Can text itself become music?: Music-Text Relationships in

Luigi Nono’s Compositions of the Early 1960s[1]



Angela Ida De Benedictis




The yellow patch in the sky above Golgotha wasn’t chosen by il Tintoretto to mean anguish,

much less to provoke it; it is anguish and yellow sky in the same time.

Not sky of anguish, nor anguished sky; it is anguish transformed into a yellow patch in the sky [...].


J. - P. Sartre



Since Il canto sospeso the music - text relationship in Luigi Nono’s work has posed many aesthetic and analytical challenges. From this composition on, the composer consciously strove to develop his personal idiom towards a «new expressivity in the song.»[2]. In this and the works which follow a new synergic interaction takes shape between text and music: on one hand between the form and substance of the textual material, on the other, between the form and substance of the musical material. It is no longer possible to analyze one component at the expense of the other.[3] The theoretical responses to Nono’s new vocal idiom can be summarized in two apparently irreconcilable tendencies. One issue of debate concerns the necessity of distorting the features of the text in such a way that it becomes completely incomprehensible, especially when potential ethic and political contents are to be considered.[4] The other approach avoids any technical or analytical speculation in the name of expressiveness which would justify any particular treatment of the text, even though the existence of a clear link between pre-selected texts and music is acknowledged.[5] We can overcome this text/music hiatus by analyzing the creative process in an analytical-philological investigation, going through different generative phases, proceeding from the sketches to the definitive work. By means of this method the present contribution aims to re-examine the complexity and originality of Nono’s new vocal idiom in three of his compositions of the early sixties: Sarà dolce tacere (for 8 solo singers), «Ha venido». Canciones para Silvia (for soprano and female chorus) and Canti di vita e d’amore (for soprano, tenor and orchestra).[6]      

From the second half of 1950’s Nono’s compositional activity increasingly tended to define different materials and principles of organization for each individual piece.  Between 1960 and 1963, the encounter and the synthesis between past technical skills and new experimentations with sound (among these, electronics and his first theatrical work, Intolleranza 1960) lead to relevant syntactic and morphological developments.[7] Yet, in extremely different ways, the exploration of sound as a complex phenomenon with multiple implications remains constant and central in Nono’s work. Like the word in Sartre’s work, sound becomes action by which composer, performer and listener are inextricably and ideally linked in an artistic commitment which is lived openly as a necessity of communication.[8] In the three works mentioned above, the stimuli and conditions from which this kind of ‘sound’ originates are inseparably tied to the text and its formal and semantic components. And if by the word “composition” we mean the progressive adjustment of the whole through the organization of single elements, we can posit that for Nono composition begins with the reading of a text that provokes the subsequent «transformation into a new signifying musical fact».[9]

                        In Nono’s work sound image always precedes any musical writing. The manipulation of the musical material - from the general sketches to the rough drafts on staff paper, from the first graphic representations of the sound structures to the definitive configuration of events - constantly searches for particular sonorities, which are pursued after numerous steps in the drafts. Nono often figured the evolution of the sound phenomenon in his drafts visualizing their trajectory; among the most used symbols, for example, we can find the following to indicate groups of sounds beginning or ending simultaneously with increasing or decreasing density:



The first step in understanding how the creative process starts from the text is to consider the specific texts selected by the composer.[10] We should notice that Nono also chooses poems or prose extracts independently from any proper compositional project: sometimes the selection is the result of intense emotional involvement or the evocation of sounds in his readings. The most cherished texts are kept together in a sort of “ideal anthology” from which the composer draws, both for future commissions and personal projects. In his vast library, in which are more than 9000 volumes, a large number of poetry and prose texts - some of them never used in any composition - show clear traces of selection and glosses or musical annotations related to timbre, tempo, agogics and dynamics; this also allows a mapping of the intricate routes among his unrealized projects. We can deduce from the examination of these annotations that Nono already thinks in musical terms while reading: the margin glosses (as shown in Figure 1) testify that even in the composer’s perception, as in his language, «neither can sound be isolated from thought, nor thought from sound.»[11]

                        The impression that a piece is musically alive prior to any real graphic representation  is  also  confirmed  by  the  manipulation  of  the  text  after  its  definitive election. The first operation is always to make a typewritten copy of the text; Nono’s main goal is to study carefully both formal and semantic connections, and to find the key words which we can often see already underlined on his printed source. The first copy is often followed by further typescripts in which new changes in the formal disposition can be found, together with internal modifications concerning words or sentences. In the end the composer arrives at a new ‘textual archetype’. Sometimes this is no longer identifiable with the original.[12]


Picture 001.jpg


Figure 1: Anche tu sei collina by Cesare Pavese, source of Sarà dolce tacere with Nono’s handwritten glosses and annotations. Taken from the cycle “La terra e la morte,” in Verrà la morte e avrà i tuoi occhi, Turin, Einaudi,1951, pp. 12-13 (book in Luigi Nono Archive in Venice; with kind permission). The selection of this lyric dates back at least to 1957: it was in fact already pre-figured in the initial project of La terra e la compagna (1957).


