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Touched by Nono
Helmut Lachenmann

Online Publication Date: 01 January 1999

To cite this Article Lachenmann, Helmut(1999)'Touched by Nono',Contemporary Music Review,18:1,17 30


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Touched by Nono
Helmut Lachenmann

The following article gives a personal view of my relationship with Luigi Nono, firstly as a student of his and then latterly as a dose friend - - discussing many aspects of his artistic, philosophic, aesthetic and political outlook and importance.
phenomena, human spirit, perception, idealistic freedom, self-questioning,
structural purification, interior, historicity, radical, human experience.
KEY WORDS:

For Carla Henius


" ... "Greek tragedy honoured human freedom by letting its heroes fight against an overpowering fate'.
The "limits of art" require Man to be defeated in this struggle, even when the error or guilt which cause
such a defeat are, in the strict sense of the word 'fatal' (even for the crime committed through fate). Fatum
in Greek tragedy is an "invisible force which cannot be achieved by any natural ~rce and which even the
immortal Gods have no power over'. But out of the downfall of Man his freedom is crystalline -- that
clear necessity to act, and to act polemically, which constitutes the substance of the ego."
George Steiner, "Antigones"

Sometimes, in the field of human achievement, we come across fascinating


phenomena, superb achievements which earn our admiration and astonishment, not just because they are examples of the supreme confidence
with which a genius treats his material, but because they demonstrate to us
what the human spirit is capable of m the potential for which we are aware
that we share some responsibility. Thus fascination and moral impact are
combined. But there are also - - much more rarely - - phenomena which
go far beyond just provoking astonishment, phenomena which the word
fascination is inadequate to describe, implying as it does a degree of safe,
detached observation. In such cases astonishment is not enough to describe
our reactions, for these are phenomena which have a disturbing effect on
our very existence, which 'threaten' not just to touch us but to actually
change us. To change us by subjecting our ability to experience to a hitherto
17

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18 Helmut Lachenmann

unheard of challenge and transporting us into zones of experience of


ourselves where the ego is suddenly exposed, stripped of all the standard
categories of civilisation, and forced to redefine its perception of itself, and
at the same time is challenged to bear such exposure, suddenly perceiving
dimensions of its own existence which our subconscious is vaguely aware
of but which we tend to avoid, taking shelter instead in a sort of welltempered culture even if this consists of a reified invocation of pseudomagical surrogates of such experience. This sudden, shocking awareness
differs from the artificial astonishment described above precisely because it
transports us to realms in which the creative spirit which provided us with
access in the first place is just as exposed and unprotected as we are ourselves.
When rcame to Venice to see Luigi Nono in 1958, I was someone who had
been affected by his music and touched by his personality in precisely this
fashion. I went to Nono because in his presence I experienced a freedom of
a new, different quality. It was superior to the sense of new departure (albeit attractive) which - - largely constructivist in its motivation-- had been
generated at the time by young composed keen to shake off the rigidity of
traditional academicism. It was superior because it was a quasi idealistic
freedom compared with the largely pluralistic, open concept of freedom
prevailing in western Europe after the war. I felt the obligatory rebellion of
the young against the crippling rigidity of the old models was doomed
from the very outset. Rebellion is hypnotised by prevailing conditions and
naively makes what is virtually a frontal assault on these, searching for
models which have been poorly understood - - poorly aired, so to speak.
These are the illusions of liberation from constraints which are only dimly
perceived.
Living and working in Nono's proximity was, I felt, more than just a departure to pastures new. It involved a process of self-questioning and reorientation in a more rarefied atmosphere. Groping to find one's way in
conversation with Nono was in many senses a process of exposure-- exposure to a new, vertiginous freedom from where everything in the way of
traditional virtues which might have served as a starting point and offered
relative safety in terms of composing and aesthetic thought disappeared
over the horizon; exposure to the massive emptiness - - and at the same
time the stifling constraints of a helpless ego which seemed to have been
torn from its roots D b u t in fact had merely been put in touch with its deeper roots; exposed, at the same time to all the questions about the scope and
responsibility of the composer in a civilisation in which to respond to the
contradictions merely by burying one's head in the sand of so-called New
Music was to risk forfeiting one's right to express oneself at all; exposed
also - - and daily confronted with D an intellect such as Nono's with a clarity of vision which it pursued with utter conviction and commitment.

