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Webern and Luigi Nono: The Genesis of a New Compositional Morphology and

Syntax

Gundaris Poné

Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 10, No. 2. (Spring - Summer, 1972), pp. 111-119.

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which ' ~ y i j r g yLigeti. Fasslichkeit. To Webern. however. X (1966). The analogy is contained in Webern's frequently used key-concepts of Beziehung. . Their natures differ. The observation of certain procedural analogies between music and speech has been made perennially by musical writers of varying powers of perception and sophistication. "Form in der neuen Musik. Ligeti has observed that musical moments have a meaning only in reference to other musical moments. not the meanings themselves but only their con- textual function and change of appearance can be grasped. and Zusammenhang. in specifics-especially in the matter of a semantic base which speech possesses but music lacks. a man highly conscious of the past. Webern sides with the view that music and speech share certain general principles of procedural logic. Versuch die Metamorphose der Pflanzen zu erklaren. partic- ularly at historical junctures when compositional morphology and syntax undergo critical changes. One of his principal referential authorities regarding this view is Goethe. Still. usually clear and univalent without the need for contextual clarification. their musical counter- parts acquire a "meaning" only in context. In the above-mentioned lectures. especially the latter's trea- tise. WEBERN AND LUIGI NONO The Genesis of a New Compositional Morphology and Syntax IN THE two series of lectures which Webern delivered in Vienna in 1932 and 1933-published in 1960 under the title Der Weg zur neuen Musik-the composer repeatedly returns t o a discussion of music as related t o speech. historical devel- opments in both art and nature follow a parallel course of continu- ous and inevitable metamorphosis. While individual words in speech are endowe$ with concrete meaning. 26.l It is specifically in this larger syntactic context that Webern advo- cates an analogous logic of procedure as relevant between speech and musical composition. it continues to remain an important area of reflection." Darrnsth'dter Beitriige.

Webern's preferred intervals are thirds. Opus 21. It is by now well established that Webern's interval resources are of a highly selective and exclusive character. and minor ninths. What are the reasons for such restrictive selectivity? There are two main reasons. 60. the characteristic microstructures consisting of four notes or less be- come particularly dominant with Symphony." Although short motives are typical stylistic elements in Webern's works of all periods. or else by absorbing them in the collective sound of a vertical aggregate (Cantata. p. *~nton Webern."2 The cornerstone of Webern's compositional syntax is the motive. Opera 26. A striking and in many ways visionary observation suggesting the ul- timate fusion of the dialectics of art and nature occurs in the last of the 1932 lectures: "The farther we proceed. in subsequent works the functional focus of a motive changes from a subjective poetic role to one of objective structural potential. sixths. major sevenths. whereas Webern's motives prior to Opus 21. ed. the more everything becomes identical and finally we have the impression of not being confronted by a work of man but by nature. First. so exclusive as t o ap- pear almost meager. a mat- ter of great importance t o Webern as well as to composers who followed in his footsteps. All quotations are in the author's translation. Webern unmistakably tends to suppress them either through seg- mentation occurring at those points in the row where such intervals are placed (Concerto. 29. The ultimate synthesis of the dialectics of poetics and structure. It is impor- tant t o observe that. PERSPECTIVES OF NEW MUSIC propagates the single-source theory of evolution of all forms-a theory profoundly influencing Webern's syntactic procedures. his concentration on selected intervals must be viewed in relation t o the historical development of serial composition. despite all brevity. which the composer defines as "the smallest part of a musical thought that functions independently. 1960). and 31. is achieved in the three cantatas. An interval analysis of Webern's tone rows will readily reveal a preponderance of minor seconds and major and minor thirds. Opus 24). Second. Although his tone rows do contain other intervals. Opus 31). . Opus 20). Willi Reich (Vienna: Universal Edition. Webern obviously liked both the individual as well as the combined sound of his preferred inter- vals. In a motivic context. Der Weg zur neuen Musik. still retain the expressive characteristics of con- centrated thematic gestures (evident as late as String Trio.