After highlighting with colored pencils or pens all the connections between form, meaning, expressivity, characters, Nono makes his decisions regarding the particular parametric materials and the overall shape of the piece. In this new phase, all links in the typescript are marked in the same colors. Is not unusual that the composer arrives at detailed desiderata of expression by arranging key-words in a succession, either taken from the text or intimately recalled together with emotions. This ‘array’ still reflects personal and secret ‘paths’ and cannot be related to any «primitive programme music».[13] Even in the ‘silence of the page’ this material should instead be considered as the ideal sonorous development of the eventual composition in its meaningful essence. The music embodying these emotional interpretations of the text will not describe or imitate those impressions but will be those emotions. In the sketches, even in some written before the draft phase, the composer arranges the text, or parts of it, within imaginary sonorous evolutions that find parallels in eventual musical structures. Between the ‘language system’ and the ‘music system’ a loop is created in which text and music play both roles of means and end. The network structure of the employed musical parameters is predetermined by the text itself. 


                        These features were already evident in the two vocal compositions of 1960 (Sarà dolce tacere, and «Ha venido». Canciones para Silvia) and they become even more evident in the genesis of the triptych Canti di vita e d’amore, composed in 1962 upon the commission by the Edinburgh International Festival (where it was performed on August 22 of the same year and conducted by the composer himself). Along with this work, which is a synthesis of at least two different compositional projects,[14] Nono defines and systematizes an original creative procedure that can be termed ‘a pannelli.’[15] This is based on the juxtaposition of different sound episodes which are directly organized during the writing process using previously selected material. In this process of permutation and interpolation, the pre-arranged homogeneity of the musical parameters guarantees coherence between the different sound ‘panels.’ These ‘block sections’ are meant to be the single units in the construction of a unitary and logical form,[16] quite different from the “jetzt” in Stockhausen’s ‘moment-form’. Although the idea of dividing the composition into three distinct parts is evident from the first drafts, the definitive selection of the text appears to be less easy. After some modifications in the original project, the text of the first piece (Sul ponte di Hiroshima) is made up of selected and revisited prose extracts taken from Essere o non essere (To be or not to be), written by the German philosopher Günther Anders.[17] The central monody Djamila Boupachá - written in memory of an Algerian combatant tortured by French  paratroopers  -  is  based on the tones of hope of the poem Hesta noche, by the Spanish Jesús López Pacheco.[18] For the final elegiac piece, Tu, Nono picks from his ‘textual anthology’ Passerò per Piazza di Spagna by Cesare Pavese, which is a poem he finally set to music after at least four years of waiting.[19] All the definitive textual choices of this piece follow the principal subjects of Nono’s art at this time: political conflicts, the myth of love and, above all, hope, which is unseparated from the other two poles and ties the “songs of life” to the “songs of love”. Without any gap these three different shades of emotion follow in a thematic collection that could be seen as a modern collection of Madrigali Guerrieri et Amorosi. The selections from Anders and Pacheco for this composition remain unique among Nono’s textual choices. The reason of these selections can be retraced to a sudden emotional involvement in the reading of Anders’ text and to Nono’s direct acquaintance with Pacheco. Pavese, on the contrary, had been among Nono’s selected texts for almost twenty years.[20] For him, the musical potential of Pavese’s lyrics are many, both referring to their content (the observation of reality through myth and symbols; the illustration of the contradictions of archetypical values of existence, etc.) or to their morphologic-syntactic structure (frequent repetition of words; alliterating and vocalic sonorities, etc.). Both possibilities can be found in Passerò per Piazza di Spagna, a song of jubilation [«canto allelujatico»] chosen to celebrate «una possibilità e nuova necessità amorosa» [a possibility and a new necessity of love].[21]

                        From his printed copy to the definitive version, Nono re-types Pavese’s poetry in four different phases. The first indications of grouping verses and highlighting keywords are already visible on the printed source. But only in the first typed transcription (see Table 1 in Appendix A) does the composer mark the different phrases with symbols, numbers from 1 to 3 and using four distinct colors (black, red, green and purple). As will be seen, these colors relate back to the characters proposed cyclically in the poetic development.

From this moment on, the four colors identify their respective textual segments in all further decisions. In this case the choice of a trisected division is also immediate: the numbers from 1 to 3 refer to the macro-sections of the piece. By the
second typescript Nono has already reached an almost definitive textual structure thanks to the first substantial deviation from the original: the elimination of
the fourth phrase («I fiori spruzzati / di colore alle fontane / occhieggeranno come donne divertite», The flowers sprayed / with color at the fountains / will make eyes like amused women). This erasure was already imagined by the composer in his first typescript (see Table 1, Appendix A) and is presumably due to the expressive and phonetic difference of this phrase if compared with the four identified textual segments. 

In the third typescript stage the previous selection of short extracts or whole sentences translates into the creation of “grouping panels”: four small, separate sheets (about the size of an A8) in which the composer transcribes different sections of the text, making groups of ‘colors’. This is aimed at extrapolating the sections from their context and verifying their corresponding meanings (see Figure 2). 

