Luigi Nono Facts
The Italian composer Luigi Nono (1924-1990) was one of the most socially engaged of 20th-century composers. His Marxist political views influenced most of his avant-garde compositions.
Luigi Nono was born on January 29, 1924, in Venice, Italy, where his father was a prosperous engineer. He started studying music in 1941 at the Venice Conservatory. He received his doctorate in law in at the University of Padua while studying music with composer Gian Francesco Malipiero. In 1946 he began studies with composer-conductor Bruno Maderna and with German conductor Hermann Scherchen, who both became early proponents of his work. Nono also attended the important Summer Course for New Music in Darmstadt, Germany, where his first compositions, which were strongly influenced by composer Anton Webern, were performed.
Nono was an active member of the Italian Communist Party, and he often used Marxist texts and revolutionary writings as a basis for his compositions. In the mid-1950s, his highly ideological scores attracted notoriety. "An artist must concern himself with his time," Nono said. "Injustice dominates in our time. As man and musician I must protest." The Canto sospeso (1960; "Suspended" or "Interrupted" Song) for soprano, alto, tenor, mixed chorus, and orchestra is one of his most important and characteristic works, showing his concern with the human condition, expressed in a highly sophisticated and complicated musical language. The texts are taken from farewell letters written by young captured resistance fighters awaiting execution by the Nazis. The British critic Reginald Smith Brindle described the work as "so full of tragic emotion, or compassion for the agony of mankind, [that it] is surely the most poetic product of its generation."
Nono's next composition to attract wide attention was his opera Intolleranza, first composed in 1960 and revised in 1970. It attacked racial segregation and nuclear weapons. The theme of the work is opposition to all totalitarian systems that restrict individuality and freedom. The protagonist is a miner who seeks the meaning of life. There are three main scenes: a mine cave-in, a political demonstration crushed by the police, and a catastrophic flood. The work employs multimedia techniques. Scenes of injustice are projected on multiple screens, along with the faces of the principal singers. Even the audience sees itself in projected images so it cannot ignore its involvement. The chorus, which plays an important role, is heard from a pre-recorded tape, the sounds emanating from loudspeakers placed throughout the auditorium. At its premiere in Venice in 1961, the audience rioted.
Intolleranza was produced in Boston in 1965. Nono was denied a visitor's visa because of his membership in Italy's Communist party, but after two Boston newspapers and a large group of musicians intervened he was allowed to enter the United States to conduct his work.
Nono's A floresta e joven e chea de vida (1967; The Forest Is Young and Full of Life) was another multimedia protest work, against United States involvement in Vietnam. It consists of taped sounds and highly amplified live sounds produced by a singer, a clarinetist, reciters, and six percussionists who bang on bronze sheets. The work is characterized by an enormous volume of sound, described as depicting mass panic after the collapse of a metallic bomb shelter. It was probably more successful as political propaganda than as music.
Nono's Sul Ponte del Hiroshima (1962) was written in opposition to the atomic bomb. His Y Entonces Comprendió (1970) included a tape recording of Cuban premiere Fidel Castro reading letters of Marxist guerilla fighter Che Guevara. His second opera, Al Gran Sole Carico d'Amore, written in 1975, focuses on the revolutionary Paris Commune of 1871. Nono also wrote several works inspired by his visits to Nazi concentration camps; a third opera, Prometeo; and a work for violin, tape and electronics, La Nostalgica-Futura.
Nono's early works were influenced by composer Arnold Schoenberg. In 1955, Nono married Schoenberg's daughter Nuria. They had two daughters, Silvia and Serena. Nono died of a liver ailment on May 6, 1990.
Further Reading on Luigi Nono
Nono's work is discussed in Paul Henry Lang and Nathan Broder, eds., Contemporary Music in Europe: A Comprehensive Survey (1966); and Eric Salzman, Twentieth-Century Music: An Introduction (1967); Nono is also discussed in Brian Morton and Pamela Collins, editors, Contemporary Composers (1992); and in Stanley Sadie, editor, New Grove Dictionary of Opera (1992).