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Touched by Nono 19

Studying with Nono was all about discovering new realities and exposing oneself to an ongoing and permanent process of inner insecurity, just as
he himself was, right to the end. One had to be prepared, moreover, to follow his example and spend the rest of one's life exposed to internal and external conflicts and crises.
1958 was the period after Incontri and Il canto sospeso, and his Lorca settings dated from even further back. It was the period of Varianti, of La terra
e la compagna, the Cori di Didone, Composizione per orchestra No. 2 Diario polacco "58 was to appear that same year and later, after a pause for thought, the
a-cappella works Sara doce tacere and Ha Venido, Canciones para Silvia. And at
the end of my period of studies in Venice Nono was preparing his opera
Intolleranza.
But this was also a period in which Nono was being increasingly marginalised within the avant-garde scene - - and was indeed increasingly distancing himself from it. In terms of compositional technique - - as a West
German composer put it in 1960, after my return to G e r m a n y - - Nono had
"ground to a halt".
But all this meant was that Nono was insisting on renewal of his musical
resources with a degree of determination and clarity of vision which rejected as retrograde or escapist all avenues which promised to lead to a harmless structural paradise and involved a tacit return, hiding behind blind
organisational, serial or aleatory procedures, to the old bourgeois spirit in
the guise of science-fiction idyll or of a psuedo-anarchical, playful eclecticism. To accuse him of having "ground to a half" was to fail to perceive just
how radical this individualistic, innovatory approach was, with its insistence on still operating seriously in areas where others, faced with the limitations and aimlessness of their idea of freedom, had long since slipped
back into conventional playfulness, theatricism, recantation, commerciali s m - or, worse still - - the creation of schools.
This mutual process of estrangement had less to do with Nono's declared
communist b e l i e f s - which were still regarded as a minor offence forgivable in a 'naive artist' who would then be expected to conjure up in concert
halls and theatres pleasant idylls from the romantic, folkloric, picture-book
world of anti-fascist resistance. It was only when Nono insisted on identifying potential sources of fascism in capitalist post-war society-- not least in
the dominant political culture of West Germany - - that these activities
started to cause offence.
However his crucial offence was to refuse to separate his aesthetic from
his political credo. In terms of compositional technique this meant a radical
break with the t o n a l - - 'bourgeois' - - model. Nono's ideas on composition
at the time permitted no figurative ~ and basically also no melodic - - elements. He replaced the linear gesture with an abstract constellation of
acoustically defined sounds. Music as the tension between individual

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20

Helmut Lachenmann

points in time. This was an approach which Nono, Boulez, Stockhausen


and Pousseur still had in common in the early fifties. But this extreme kind
of serial thinking-- masterpieces like Stockhausen's Kontra-Punkte or Boulez" Le marteau sans maftre are products of such an a p p r o a c h - - from which
the other composers returned to figurative shapes and thus to some extent
moved into surrealist, picturesque territory (for which in the case of the
marteau, Gy6rgy Ligeti, in a fit of treacherous enthusiasm coined the term
"cat's world") - - such an extreme case served Nono as a sort of compositional base from which to secure this newly-won territory. It was a starting
point from which to further differentiate and extend a w a y of listening
which had now liberated itself from any traces of traditional tonality. Such
a radical, newly-encoded morphology focused on new kind of melos as the
all-embracing result of a constantly changing myriad of sounds in a defined
space: harp notes, string pizzicato, marimba strokes, vibraphone, celeste
etc., reduced in the seventh piece of Il canto sospeso to individual combinations, thus combine as elements in a characteristic, at times almost purified
field of sound and expression at one and the same time. Nono often preordained homogeneous elements as imaginary instruments, for example a
range of eight cymbals and four tam-tams, or seven sopranos etc. The musical shape was thus still seen as a combination of static, individual sounds
at a time when others had long since moved to producing virtuosic, shimmering textures. I1 canto sospeso is an important example from this period.
Only at certain expressive peaks do the individual points of sound, the syllables, come together to form a melodic, almost artificially expressive gesture. An example of this can be found in the above-mentioned seventh
piece when the girl Ljubka, faced with death, calls "Addio Mama". It is particularly in a work like Il canto sospeso that one can see the beginnings of the
gap - - now a gulf - - between composers like Stockhausen and Nono. At
the same t i m e - and this is, as it were, the "complementary" irritation in
Nono's music for his environment - - he is the only one to have taken up
and preserved the traditional "big' expressive tone, the gesture full of pathos, lyricism, drama and emotion such as has been handed down from
Monteverdi, Beethoven or Sch6nberg. This, of course, made his musical appearance in the serial camp all the more contradictory, and enables a comparison to be made with the problems of reception experienced earlier by
Sch6nberg with his expressive emphasis combined with twelve-tone distortions.
And yet - - as with SchSnberg - - it is this model "structuralist' handling
of expressive tone in Nono's serial works which gives it a powerful, compressed quality. It was all too familiar ~ and at the same time provocative
for the "avant-garde fan', who preferred to be drawn into the jungle of
exotica, rather than forming a new relationship with his own emotional
landscape. And - - at a time when false pathos is cheaply available, and we

