No music has ever made such an impression on me as the works by Luigi Nono. Threatening, hoovering, waiting it keeps you in a state of expectation and a bit of unease. But it took quiet a while for me to get there. My first contact with modern/contemporary music was in the late 1980-ies. Obviously the word “modern” referred to something extraordinarily hard to perform and often hard to enjoy.
“Less is more” was an expression never heard of amongst the modernistic composers. At this time I took lectures in composition for a teacher from Chile. He held the avantgarde very high in his thoughts and he never came over the fact that post-modernism had swept away all the rules of art and music. Now, they belonged to the sixties, and he saw in most popular modern artist only a wish for fame – and a lack of “true innovative art”.
I partly had difficulties to cope with his view. On the one hand I liked the idea of always making something new, but on the other I also saw that things didn´t necessarily have to be structurally, conceptually or technically new. Sometimes it would be perfectly allright if it was new to the performer, or new to the listener. Not much people listen to avantgardistic music these days.
When I first heard Nono, I think it was his second string quartet, a world of possibilities opened, as a world of concepts and sounds. His music was not hard to perform, neither hard to listen to, but it really hit me like a bullet in places not controlled by the analytic parts of my mind. I was paralysed during the nearly one hour long piece. Then I bought the CD, to listen at home. “Stop that annoying music!” my family said, which reminded me of the fact that this music really pierced and was hard to close the door on.
Some years later my teacher had started an analysis of the work “Non hay caminos, hay que caminar”, one of Nonos latest works. But all of a sudden he just handed over the analysis to me, with the words “you can accomplish it if you want to”. He seemed a bit scared, and when we discussed it later (after a couple of glasses “Jerez”) he explained that the music, and the analysis, went past the border of death. My teachers 9 year old boy had died many years before, but he still had a complicated relationship with death. Nono himself had died just a few year after the work was finished. Asking a close friend of his about the cause of death was not very concrete but he thought that he had drunken too much. Other sources spoke of suicide.
Today, I have understood that Nono got much inspiration from the older and very ecclectic composer Giacinto Scelsi, maybe a composer better than Nono himself, in my opinion. But Scelsi never even remotley touched as deep places in me, as Nono did.