while utterly avoiding the pitch-octave as a harmonic and melodic interval. . . Grundagen der musikalischen Reihentechnik (Vienna: Universal Edition. however."4 3 ~ o ra systematic classification and discussion of these rows see Herbert Eimert. The next rhythmic formant-the "time-fifth. . the pri- mary functions of which are non-interchangeable.. i. . It is possible that he knew about the existence of the all-interval series from Berg who used such a row in the Lyric Suite. . ."Die Reihe.. pp. . and 30). ". Musical theory and practice departed sharply from this view in the 1 9 5 0 ' ~partic- ~ ularly as evidenced by the theoretical premises of Stockhausen's article. It is relevant to note that.wie die Zeit vergeht . 29. . and-to use a term of Luigi Nono-quattro in uno rows. remaining quite content in the "little corner" of his preferred intervals. That Webern discovered and concentrated on the constructive functions of the row becomes obvious upon ob- serving the preponderance of rows exhibiting more or less elaborate isomorphic traits. having been primarily attracted to its potential as an Urquelle of melodic genesis. there are no triplets in Opera 28. retrograde-inversion-like rows (Opera 28. for example. each being a mirror form of the other three (Opera 24 and 32).. one finds retrograde- like rows (Opus 21). . . e. 1964). 4~arlheinzStockhausen. . in other words the so-called "time-octave" and its multiples. Such attention t o the inner construction of a row limits intervallic inclusiveness. expressed by the exponential ratio pattern 1:2:4:8 . rows composed of four 3-note microforms. wie die Zeit vergeht. and 30. . WEBERN AND LUIGI NONO Schoenberg originally regarded the tone row as a thematic manne- quin. ..3 Webern. although it should be remembered that there are also all-interval rows con- taining complex inner symmetries. made no use of these latter rows. This tendency becomes more pronounced in the late works where. for example. This observation allows the inference in Webern's compositional dialectic that pitch and time are regarded as parameters belonging to distinctly separate categories. 36-71. The one notable exception is the appearance of the "time-fifth" as a structurally integrated function of musical time in the first movement of Concerto. ". . 29. Opus 24. Among these. 111 (1957). Webern felt no such compunc- tion about the time-octave. The cornerstone of Webern's rhythmic re- sources remains the binary division of a basic time value." 2:3-tends t o perform a subordinate and primarily ornamental function. Restrictive and selective measures are also apparent in Webern's morphology of time.

retrogression. Opus 24. In bringing this new dimension t o the fore. Still. First. Second. came t o Webern primarily from two sources: the natural philosophy of Goethe and the aesthetic views of his teacher. one of the key tenets of German Romanticism. t o retain the essence of the idea and t o change only its forms of ap- pearance. This concept. Emanuel Swedenborg (1 688-1 772). pitch and duration. In Concerto. and various combinations there- of. as has been pointed out by Pousseur.5 To derive everything from a single idea. the contextual disposition of motives varied by these methods reveals a wholly new orientation. by isolating the mo- tive from a linear context. Boulez was among the first to have observed that structural interchangeability of hori- zontal and vertical pitch functions appears as an integral stylistic trait in Webern's later works. Webern took two . articulation. the above dialectic continues t o suggest a confinement to a two-dimensional matrix. especially the latter's Grundgestalt theory. Webern accentu- ated the new dimension of depth by assigning structural functions 5 ~ h e r eis little doubt that under Schoenberg's influence. t o create a context by deploying these forms of appear- ance in time and space-these are the procedural problems with which Webern's compositional syntax is concerned. subtraction. and timbre are important factors in suggesting the depth of field. it is seldom realized that dynamics. PERSPECTIVES OF NEW MUSIC Webern's compositional syntax reflects his attraction to the con- cept of monogenesis as a fundamental universal law underlying various manifestations in nature. the very structure of the series (the quattro in uno type) implies a mobile potential. for example. the motivic cell. Webern shared his teacher's enthusiasm for the mystic ideas of the Swedish scientist and philosopher. Swedenborg believed in a universal analogy between the natural and spiritual worlds and held that specific manifestations of reciprocity exist between the two spheres. Stock- hausen. This explains the illusion of the "spa- cial" functioning of Webern's motives and their seemingly elliptical relationship within larger syntactic units. To clarify Webern's new syntactic orientation the following observation is requisite: where- as there is a general consensus that pitch levels represent the ver- tical and durations the horizontal coordinate. However. are well known in traditional composition: inversion. . addition. he de-emphasized the linear force of the two primary parameters. The methods which Webern employs to generate new forms of appearance of his basic idea. augmentation. Arnold Schoenberg. and others. - important steps. diminution.