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TouchedbyNono 21

suffer from an excess of this and other empty forms of emotion n it is this
very structuralist mutation which charges Nono's pathos with a mysterious power, a stringency which to this day forces the listener out of his indifference.
Structural purification of a new, terse expressiveness which is almost archaic in quality, and thus liberated from its conventional reification-- this
was what Nono had "ground to a halt" in. Or perhaps one should say:
where such purity is concerned, Nono in the late fifties had remained clinging to a rough, inhospitable landscape of naked signs from which others
were striving to find their w a y to more homely surroundings - - forwards,
backwards or sideways.
In those days Nono did not move further on m he went deeper. And
while all the other composers, in these times of upheaval, at some stage decided to settle down for the rest of their creative lives in the terrain in which
they had ended up, Nono the structuralist constantly forced Nono the
expressively-orientated visionary to forge his w a y ahead. This is a central
aspect of Nono's music. With him the processes of structuring and differentiation were ultimately determined by their function of driving music into
space, where the expressive archetype, stuck in conventional forms of expression, domesticated as a noble belcanto figure, a fanfare, a gesture of violence, protest, a p p e a l - - b u t also intimacy or s o r r o w - - is radically renewed
and purified by the rational or intuitive organisation of its structural particles - - in a sense returned to the original material of a human / superhuman
expressive landscape - - and as such is liberated. It is not merely "fascinating' like some sort of exhibit in a museum of the soul - - as happened to
many contemporaries who cleverly behaved as though they were archaic/
exotic m but rather a stimulating confrontation of our perception with
spaces and forces which determine our existence from beyond civilised
conventions and rules. It is a confrontation made conscious by the mutation
of the historically inherited signals of its invocation. Here I must avoid the
accusation of enthusiastic mystification: the vocabulary of emotions n o w
administered by the bourgeoisie, signals of hope, threat, protest, human
emotions in the face of nature, society, life, death - - feelings which elsewhere - - on account of their easy availability m a po0r quality mundane
poeticism has either rejected as reified standards or ignored in favour of
structurally oriented intentions, or which clever, eclectic thinkers in neosymphonic garb more or less call on and use at will. In Nono's case, such
elements are recharged with an archaic, almost 'superhuman' force and
become all the more effective because by their compositional use and structuralistically controlled de-composition they n o w bring their own, highly
differentiated anatomy into the game.
(This is the point at which analysis is required. I have tried elsewhere to
make a start on Canti di vitae d'amore: bells-- magical methods of summoning