                       After this phase Nono begins to work on the proper musical structure of the piece.  As mentioned, the particular parametrical materials had been selected in the first creative phases as in a “repertoire of possibilities.” At this level in the process the composer draws on this repertoire to find the material concerning intervals, tempo and timbres. This material is then to be organized through the various sound episodes.[22] As will be seen later on, all decisions are definitely conditioned by the personal musical interpretation of Pavese’s poetry. The first decision concerns the interval developments and the timbres. In the definitive sketch related to these parameters (see Figure 3) and in the several others before it, Nono always implicitly recalls the ‘portions’ of text with their colored numbers. Moreover, he always follows the same order of the previous “panels.” The intervals sizes in this sketch («4 T» stands for the interval of perfect fourth and tritone; «T 2 + 4» stands for the intervals of the perfect fourth and tritone; «T 2 + 4» stands for the intervals of the tritone, major second and perfect fourth etc.) are successively transcribed on a proper musical sheet in which the  different sections are always identified by the colored numbers.

                     Immediately afterwards, Nono determines the temporal dimension, establishing its qualitative and quantitative organization of rhythm and duration. The single units of duration and the time fields that will characterize the different  sections  are now involved (Figure 4).[23]



Picture 002.jpg



          Figure 2: Facsimile of the Third Typescript Stage (Luigi Nono Archive, with kind permission). For ease of reproduction, the four distinct typewritten “panels” are juxtaposed. The numbers are colored according to the following order: black = «sarà un cielo chiaro» panel; red  = «s’apriranno le strade» panel; green = «il tumulto delle strade»; purple = «le scale».



Picture 003.jpg


Figure 3: Facsimile: Sketch of the final Interval and Timbre Selections; Luigi Nono Archive, with kind permission (The order of the colored numbers follows the one indicated in Figure 2). To the right of each group the indications concerning sound articulation («bacchette ferro + piatti», «lasciar vibrare», «tenere archi perco[ssi]» etc.: iron drumsticks + cymbals; cymbals; go on vibrating; keep hitting the strings), as also instrumentation and dynamics, belong to a subsequent decision phase. This is revealed by the different quality of the ink and the measure indications «come 166-173» (as in 166-173). We should notice in this sketch and in the following one (Figure 4) that the composer connects (respectively with an arrow and with a curly bracket) the parts marked in black and red.




Picture 004.jpg



Figure 4: Facsimile: Final Sketch of Temporal Choices; Luigi Nono Archive, with kind permission (The colored numbers in the upper part are: 1) = black, 2) = red, 3) = green, 4) = purple).



      Up to this point the musical revisitation of the text has led to the effective transcription into a new semiotic guise. Each text segment has found a counterpart in the musical lexicon and will characterize each musical event. At this point the textual material can be finally ‘re-composed’ in its definitive version (see Table 2 in Appendix B).[24] This version becomes a semantic, formal, expressive and phonetic guide for the draft in progress.

                   The new connotation of the colors allows both verbal and musical decoding of the text without leaving any doubt about the path of expressive and semantic correspondences followed by the composer. The first nucleus, indicated by the color black, leads back to the certainty of a happy future, which is assimilated with the light and the clear («chiaro») element of sky and air. This is meant to be the space symbolizing the epiphany of sentiment (the evoked «aria mattutina», morning air). The action of opening symbolic doors or roads («porte», «strade») - behind these allegorical nouns we see the reunion with the woman - characterize the short phrases marked in red.

      The complementarity and the connection between the two texts – as stressed by the composer in the drafts involving parametric choices[25] - are underlined by strong  temporal and intervallic similarities (with major and minor seconds, perfect fourths and tritones). The text marked in green is more extended than the previous one and is connected with the “noise” evocations of the whole text: the agitated turmoil («tumulto») of the first verse corresponds with the troubled voice of the heart («cuore») in the central episode, then finally comes the revealed synthesis of the two beating in one entity («il tumulto delle strade / sarà il tumulto del cuore», The turmoil of the streets / will be the turmoil of the heart). The rhythm and the frenzy of these textual sections are expressed in music by the shortest time field (20 units) and by a larger division of the harmonic surface through the introduction of the intervals of the major and minor third. The key-element of the fourth and final text section final text section (purple group) is the singing (“canto”). Upon this “singing” dwell the happy moments of the delicate encounter with nature, and through and beyond it, with the woman, to whom this hymn is dedicated at last.[26] Symbolically, no instrument is required for this fourth “character”; only the voices of the man and his companion (tenor and soprano) sing purely, musically structured in a complete and emblematic fusion of musical parameters.[27]


                        The three macro-sections of the piece take shape over this total synergy between expressive and structural needs: the different vocal or vocalic-instrumental episodes - which are strongly characterized in their temporal, timbre, rhythm and intervallic features - alternate with orchestral inserts, functioning sometimes as a caesura and sometimes as a connection (see Figure 5).[28]