. Der Weg. his intuition probes the future. Contrary t o firmly entrenched beliefs. die engeren gesetzlichen Zusammenhkge . Thus. After a period of apprenticeship and orientation with Maderna and Scherchen. notably Beethoven. and for the same reason. WEBERN AND LUIGI NONO t o the spacial parameters which formerly had been relegated entire- ly t o the role of emphasizing thematic gestures. Everything is still in a state of flux . . Did Webern anticipate the future potential of his work? He was far too modest t o claim the role of a prophet and far too honest t o pretend t o be certain about the future. Luigi Nono. The observation that Webern reduced his musical typology t o the single tone and silence as basic structural units may be a tempt- ing one. . Still. without concrete pre- dictions. In the text of the last lecture of 1932. . . The concept of the single tone as the positive and silence as the negative basic structural components and exclusive normative factors arises much later and is developed by the post- Webern generation of composers. . the interval continues t o remain the basic structural element. like his colleagues Stockhausen and %ebern. rather it is an important compositional meth- od of revealing a sonorous depth of field. Klang- farbenmelodie is not a kaleidoscopic embroidery of linear func- tions. Webern's technique of motivic fragmentation produces many instances of isolated single tones."). 115. I n light of the foregoing discussion. It will be up to a later time to discover the more specific laws of relation- ship . but this also happens fre- quently in the developments and retransitions of other composers. but it cannot be accepted without certain reservations and qualifications. that is. melody. Although Webern's works exhibit an unmistakable tendency of reduction toward the single tone and beyond it. There is no better proof of this than an aural comparison between a conventional version of Bach's Ricercare and Webern's orchestration of it. .6 The discovery of those "laws" began within five years of Webern's death. a persistent misinterpreta- tion of the function of the so-called Klangfarbenmelodie technique should be corrected." (". . 60. and canons appear as consciously applied structural determinants. Webern confronts the future thus: "At this point I can only stutter. mirrors. p. . Webern became the first composer in whose works timbral and dynamic symmetries.

can be expressed as 112: 113: 114: 115. His methods of pre- . Whereas earlier works such as Polifonica-Monodia-Ritmica(1951) display clear evidence of a motivic structure based on the recurrence and transformation of rhythmic and intervallic cells 2 la Webern. yet in performance the effect is that of strikingly linear integration. is no longer apparent. But then. namely: the step of returning to the single tone in its four primary dimensions of pitch. Their proportional relationship. the direction of which is implicit in Webern's late works but which the master himself was hesitant t o take. took the final quick step. I1 Canto Sos- peso. An examination of the scores of Incontri. 9) as well as in other choral works. dynamics. often involve only a small number of so-called rhythmic streams whose basic duration values stand in different proportional relation- ships t o each other. the discrete perception of the indi- vidual component. the single tone. 2 and No. despite all appearances of the final score. When the constituent elements of these streams are removed from their linear matrix and distributed in a structural field. the above-mentioned works show no external resemblance to inherited musical typology. Thus. 2. what matters is its role as a statistical factor in the articulation of various dimensions of complex structures. their original schematic context. 2 of I1 Canto Sospeso. "Diario Polacco" (all written be- tween 1955-1959). dynamic. Varianti. each receiving its own registral. there are 3 5 only four such streams with P.reveals an almost constant isolation of the single tone from any apparent linear context. is usually a completely irrelevant matter t o Nono. perhaps most dra- matically demonstrated by the phonetic filtration of the text in certain sections of I1 Canto Sospeso (notably No. therefore. in No. P. The answer t o this dichotomous relationship between the visual and the auditory lies in Nono's methods of compositional pre-formation which.8. Cori d i Didone. b and as basic duration val- ues. La Terra e la Compagna. and timbral defini- tion. indeed. and timbre as the basic material and starting point for the genesis of a new musical language. The visual impression of these compositions is one of extreme pointillism. PERSPECTIVES OF NEW MUSIC Boulez. as will soon be seen. duration. Nono constantly develops new techniques of pre-forming basic material to suit his compositional intentions. Nono's compositional language appears totally emancipated from any linguistic models and semantic pretenses. and Com- posizione per Orchestra No.

WEBEKN AND LUIGI NONO formation never conform t o a mechanical deus ex machina. Furthermore. The degree of rhythmic complexity can be determined according t o the ratios among the basic duration values selected for each stream. In such a case. The rhythmic streams discussed above in reality represent only a transposed con- cept of the former polyphonic "line" or "voice. the basic stream performs the function of a "super-determinant" over its own subordinate streams or layers which are subject t o processes of composition and de-composition and provide inner articulation for complex masses of sound. while multiplication by smaller numbers yields shorter du- rations. The openings of silence obtained in this way appear like "windows" in a sonorous fasade. In the same work Nono occasionally resorts to the so-called Fibonacci numbers (1.5. In the orchestral introduction of I1 Canto Sospeso individual structural fields are rhythmically articulated according to this principle. The basic stream even aspires to three-dimensionality by becoming a directionally fixed source of sound with contextual reference t o . which in turn is less complex than 3:4:5:7. as any analysis which limits itself only t o a short fragment of a major work may unwittingly suggest.13. silence can be intro- duced as an equal. the basic stream can assume an aspect of two- dimensionality by becoming the carrier of variable horizontal den- sities. 8. These articulations-by-silence allow the temporary penetration of selected details into the fore- ground by suppressing their larger context into the shadows. the selection of basic values related as 2:3 will generate a more simple rhythmic context than 3:4:5. Nono uses this technique in his Varianti as well as in other works. but negative.) as a series of factors with which the basic duration values are multiplied t o obtain actual du- rations. What matters is that the multi- plication of basic values by higher numbers results in longer dura- tions. even to an earnest reader. This allows Nono statistical control over actual durations and the degree of horizontal density as a concomitant. Mathematical fetishism lies far from Nono's compositional thought. 3. and the hidden mysteries of a number series selected for this purpose are quite irrelevant. In the process of pre-forming basic streams. and their strategic disposition can serve among other purposes as an effective means toward per- meability of complex structures. etc." and they can be shaped t o serve many compositional requirements. component along with sound as a positive factor. Thus.2.