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22

Helmut Lachenmann

people to collective reflection about a different - - better world, and have


been used and abused so many times in symphonic music post Mahler - appear after a constellation of multiply filtered and internally articulated
clusters of sound from wind and string instruments which form the first
part, and after a second, bridge section consisting entirely of a soprano
voice, reappear at the start of the third part as clusters or with a staggered,
arpeggiando effect. This latter variant on the earlier blocks of sound removes
them from their earlier connotations and reveals them for what they are - metal bars, surrogates of genuine bells, industrial products. In conjunction
with other metal percussion instruments, cymbals and tam-tams, and also
rhythmic, staggered entries of drums and strings, they are transformed to
some extent into a symbolically invoked basic element, naked metal, material per se and, together with all the other sound elements, fragments of timearticulations in controlled intervals and rhythms, magical invocations and
at the same time an invitation to structural observation. There is no word to
describe this incredible prospect of a virtual richness of expression and
shape).
Structural perception and awareness of the acoustically determined
moment, its internal differentiations and at the same time its redefinition
by the context in which it appears - - all this - - so often reduced merely to
laboratory information or mere decoration-- is put by Nono into a relationship of tension with the natural force of the sounds as magical signs. Nono's
music, as a reflection not of detached, "scientific' research but of investigation triggered by an existential, expressive restlessness, leads to a magical
form of purified emphasis controlled b y creative reason and intuition. This
Nono who "ground to a halt" in his exploration of the depths, was thus not
only in conflict with a culture industry which at least could still be shocked
by such music but also with the avant-garde itself, inasmuch as the latter
seemed to have reached international agreement on a mechanistic understanding of what progress was.
Together with his aesthetically insistent music, Nono presented his
Socialist beliefs as a counter to the indifference of a 'Darmstadt avantgarde' which was dearly infatuated with its o w n contradictions, in his view
pseudo-anarchistic and pseudo-subversive, and had reacted in a positively
childish manner to t h e - - m i s u n d e r s t o o d - - example of John Cage and was
regarded by the world as worthy of occasional subsidy because it was entertaining. Its Wily protagonists were adept at putting themselves in the
limelight as ultimately harmless court jesters of the system which they were
careful to ironise m clever customers operating in a sort of surrealistic, Disneyland coolly allotted to them by a culture which was itself carefully tolerated. It is difficult, if not impossible, to describe adequately the political and
ideological position of Nono, the communist and Resistenza member, and
the w a y this developed over the years, from the time of the Lorca settings to

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TouchedbyNono 23

the 1982 Quando stanno morendo, Diario polacco n. 2, with its accusations directed at Moscow. Just as it is difficult, in a society characterised by power
and profit-oriented hypocrisy and a cynical inaction in the face of the social
catastrophes threatening this world, to pass hasty judgment on the idealistic, utopian aspects of any belief-- be it communism or Christianity m so,
too, it is difficult to approach Nono's political beliefs with anything other
than r e s p e c t - - particularly for those who, faced with the worldwide misery and injustice which is the price of the sense of security enjoyed by the
industrial countries on both sides of the Atlantic, tend to prefer to keep all
their options open. The anticommunism and ideological self-righteousness
which fed on protest against the paternalism of the Stalinist regime (which
even Nono recognised as such) were too much of an opaque/transparent
mixture o f - - on the one hand - - genuine outrage and a desire to distance
oneself from the contemptuous attitude towards human beings displayed
under a socialist banner, and - - on the other hand ~ a cynical Machiavellianism on the part of western regimes which in their own w a y were no less
questionable and contemptuous of human rights, wont, as they were, to
guarantee the prosperity which enabled them to display tolerance and a
range of freedoms used with differing degrees of responsibility, by aggressive suppression mechanisms, thoughtless exploitation of resources in the
Third World, destruction of the planet and tolerance of terror wherever this
would appear to serve the cause of their own stability.
To an enlightened and objective observer, Nono's tendency to wear his
political beliefs on his sleeve may have seemed naive and suspiciously embedded in an international network of communication with like-minded
and equally artistically and politically active friends throughout the world.
At the same time it had its roots in the history of the revolutionary movements which he had studied and to which he was committed. Nono's desire
to have a political impact m parallel to or at odds with the doctrines of his
party ~ was an integral part of his 'Promethean" obsession with "bringing
fire' to humanity, even at the risk of being punished by those powers "over
which even the immortal Gods have no control" and vis-d-vis which the dialectic
of 'wickedness" and 'failure' will in the end prevail Luigi Nono never
ceased to declare his solidarity with restlessness on this earth, and made it
his own. His artistry - - and his humanity - - constantly renewed itself from
this restlessness. Renewal in an ossified world of "gelidi mostri" ~ frozen
monsters. Renewal as an integral part of his own continuity involved painful changes and enormous upheavals.
Such inner tensions explained the sometimes ruthless manner in which
he provoked conflict with people who, in his view, had tapsed into idleness
or indecisiveness - - or even conformity. This he would do all the more enthusiastically as he himself was prepared like no other ~ indeed e a g e r - - to
put his trust in spiritual harmony with other people.