           As the solo Tenor becomes the vocal protagonist of the final act, the timbre of his voice regains its function of carrying the verbal message.[29] Only in the textual sections which are related to the ‘singing’ or to the ‘voice’ (number 1 and 2 purple, 2b green in Appendix A) the Soprano voice («libero!», free!, as the composer allegorically writes in one of the sketches), replies to his hymn of love as a ‘presence’ (declaimed text) or as an ‘idea’ (vocalized text). The vocal lines are developed  independently of any motivic or thematic implication and according to a particular generative technique based on ‘basic’ intervals which is completely autonomous from  the instrumental layer.[30]

                        In the selection of intervals and in their use Nono attains a personal mediation between the symbolic possibilities of the past and the structural values of the twentieth century. Here the perfect fourth is particularly significant, associated with ‘purity’ and brightness.   The  word  «chiaro»  [bright,  clear]  occurs  in  almost  every  possible  and meaning.[31]  The several interventions of percussions  and strings -  always used in a rhythmic function and with ever-changing dynamics - are meant to create symbolic effects. As the author recalls them in one sketch they should represent the «rumori di Pavese» (Pavese’s noises). Along with its own evocative sonorities, ideal or real, the text suggests timbral associations: Nono assigns the role of the heart («il cuore»), which is the ‘mute protagonist’, to the dreamlike sounds of bells and cymbals; noise and turmoil («tumulto») are instead articulated by strings.[32] The semantic and emotional amplification of the text is accomplished through alternation or simultaneity between these instrumental timbres, through which Nono creates truly ‘self-referential scenarios.’



Picture 005.jpg



Figure 5: Tu: General Scheme of the Formal, Timbral, Textual and Parametric Articulation




                        To understand the reasons for such a choice and combination of materials in the musical structure of the episodes, we need only reverse the famous question asked by Stockhausen[33], and ask: «Why a structure then, and why this one?». The answer provided by studies of the genesis of this work show that formal articulation during the composition is always guided by a previous arrangement of the whole text, and that the morphology of the sonorous events is organized according to the exact syntax of the single text to which it refers. This is done by carefully controlling the relationship between form and substance.


Therefore, the text works as a(n):


Semantic basis: One paradigmatic case is provided by the organization of episodes 2a and 2b green (measures 226-235 and 238-247). The two episodes are developed with mirror harmonic structures. These mirrors arise from the need for textual signification: «il cuore», the heart, subject of the whole strophe, becomes the first formative element. In the first couplet, after composing the vocal line of the first verse («il cuore batterà sussultando», the heart will beat shaking), Nono develops from  the  harmonic cell of heart  -  through a double germination of its six pitches  -  the entire vocal  line  of  the  second  verse.   Its subject is always the heart.[34] Also the mirror of the second couplet (measures 238-247,1), in the pitches of «le tue scale» (your stairs) that retrograde the ones of «la voce» (the voice),[35] implies the genitive case (of the ‘generative’ heart).

Formal basis: As shown in the facsimili (Tables 1 and 2 of the Appendix, and Figure 2), Nono carefully recopies the punctuation in the different typewritten phases, making a few choices and minimal variants to the original one of Pavese’s text. The punctuation marks are translated into precise syntactic caesurae within the macro-sections of the composition. These are the orchestral inserts that clearly point out the different sections. In Tu such ‘musical punctuations’ belong to two different types: the ‘interlude’ connection and the ‘refrain’. The latter normally works as a caesura and recalls the sonorities of the orchestra introduction.[36] One clear example where the composer faithfully follows his textual scheme as pre-ordered basis for composing is the elimination of Pavese’s comma between «s’aprirà quella strada» (that street will open; episode 2 Red) and «le pietre canteranno» (the stones will sing; episode 2 Purple), as is evident comparing Tables 1 and 2 (see Appendix A and B). The omission of the pause mark implies a syntactic connection between the two sentences, a sort of asyndeton. Likewise, regarding the formal development of the music, for the first and last time in the whole work two segments belonging to different ‘characters’ follow one after the other. This happens without a break (measures 214-216 and 216-221), by the overlapping of the Soprano on the last pitch of the Tenor (F#3, measure 216,3). The elimination of the comma is thus explained in musical terms.

