Listening Log – [Pt. II Proj.2] -Luigi Nono – Sofferte onde Serene (1976)

Luigi Nono – Sofferte onde Serene (1976)

Luigi Nono (1924-1990) was a Venetian Avant-garde composer who’s deeply anti-fascist and political work was presented to the world in 1950 at Darmstadt. The style of his composition was influenced by Arnold Schoenberg, whose daughter he eventually married. His compositions are some of the most important works of modern classical music. He had a very clear objective to fight fascism, condemn Nazis and was generally anti- capitalist and had been a member of the Italian WWII resistance. His early works often included specific political slogans and towards his second period even documentary snippets. The piece ‘Sofferte onde Serene (1976)’ marked a transition away from his predominantly political work towards his later, less ‘preachy’ phase.

‘Immediately after ‘Al gran sole carico d’amore’ there was silence, an unutterable silence […] I felt an urgent need to study – not only regarding my musical language but also my mental categories, and I restarted composing again with…’sofferte onde serene…’, a piece that demanded a lot of work.’ (Nono 2001 [1979–80]: 2:245; translation by Assis)

Nono wrote the piece for his friend, pianist Maurizio Pollini, in response to a bereavement Pollini was going through. The composition is constructed out of five ‘modules’ or variations of a piano theme. These are to be performed on piano alongside electronics. The electronics consist of tape recordings of Pollini’s piano playing. These tape recordings are then played back ‘live’ against piano playing of the same musical ’parts’. The inevitable synchronisation slippage give rise to various sonic modulations and phasing creating a different and new piece every time it’s performed. The electronics do not just enhance the atmosphere of this piece but are in fact integral to the atmosphere. The timing difference and the volume at which the electronics are mixed against the live piano very much dictate the degree of ghostliness and liquid feeling of the music. The tape recordings are very real and organic due to the reliance of speed of the tape recorder which will never been exactly the same. The electronic sound is in this case entirely related to the instrument and is in effect it’s ‘shadow’ or echo. It is in fact a living memory of the instrument, a dream.

It is an utterly beautiful piece of music. Absolutely stunning. It was hugely innovative at the time and has retained its magnetic and quietly powerful appeal.