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HelmutLachenmann

Conflict flared constantly over our unreflecting idleness, over any hint of
what is suppressed in day-to-day bourgeois existence. There were times
when, in the name of restlessness and in reaction against false tranquillity,
Nono seemed to have an obsession with doing everything he could to provoke others in whom he detected unquestioning self-assurance.
I had come to him as a student, and such attacks seemed to be part and
parcel of what I expected a teacher to offer me. Thus it was that the obligatory conflict in our relationship only built up slowly, in harmless stages,
more or less parallel to my own process of establishing m y autonomy as a
composer, until it finally flared up in 1971. The question which arose between us - - exactly twenty years a g o - - and opened up a gulf between him
the increasingly desperate, apodictic indoctrinator - - and m y s e l f - - the
increasingly desperate, sceptical s e e k e r - - was this: what happens to all the
inner powers, energies and longings which resist doctrinal monopolisation
by an image of humanity, however the latter may be preached and however
it may be justified? Particularly at times when he was prey to his own
doubts, Nono could not permit himself or others to pose such questions - he regarded this as constituting a flight from historical necessity.
However, twelve years of silence between Nono and myself sparked
an inner dialogue which probably brought us closer to each other again
than any friction and animosity which might have resulted from continuous contact between us. The result was that, when w e met again in 1983,
we did not have to overcome any problems, but rather immediately understood each other as composers with visions which had both changed
and remained consistent and were, to some extent, even complementary,
and mutually confirmatory. As someone w h o had always retained his
respect for Nono as a teacher, I was to some extent a protected species,
despite all the conflicts which continued to rage in his vicinity. My relationship with him which - - unusually for someone w h o was so quick to
make friends - - had initially started in a slow, restrained fashion, had
gradually gained in depth and developed from an artistic discipleship
via increasingly shared attitudes, into a genuine friendship, and was
strengthened by the various types of contact which we had over the
years: discussions while I was a student, observation of each other in
dealing with what one could call the day-to-day life and work of a composer, mutual support for each other in public, and of course also an increasing process of demarcation between us. And finally the h a p p y
overcoming of the estrangement which - - as with all those who were
close to him but did not want him to take over their o w n worries and
therefore at times had to distance themselves from him - - I had to go
through as soon as I did not wish merely to be swept along by the enthusiasm of his reactions to the world and thereby crippled in m y o w n process of searching.