Expressive and phonetic basis: One of the most eloquent examples is the anticipation of the third red clause («s’aprirà una porta», a door will open) at the end of the second macro-section (this second macro-section (see Figure 5), and the following omission of the second black phrase (this decision is made definitively in the final drafting phase, as is confirmed by the clear deletion marks on the final typescript; see Appendix B, Table 2). Nono appears to realize the semantic coherence between the voice of the heart that climbs the stairs (episode 2b green) and the door that opens (third red segment). The omission of the second black phrase[37] would then be explained by his willingness to make this correspondence stronger. The analysis of musical structure confirms this: the segment «sarà questa la voce / che salirà le tue scale» (this will be the voice / that will climb your stairs) enunciated by the Tenor (measure 238-242) is echoed on the same harmonic line by the Soprano exclusively in its vowel essence.[38] From this echo (and directly on the pitches used for the possessive «tue», your, referring to the woman), Nono generates the musical line for «s’aprirà una porta» (a door will open). A structural enjambement consequently comes after the new semantic relationship created by the textual omission. The semantic superimposition between the vowels of the Soprano and the subsequent textual fragment of the Tenor appears to express the desired encounter between the two in the realm of pure sound.[39] New considerations can now arise about the reasons why Nono confers the following green textual segment (n. 3) to the instruments. These considerations lead us to a clear case of ,,,

Synthesis of the possibilities of the text: As a matter of fact, the ellipsis resulting from the instrumental and not phonetic “sound-tracking” of the text creates a connection between the two following verses given to the Tenor: «s’aprirà una porta» (a door will open) and beyond it «sarai tu - ferma e chiara» (there will be you - still and bright), as slowly syllabified and declared in maximum intelligibility. By assigning the text to the instruments in section 3 green, the effective semantic independence of the two main instrumental voices (percussion and strings, as already laid out in the orchestral introduction) is completed. The layout of this section is a structure comprising two distinct levels in density, rhythm and time. The first is connected with percussion and the second with strings: in this section the text (transcribed in the score) is ‘sung’ exclusively by instrumental voices. By now these voices are so laden with independent meanings that their timbres are now used to represent «Il tumulto delle strade», (the turmoil of the streets, strings with support of winds), finally revealed to be the «tumulto del cuore» (turmoil of heart, percussions).


                        The correspondences between verbal and musical material could be extended both to the other two pieces from Canti di vita e d’amore (Djamila Boupachá and Sul ponte di Hiroshima) and to the vocal compositions of 1960 (Sarà dolce tacere and «Ha venido». Canciones para Silvia). The pieces all share the same purpose: «to adapt form to content» during the composition, that is to manipulate the musical material in order to model the message and the colors of the text[40] in a new status reflecting Nono’s direct involvement in the almost ‘biological’ events of sound and word. On one hand, words seem to reverse their semantics in the world of music, and on the other they seem to dissolve into incomprehensibility. While reproducing the inflections and evocations of the text in music, the material is organized by the composer as a set of “distinctive features,” in which the slightest variation also determines a change in meaning. The articulation in the sound complexes (clusters, groups, blocks or single vocal lines), the slightest modification among them (in density, tempo or dynamics), the selected intervals - every little detail plays an assigned role in the expression of the text. Now we can state even more firmly that the genesis of sound is in the initial ‘musical’ reading of the text and then organized in the ensuing textual manipulation. Modeling the literary source along his own musical purposes highlights even further the presence of a definite ‘sound thought’. This ‘sound thought’, coming also after the initial textual “provocation”, quickly acquires its own autonomy. In the definitive typescript definition, through the separation into couplets or strophes, through the groupings based upon semantic features or figures of speech, it is clear that the composer is organizing a musical material. Indeed, the relations and the connections arranged in his typescripts and sketches are translated into his specific musical language, and they acquire logic and structural coherence within a form as the means «to represent musical thought», in accordance with Schönberg’s teachings. The correspondences within the text are re-created through the use of different expedients, such as varied repetition and referential use of intervals. The latter demonstrates the new concept of the ‘color’ interval, which characterizes harmonic surfaces according to the symbolic or semantic connotation of the text. [41] 


                        Furthermore, a lucid sonic imagination is involved in the articulated procedures that determine the material use of the text. In its new musical guise the perception of the text varies according to pre-selected techniques. Thus, in Sarà dolce tacere and «Ha venido.» Canciones para Silvia the textual comprehension is rather difficult, whereas in Canti di vita e d’amore one can find both discrete comprehensibility (especially for the most intense warnings and emotional appeals) and the opposite, a complete negation of the verbal element, attained when words are ‘enunciated’ only by orchestral voices. The latter procedure, which would appear to contradict the importance of the text, must be interpreted instead as an ultimate confirmation of the centrality of ‘sound’ in the composer’s mind. This sound is able to carry within itself the entire scope of the meaning. Its sense, its essence, its dramatization takes place in the articulation of the material, «in the mere acoustic phenomenon and in the sound experience of music».[42] Here the search for a “new vocality”, ongoing since Il canto sospeso, is applied to instruments with the creation of a specific language which is self-sufficient and functional for the semantic propagation of the text. It is not by chance that Nono, while defining the technical and timbral aspects of Canti di vita e d’amore, assimilates the instrumental to the vocal technique. In the creative process of these of these ‘verbally mute’ sections an intense attempt is evident to musically model that very meaning, or better, the presumed ‘sonority’  - harmonic, rhythmic and temporal - of that meaning. The “un-saying” of the text has an intense dramatic power: the voice is not permitted in the most significant episodes, while the instruments become the only way to “explain” the tones of pain, tragedy (Sul ponte di Hiroshima), or unconfidable hope (Tu).[43] If we consider the importance assigned by Nono to the voice, we will understand that instruments sing the text and that the procedure of writing the text over the score is not arbitrary.

