Luigi Nono (1924-1990) is one among the most accomplished representatives of the 20th century musical vanguard which introduced new forms of expression and breached the traditional syntax. The Southbank Centre programmed in his honour Fragments of Venice Festival, a series of concerts starting on 1st October and ending in May with the so awaited first English performance of Prometeo. Leitmotiv in all the programmed concerts is Venice, the composer’s birth town which infuses into his work a definitive “lagoon” atmosphere, contemplative and melancholic.
The Festival gives hospitality to high esteemed interpreters of Nono’s repertory and among them the one who could not miss is Maurizio Pollini. He performed on Wednesday 31st October on the stage of the Queen Elizabeth Hall a kind of “musical theatre” together with the Experimental Studio for Acoustic Arts of Freiburg, the Cologne Percussion Quartet, Andre’ Richard (sound projection), Barbara Hannigan (soprano), Alain Damiens (clarinet), Sara Ercoli, Terence Roe, Margaret Nies, Beat Furrer (conductor).
Nono – often compared to the big revolutionary composers of Vienna expressionist school – uses experimentation, particularly electronic, as a necessary means to strongly express a political and social engagement which is the distinctive mark of his entire work. Deeply influenced by the principle of the art engagé – dominant in the cultural second post-war Italian environment – his music is an example of the necessity for art to dialogue with reality.
Nono’s compositions (both music and texts) speak with language of the communist ideology. They tell us about blood and struggle, racial intolerance, fascist violence, exploitation of the working class, men who die for their own liberty, battles fought in the name of lies and power. All these issues are translated into music language through sharp dissonance, voice cacophony burst with anger, sweet sounds overwhelmed by rough and cold electric sonority, metal chains spun around an aluminium plate, hammer beats that draw into the space strident and violent acoustic waves, screeching voices that echo each other as if coming from the most hidden bowels of the earth. It is an interpretation not always accessible to those who are not used to this genre (some listeners ran off during the interval between first and second time), but just because groundbreaking it sounds like thought-provoking and illuminating.
What made the event much more noteworthy is not only the symbolic encounter between two citizen fellow musicians, rather the artistic and human bond which joined Pollini to the Venice composer. Maurizio Pollini, an extremely polished pianist, is particularly known for his interpretations of Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schoenberg, and Webern. He has collaborated with the best orchestras in the world and under the conduction of some among the greater conductors. The deep attention and care for details, even the most irrelevant, by which he reads the works he performs, is one of his best and universally appreciate quality.
By executing his personal interpretations Nono gave of some of Schoenberg and Berg’s pages, Pollini do not deny his own reputation, focusing all his attention on the perfection and clearness of the quality of the sound. Anyhow the most moving climax is reached when Pollini executes the deep notes of …sofferte onde serene…, homage of esteem and closeness Nono offered to his colleague and friend Pollini: «As both my friendship with Maurizio Pollini and my astonished understanding of his pianism were deepening, a harsh, deadly wind destroyed “the infinite smile of the waves” in my family and in Pollini’s. This shared pain united us even more in the sadness of the infinite smile of …sofferte onde serene… The dedication “To Maurizio and Marilisa Pollini” means exactly this» .
What was striking during the entire concert was the almost sacral respect of silence and immobility – even physic – by all the musicians between the end of one piece and the beginning of the next one. As if each musical fragment enclosed a portion of world, like an epiphany that reveals itself through the dissonance of sounds, noises and screams. Once disclosed, comes back to hide into silence.
By Maria Teresa Sette
From START – Italian Art and Culture in London