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Touched by Nono 25

In order to remain true to Nono, many people had to be disloyal to him


just as he himself, in his disloyalty towards himself and others, ultimately remained true.
Nevertheless, all those whom Nono turned to as a friend not only had
their lives enriched through the contact - - despite all the irritations - - but
also found themselves fired with new ambitions and applying new standards to themselves, thanks to Nono's enthusiastic eye for the best in us as
part of his own ideal existence.
Those who think they can encompass human complexity with linguistic
means will continue to speak of Luigi Nono's complexity and contradictions, his vulnerability combined with an ability to hurt others, his warmth
and his cruelty, his high spirits and his depressions, his complete immersion in his environment combined with frequent cold rejection of it, his excitability of both a positive and a negative kind. Nono offered his enemies
enough points on which to attack him. There have been few people who
have laid themselves so open to accusations of inconsistency. But in all his
reactions, however surprising or even irritating they may have been, one
could observe the friction of the world and a will driven constantly by a tireless searching for a space in which an "awakened' consciousness - - one
which is inhibited by this society of ours - - could breathe more freely.
To my mind M and e a r s - - the 'structuralist" Nono had from the very outset prevailed over, refuted and expressively purified the 'preacher'. Nono
was, after all, not a preacher-- he was more a visionary.
(For that reason he was not good at using language in a discursive fashion. And yet his pronouncements - - fragments of thoughts, combinations
of concepts which could be completely disjointed and incoherent ~ were
all the more vivid and more apt M and no doubt also more treacherous
than all the rational statements made by others who have battled in vain
with the vagaries of verbal argumentation where art is concerned. In his
often carefree ~ aphorisms Nono was more accurate than he himself realised).
The question of the origins and effects of those forces within us which are
not susceptible to regulation and elude ideological control, their rebellion
against any form of control by whatsoever authority - - however responsible the underlying motivation may be ~ this question had long since been
covered in his w o r k s - - and not just in his string quartet Fragmente-Stille, an
Diotima-- and had been recognised and focused on as the crucial and central question which art poses to humanity.
In terms of compositional technique, Nono's increasing insistence on
drawing our attention to this question was accompanied by a growing tendency no longer to fix structures, to map them out, to more or less dictate
them, but rather, by creating elemental preconditions for structures - - of
which silence is only o n e - - often via massive, almost archaic simplifications

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26 Helmut Lachenmann

to draw attention to the anatomy and also the structured nature of sound
itself-- in the knowledge that what was at stake was not the seeking out of
new sounds but rather alteration of people's ability to hear.
It was no longer a case of 'creating' structures but rather of freeing structures, enabling structuredness to be perceived, to allow the sound its purity
as something which is not constructed but merely occurs, to enable the listener to be moved by this very virginal quality, and yet also to imbue the
sounds with. his own will, however indirectly. The aim was to find the point
where human - - or, in the Nietzschean sense - - superhuman expression
and the forces of nature are one and the same thing.
Composing for Nono was increasingly all about creating spaces and
making radical use of mediums, virtually forcing them to become spaces
for perception, opening tones and the constellation of sound as a potential
space, creating an awareness of structure as a space made up of spaces,
making possible a continuum from the micro-intervallic, via the real space
of the directed sound, to the inner experiential spaces of a psyche which
perceives itself through the process of perception.
Once, on a walk we took together a few years ago, Nono stopped in front
of a stone lying in our path and said: "Look closely at this stone, and then
you will understand everything." This was the period when he was photographing the arcades in front of the Basilica di San Marco from all sides
because he was so fascinated by the surprising constellations of stones
brought to Venice from all parts of the ancient world. Twenty-five years
earlier, inhis Darmstadt polemic against Cage imitators who helped themselves at random to elements from foreign cultures, he had used precisely
these stones from San Marco for a different p u r p o s e - - as proof of a repressive type of imperialism that decorated itself with trophies from exploited
countries. A change in attitude? Undoubtedly - - but not a U-turn, Rather
an extension and reorientation of his thinking and a readiness to constantly
reconsider his ideas.
His search for a new chemistry of communication, for a way of hearing
that was not just expressively affected but also itself had the ability to affect,
in other words the ability to perceive itself (it is not by chance that the concept of 'perception' has only recently been accepted into musical thought)
the beginnings of this search can already be found in the earlier, apparently more 'rhetorical' works of Nono. Even the early instrumental and
vocal masses of sound, including the pre-serial ones, were not just all about
increasing the force of sound, but rather a breaking of this potential rhetorical power by a partly utopian internal differentiation. The strangest
examples of this are in Varianti, but also works like II canto sospeso, Incontri,
La terra e la compagna, Cori di Didone and even the opera Intolleranza with its
constantly changing drum beats in the first instrumental section. And in
particular the Canti di vitae d"amore and even violent pieces like Per Bastiana