        One note in a sketch, dating back probably between 1960 and 1961, is illuminating on this matter. While sketching some ideas for an unrealized work - ideas which migrated into Canti di vita e d’amore - the composer writes that voice and instruments can sound «alternating - together - reversed, so that the instrument becomes voice, and the voice a mere instrument. /and so words are written on the score, but not sung by the voice, rather played by instruments». And he adds: «continuity between the 2 voices / between instruments / between voice and instruments».[44] The communication of the message is denied to the voice, sublimating the real course of emotions in the sonic essence. This must be considered as a premonition of the “sung silence” in the later string quartet Fragmente-Stille, an Diotima, where the fragments extracted from Hölderlin’s text, still present in the score, have been silenced in order to «obtain the maximum from its message of rebellion with minimum means».[45] In some ways this ‘transgressing’ of the text could be compared with the syllabic fragmentation begun in Il canto sospeso. Both techniques pose problems in the comprehension of the work and in the use of the text; paradoxically, both start from a communicative verbal input translated into sounds. 




                        Even though these observations on the links existing between form and content (textual and musical) shed light on the composer’s poetics and aesthetics, they don’t appear to accurately define the relation between the two systems, that is, language and music. The question is to try to define the process by which the music becomes an organized whole if we also consider its meaning, that is, how the work relates effectively to its textual “provocation.” Having previously considered the equivalence between the phonic and semantic levels and between sound and sense,  and, starting with the a priori belief that the composer has no desire to play ‘games of translation,’ where do we place the essential contact between the two systems?  Is the semantic autonomy of these three compositions absolute or is it always subordinated to their poetic texts? Is language assimilated, overcome, or does it retain primacy in the musical structure? It is also necessary to ask the decisive question about realization: does the un-intelligibility or even the total removal of the text modify the semantic-syntactic dimension of the work? Studying not only the genesis of the three compositions of 1960-62 but also of the previous and following works including Il canto sospeso), I think it is possible to achieve a critical interpretation beyond what Nicolas Ruwet formulated in 1961:


            ... obviously, is very hard to set free the peculiar relations between word and music in a given work, and that is for a very simple reason: as far as in every signifying system one particular signifier is defined only through its relation with all the others, in a given system it is not possible to go immediately from the signified of one word, a group of words, ore even of an entire poem, to the signified of one signifier in another system - melody, series of chords, musical phrase.[46]


                        In focusing the point of interaction between text and music in Nono’s creative process, one first step could be asking if this music would make sense without these words.  The present philological analysis proves without any doubt that these musical structures are born with and for a particular text, forged upon its content and modeled to reflect it in sound. Total changes (of entire extracts from the text) or partial changes (of single words) would then correspond neither to substitution nor to destruction of the text, rather to arbitrary variation. It is in a certain way as if a sculptor molded a statue, not necessarily resembling the original features of its model. The material of the object-statue is not the same of the object-model, and after its creation anyone is able to inflict changes or lacerations, even against the artist’s will; yet that statue retains in its intimate essence that very model, even when no longer recognizable or called by another name. With or without their respective text, the musical works originating from it continue to make sense, since not only text and its intelligibility are important but also its deepest meaning, transposed in the musical structure.

                        It has been already noticed that structural procedures, far from being functional only to ‘construction,’ are part of expression, and when dealing with the text they transmit its content. This was usually described as ‘fusion’ between semantic and musical content, and also as ‘enhancement’ of the textual meaning through the sound structure.[47] This peculiar mutual relationship, synthesis of a «new and autonomous whole»,[48] has been defined as ‘transformation,’ ‘transmutation,’ ‘transposition,’ ‘interpenetration’ or, to follow Boulez’s words, “text centre-absence” or text “pretext.” Under close examination however, these expressions don’t satisfy the range of this process; [49] I believe that this could be defined instead as ‘transcodification’.

                        It is necessary to point out that my personal use of linguistic terminology serves the purpose of exemplification, with no intention of transposing the corpus of its rules into music. Confrontations between linguistic and musical norms will be developed to ease comprehension, to explain the peculiar use of the material (musical and textual) and oppose one system to the other, searching for analogies at most, but without assimilating one to the other. 

                        As language, also music is a system of signs which manifests itself in structures. Once given the sign as the graphic association of a signified with a signifier (inseparable elements), its phonic realization shows itself acoustically as a ‘signal’ that translates the signified-signifier dyad into a new one: ‘sense’ and ‘sound’ (“fonìa”). In music, ‘sign’ refers to pure and non-conceptual sound, but in any case, such acoustic translation, though non-conceptual, is able to recall a definite content if sounds are structured in ‘signifying systems.’ The articulation of linguistic signs exists on two distinguishable levels. The first level is composed by units which don’t carry meaning (phonemes), the second by the carrier units (monemes). Based on this starting point we can state the possibility of shaping signifying sound structures even through the connection of units which have no meaning, but may contribute to creating it (that is: single sounds). In Nono’s case it is evident how musical composition is based - like the linguistic act - on the selection of specific entities (the parametric materials) and on their combination in complex units.[50] This involves the phonological (the single sound), the morphological (its internal structure) and the syntactic level (rules for sound combination). Structure will give the ‘signified’ to music, especially if the latter is conceived so as to organize and ‘communicate’ prior or implicit references and meanings of the text, as in the case of the three compositions under examination. And directly through the explanation of the functions of communication it is possible to try to solve the question of ‘musical sense’, that is what should be understood here by ‘signified’ or in which system (musical or linguistic) it should be placed. 