beginning with I1 Canto Sospeso (1956). The tone row becomes a mere regulator t o assure a desired statistical pattern of pitch dis- tribution. as well as symmetrically equidistant from a central axis. and register. 2. This would appear to suggest a "canon" involving the above-mentioned parameters: a canon in "unison" at time-interval zero. pitch. "Wandlungen der musikalischen Form. In Com- posizione per Orchestra No." Nono achieves different forms of appearance by mirroring his basic idea in multidimensional space. each represented by one of the four orchestras involved. at mid-point everything is mirrored backward. 5ff. Already in Incontri (1955) Nono used a mirror device for which Berg's Allegro Misterioso from the Lyric Suite and Schoenberg's No. new and far more interesting prin- ciples of structural symmetry are introduced. timbre. A vertical intersection of the four strands at any point reveals their statistical equivalence as t o density. Considering that the loca- tions of the four orchestras are spacially symmetrical and that the sound structures emanating from them are at all times similar to each other. Nono. As Ligeti has observed. dynamics. His earlier compositions are still based on rows consisting of hete- rogeneous interval sequences. "Diario Polacco. 7 ~ y 3 r gL . Here one confronts what Webern referred to as "al- ways the same only under different forms of appearance. Whereas Webern's tone rows serve the purpose of motivic genesis. renounces all motivic gestures per se.7 Nono's works exemplify the gradual degeneration of the original purpose of the tone row. With increasing vertical density. PERSPECTIVES OF NEW MUSIC other fixed sound sources. by electing the single tone as his basic compositional ele- ment. This is precisely what happens in Nono's Composizione per Orchestra No. the reduction of the four basic strands goes further and returns to a single idea. which was the first parameter t o assume a serially fixed function. However. VII (1960)." By adjusting to Nono's expanded concept of the polyphonic "line." the ex- tremely complex score reverts both visually and aurally t o only four basic strands. interval function is sus- pended and the order in which pitches appear becomes relatively unimportant. such as the Variazioni Canoniche (1950) in which the tone row of Schoenberg's Opus 41 is used. 18 from Pierrot Lunaire are well-known previous models: namely. is now the first to retreat into the twilight of non-identity. 2." Die Reihe. row physiog- yigeti.

there are moments in the work of Luigi Nono when this dream becomes a reality. 6 2 (1967).9 However. Both I1 Canto Sospeso and Varianti are based on a row which." Was it Webern's dream to penetrate the mysteries of nature? If so. 297. 'AS a matter of speculation.8 Syntax is a system which imposes certain conventionally ac- cepted patterns of order upon constituent elements thereby trans- lating semantic meaning into contextual meaning. it is possible t o discern a certain degree of analogy between the syntactic procedures of speech and music." Melos (October 1964). There is no longer any logically defen- sible reason for the contextually fixed position of a constituent. it may be noted that Webern's sketches for Opus 32 indicate a row which also consists entirely of symmetrically arranged fragments of the chromatic scale. No. 2. p. a step which occurs in Nono's Cori di Didone and the above-discussed Composizione per Orchestra No. Insofar as musi- cal typology can assume a pseudo-semantic role. or whatever they be designated. perhaps best ex- emplified by the so-called "affect formulas" in the eighteenth cen- tury. although tech- nically an all-interval series. p. "Webern's musikalischer Nachlass. What remains is the coexistence-by-accident of particulars: musical moments. the more everything becomes identical and finally we have the impres- sion of not being confronted by a work of man but by nature. consists in reality only of two inter- polated and diverging halves of the chromatic scale. "Jaunis Mfizikas Forma un Doma. It remains only to return t o the chromatic scale itself. 10. See James Beale. groups. structural fields." Jauni Gaita. The suspension of the organic relationship between the universal and the particular appears an inevitable step in the historical pro- cess of the gradual dismantling of inherited hierarchical systems. WEBERN AND LUIGI NONO nomy develops more and more homogeneous traits. . the reduc- tion of musical typology to the non-referential level of the single tone and its absorption into a statistically conceived mass of sound eliminates that possibility. One might return t o the prophetic words of Webern quoted at the beginning of this discussion: "The farther we proceed. g~undarisPone.