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Touched by Nono 27

-- Tai-Yang Cheng or Como una ola de fuerza y luz contain challenges which
are not so much intended to shake the listener with their expressive violence as to sensitise him, despite all the pathos and lyricism they contain.
And it is not just the composed score of the Diotima quartet which puts
across this music's message: it is the perception of its reflection in our inner
selves, across the space of silence and also remembrance, reflection" selfdiscovery as opened up by the fermata which he piles up in constantly
changing, almost artless configurations. Nono'sfermata, his many pianopianissimi, his massive pauses, naked intervals, minute hoverings, unisons,
non-vibrati passages, his radical reductions and refinements in playing
technique which demand of the player a new and often unfamiliar degree
of self-denial and self-discovery, their conscious creation by electronic
means, the ruthless simplicity of their deployment and daring artlessness
with which they are handled: all this is aimed at drawing together and
expanding the listener's powers of perception in which - - to quote Georg
Luk~ics not for the first time - - the "entire person" draws together to
become a "person in his entirety" and at the same time is extended. And yet
Nono's last great works, despite their static character, cannot be mistaken
and certainly not misused - - as the sort of idyllic 'devotional perception"
in which a lack of creative talent sets itself up as offering an uplifting experience to meditational moralists who have turned their back on conventional
culture. The silence into which Nono's late works lead us is a fortissimo of
agitated perception. It is not the sort of silence in which human searching
comes to rest, but rather one in which it is recharged with strength and the
sort of restlessness which sharpens our senses and makes us impatient with
the contradictions of reality. It is a silence which does not make one passive
and subservient, but rather activates one's longing, sharpens the perceptions beyond what can be heard, vis-d-vis our own human destiny, and
makes one long for that clarity in the face of which people understand their
sacrifice and to which Nono's Il canto sospeso is a monument.
Here, however, a topos arises which is also characteristic of the change in
Nono's art and at the same time redefines its continuity: that moment of erring m in a double sense - - goalless searching, in directions where there are
neither paths nor signposts; and also erring in the sense of a priori failure because the goal surpasses the imagination. It is only in the strength displayed
by the seeker to continue to err that the reality and latent presence of the
goal reveals itself as hidden inside ourselves. Thus errare humanum reveals
itself in a new dimension ~ Sch6nberg's "highest aim of the artist: to express himself" - - as identical with the highest aim of Man: to know himself.
And this necessarily includes an unavoidable need for crises. A crisis in
this sense is not a one-off moment of violent insecurity, a shock followed by
inspiration, but rather a constant potential presence. In his lat6r years, Nono,
w h o earlier had believed he could ignore the crisis as a bourgeois fit of
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28

Helmut Lachenmann

self-pity, exposed himself to crisis-- as an experience at the edge of the psychological abyss and as such related to death n to the point of self-destruction. Angst, depression, questioning of his own work and his very existence
derived from uncontrollable internal causes-- all those things which Nono
seemed to have finally shaken off, were readmitted to his life as loyal companions and signposts for his search. Starting from this point he also tried
to achieve a new understanding and new acceptance of others. And this is
precisely what was so fascinating about contact with the phenomenon that
was Luigi Nono n his power to constantly make one insecure, which ("secure or insecure ~ but certain", as Nono wrote to his friend and collaborator Andr6 Richard) frees you from all false security and confronts you with
your own rough, inner landscape, leading you into realms where the socialisation of the ego is no longer adequate and where crisis and greatness determine each other and art, as their messenger, brings both light and depth,
clarity and mystery.
Where Nono's music becomes a campaign for perceptions, where it becomes a "tragedia dell'ascolto", it begins to take on the characteristics of what one
would have to call'non-music" (or perhaps, pace Nietzsche, "supermusic").
Nono's "non-music' transcends the concept of music, which was domesticated, albeit differently, under the mantle of 'new music'. But it does so not
by categorically redefining it, but rather by violently/non-violently opening it, almost tearing it apart. His last works have survived in raw form
more or less incomplete or complete - - some of them having been experimentally presented in collaboration with musicians who were close to him
(and w h o m I envy). These last works are misshapen meteors from those
other planets in the human-superhuman cosmos which he spent his entire
life looking out for, foreboding, cryptic, awkward messages from the
"North of the future" (Paul Celan).
For the older Nono, at least, there was no longer such a thing as a skilful
metier ~ however defined. What counted here was direct, unprotected creative access. And this can only succeed where the creative will is beyond all
artificial wisdom and does not calculate but rather acts intuitively from existentially-driven curiosity, where it draws its strength from experience of
danger ~ a sense of insecurity vis-d-vis one's unknown and yet suspected
goal which one has to break out of with violence. It is an insecurity and uncertainty which subjectively appears to be a threat from within but objectively presents itself as a creative force.
"I'm in crisi again" Nono told me m I don't how many times. His was not
a metier which offered him protection. He was not a "master' in the sense of
someone with a serene mastery of his medium and the impact of his creative activities.
Surrounded by gold-diggers who had worked their w a y up to becoming
well-fed jewellers who knew h o w to invest their discoveries to bring max-