                        Six main linguistic functions are assumed for every act of communication: code, message, sender, receiver, channel and context (or reference).[51] In the musical system, the more or less certain functions are: the sender-receiver dyad that connects a single element, the author, to a probable multitude, the public; the code, that is the system of musical signs chosen by the author; the message, which becomes the whole work as a reproduceable entity structured according to precise poetics;[52] and finally the channel, meaning the acoustic space of sound propagation. In the specific case of Nono’s music it is necessary to dwell longer upon the informative content of the message (physical state) and its content (information) depends upon the code which is a system of signs, symbols and signals through which it is possible to transmit or receive information. Although the linguistic and musical communication don’t share the same code they might have a common message content or reference. In the case of the three compositions in question written in 1960-62, and more generally for all Nono’s works involving texts, it should be clear from the preceding discussion that the linguistic sign and the musical one both recall the same sense. This sense must be seen as a ‘semantic invariant’ even if the graphic representations of the message are different.[53] And directly through this shift of sign a transcodification is realized, by which the content of the text and that of the musical work become concurrent.[54] This can be seen as a type of synonymy (one signified for many signifiers) reached through a semiotic bi-morphism: if the signifier usually structures the signified, in this case the same signified, as is no longer identifiable with the form of its original sign, is structured by a new signifier. The music-code, ‘conveying system’, becomes the expression of the text-code, which reverts to a ‘conveyed system’ by becoming the content of the music-code.[55] Given the composer’s typescript as the framework of the whole text (that is, a set of formal properties in which is hidden a content structured by words predisposed for the new semiotic order), when transcodification is complete:


            1)   the framework, with its formal relations, is preserved;

            2)   the code changes;

            3)   the content remains unchanged in the new musical configuration of the message.[56]

                        Comprehension follows the change of code; for this reason the intelligibility of a given text cannot be assimilated to the intelligibility of the same text when set to music. The system of signs through which the text has been coded, is decoded by the composer and re-coded into another system of musical signs, creating a shift between two systems. The new decoding (the reception in sound of the new musical work) now occurs on a different axis of comprehension, involving a new system of communication, no longer based on linguistic signs but on musical signs. If the message is structured in the music-code, the listener must refer to the coordinates of the music-code at his or her disposal.[57] The comprehension of that music will then depend on the degree of complexity of the composer’s idiom, and also on the encounter between the listener’s capacity of musical decoding and the creative horizon of the composer. Any possible incomprehension of the text does not undermine the semantic coherence of the inner structures of the musical work; the inseparability between signified and signifier is not compromised by the non-perceptibility of the phonetic material caused by discontinuity, syllabic de-composition or complete removal of the text. If while standing in front of Leonardo da Vinci’s Cenacolo one were to refuse or were unable to enjoy the iconic-objective reality of this masterpiece, its symbolic meaning surely wouldn’t cease to exist!

At this level, the straightforward comprehension of the text is no longer important since one should pay attention to the text in its sonic guise; it is the same meaningful essence achieved through the articulation of another code.[58] The references implied in this music, with all the emotional and ideal implications of the composer, reach the listener anyways. On one hand, as receiver, he or she will ‘be’ in that sound, involved in the message even without intending to be; on the other, as addressee, he or she will stand in front of that sound and the reality that it represents. If «the form of a work is the result of the density of its contents»,[59] as maintained by Varèse, the meaningful and structural densities of works like Canti di vita e d’amore Sarà dolce tacere and «Ha venido». Canciones para Silvia will be then the mirror image - or transcoded image - of the syntactic and semantic density of the text. This deduction, however, feeds, as in Nono’s words, on the awareness that «there isn’t any formula!!!!!! Today as always. [...] the real ‘solutions’ and the techniques are on their way. They can only become». [60]



APPENDIX A, Table 1:

First Typescript (facsimile; Archivio Luigi Nono in Venice, with kind permission)



Picture 006.jpg



APPENDIX B, Table 2:

Final Typescript (facsimile; Archivio Luigi Nono in Venice, with kind permission)   





Picture 007.jpg




































            [1] Originally published as “Costituzione della struttura musicale a partire dalla materia verbale. Sul rapporto testo musica nelle composizioni dei primi anni Sessanta,» in La nuova ricerca sull’opera di Luigi Nono, a cura di G. Borio, G. Morelli and V. Rizzardi, Firenze, Olschki 1999 («Archivio Luigi Nono. Studi», I), pp. 67-94. This essay would not have been possible without the availability of Nuria Schoenberg Nono, the support of Gianmario Borio, Veniero Rizzardi and Stefano Bassanese, and the love of my father. My special thanks to each one of them. The quotation in the new English title comes from L. Nono, Musica e teatro (1966), in Luigi Nono, Scritti e colloqui, edited by A.I. De Benedictis e V. Rizzardi, Milano, Ricordi 2001, I, pp. 210-215: 214.

