are here, I always ask them: “What does political engagement mean to you”? Because the meaning of this term has changed entirely. It means something very different today. And then I tell them: “Forget politics.”

In his works Nono wants to show what horrible situations there are in this world. He illustrates human suffering in various forms: war and fascism, exploited workers – and also human suffering on a very personal level. He wants everyone to recognize that these things happen in the world that we live in. And then, at the end of each single work, there is a moment of hope. It does not matter if there is a text or not, each work ends with hope: hoping that the causes of this suffering can be changed – in other words: hope for a better world. This is particularly true for Prometeo.

Photos 1: batintherain,
Photo 2: tomislav medak,