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Touched by Nono 29

imum yield, Nono remained untiring and self-consuming in his search for
the ultimate secret of an art based on awareness. And this is what makes his
music such an experience of purity, determined as it is, not so much by capability or skill as by a strong feeling of helplessness faced with visions
which transcended what could be determined aesthetically - - visions of
humanity and reality which went beyond mere utopia to reach the sorts of
reality which we only call utopian because we ban their real presence from
every moment of our daily lives.
During the course of his life, Nono became increasingly interested in
mythology, religious philosophy, Nietzsche and Heidegger, Martin Buber
and Franz Rosenzweig, the art of the persecuted Spanish Jews in the Middle
Ages, and with all those documents of the past and present which describe
the suffering of the humanity submerged by and in humans. Ultimately
this was what determined his metier (something the students in Berlin
could not understand).
And while techniques were being developed and processes refined elsewhere for providing the bourgeois spirit with 'new" insights - - in whatever
way Nono's music built directly on a renewed ability to "receive" music.
And while the concept of metier largely means a trick whereby the 'old'
human is invited on a fascinating sightseeing tour, at best offering glimpses
of new horizons, but ultimately is dropped back in familiar surroundings,
the 'artlessness' of the later Nono comes across with the directness of a being situated beyond civilisation, who has an extra-territorial perspective on
things and treats the codes and standards of compositional technique with
indifference and with extraordinary p o w e r - - as methods of embarking on
a journey without return.
Thus this api~arent helplessness, this sense of being driven by an irresistible internal sense of mission, despite all the subjective insecurity it creates,
ultimately encompasses a supreme sovereignty of artistic activity.
(The dialectic of artless art as an expression of ultimate radicality apparently drew Nono and John C a g e - - w h o m Nono, after decades of estrangement, felt increasingly obliged t o - - closer together. It was only an apparent
rapprochement - - for where Cage, whose approach was playful from the
very start, was 'professionally' virtually on first-name terms with the unknown. Nono's astonishment at the richness of the inner world of sounds
was always full of expressive diffidence, loaded with the tensions of one
who has been exposed to the foreignness of his own interior. Nono's works
mean more to me because-- unlike Cage (and this is the difference between
the 'seeker' and the "redeemed') he at no point forgets the historicity of the
material but rather preserves it with such radical action).
Thus Luigi Nono has not left us with an artistically successful construction built on a solid foundation. His music takes us into earthquake zones
of human experience, where no buildings can remain standing, because
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30 Helmut Lachenmann

their foundations are constantly shifting and being destroyed, and only
massive ruins remain as an indication of the forces which, one way or the
other, will have the last word in all projects and constructions created by
the human spirit.
"No hay caminos, hay que caminar" - - "there are no pathways, only the act
of walking". On 8th May 1990 Luigi Nono himself passed on his way. His
journey into death was not the first time he had crossed a border, and he
had lived with this experience as the final destiny for everything earthly,
ever since he was so deeply moved by the deaths of those who fought in a
different way for a better life. Readiness for death was for him the final
effort in his readiness for life and creation. It was from both these D a readiness for life and death, a longing to cross borders - - that his music, like all
great art, drew its strength.
I have never quite been able to separate m y sadness at the loss of Luigi
Nono from a feeling of greater awareness, of happiness and gratitude that
he ever existed - - and ever existed in our proximity. And despite the loneliness which I share with so many others who loved him, I feel, when I think
of him, a unique sense of the triumph of art and a hope that its restless force
will endure in times of apparent hopelessness.
Original German text
9 Breitkopf & HL~tel, Wiesbaden