[2] L. Nono, Cori di Didone, in L. Nono, Scritti e colloqui, cit., p. 432.

[3] See for example the analyses of Il canto sospeso by Kathryn Bailey and Ivanka Stoianova. The former pursues a detailed, if sometimes contentious, analysis of the musical structure of the work but omits the textual aspect and misunderstands the aesthetic implications of serialism. The latter takes a completely opposite approach but lapses into at least three conceptual errors: (a) by assigning a causal function to a process (“proxemics”) which originates a posteriori, and confusing it with the effect; (b) by wrongly using the term spatialization, reducing its meaning to its mere graphic-objective connotation and thereby confusing graphic with acoustic information; and (c) by not associating its treatment with a technical-compositional investigation. Paradoxically, starting with a ‘defensive’ attitude towards the composer, the scholar then obstructs any true comprehension of his work. See K. Bailey, ‘Work in Progress’: Analysing Nono’s Il Canto Sospeso, Music Analysis, XI, 2/3, 1992, pp. 279-335; I. Stoianova, Testo-musica-senso.  Il Canto Sospeso, in Nono, edited by E. Restagno, Turin, EdT, 1987, pp. 126-142. On the masterpiece of 1955-56 see moreover: Wolfgang Motz, Konstruktion und Ausdruck. Analytische Betrachtungen zu “Il canto sospeso” von Luigi Nono, Pfau Verlag, Saarbrücken, 1996; Jeannie Guerrero, “Serial Intervention in Nono’s Il canto sospeso”, «Music Theory Online», 12/1, Ma. 2006, and Carola Nielinger-Vakil, “The Song Unsung”: Luigi Nono’s “Il canto sospeso”, «Journal of the Royal Musical Association», 2006, 131(1), pp. 83-150.

[4] See K. Stockhausen, Luigi Nono. Sprache und Musik II, in Texte zu eigenen Werken, zur Kunst Anderer, Aktuelles, II (1952-1962), Köln, DuMont Schauberg, 1964, pp. 157-166. Similar doubts, but in the wider context of the entire post-Wagnerian production, are expressed by E. Fubini in Da Wagner a Stockhausen: Musica e Parola, Studi Musicali, XV, vol. I 1986, pp. 139-149: 142-143.

[5] See among others: M. Mila “La linea Nono,” Rassegna Musicale, XXX, IV, 1960, pp. 297-311; A. Gentillucci, “La tecnica corale di Luigi Nono,” Rivista Italiana di Musicologia, a II, vol. 1, 1967, pp. 111-129; M. Zurletti, “Le opere corali,» in Nono, cit., pp. 116-125.

[6] The first two pieces were written in 1960; Canti di vita e d’amore was written two years later. The following analytical exposition and aesthetic reflections stem from extended research at the Archivio Nono in Venice which specifically dealt with the cited compositions but covered the entire production of the years 55-65 (See A. I. De Benedictis, “Il rapporto tra testo e musica nelle composizioni vocali di Luigi Nono. Studio filologico e analitico con particolare riferimento a Canti di vita e d’amore,” thesis of Università di Pavia, Faculty of Musicology, 1995-1996).

[7] The first piece for four-track magnetic tape Omaggio a Emilio Vedova dates from 1960. An electronic ‘thought’ was already recognizable in the treatment of sound material since Il canto sospeso. A letter dated 10.10.1956 sent by Berio to the composer reads: «in Milan we will try and spend all day in the [RAI electronic] Studio calmly explaining what can be done and demonstrating it practically.» (Letter preserved at the Paul Sacher-Stiftung, Basel, Sammlung Berio; with kind permission). The theatrical piece Intolleranza 1960 also follows several uncompleted projects (see V. Rizzardi, “Verso un nuovo stile rappresentativo. Il teatro mancato e la drammaturgia,” in La nuova ricerca sull’opera di Luigi Nono, cit., pp. 35-51).

[8] «La necessità decisiva è: comunicare» [The conclusive need is: to communicate] (L. Nono, Possibilità e necessità di un nuovo teatro musicale (1962), in Scritti e colloqui, cit., I, pp. 118-132: 131).1


[9] «Trasformazione in fatto musicale nuovamente significante»; expression used by the composer in Il musicista nella fabbrica, in Scritti e colloqui, cit., I, pp. 206-209: 207).

[10] Although the present paper concentrates on the compositional procedures from the 50s and ’60s, consultation several of the poetry and prose texts in Nono’s private library (preserved in the Archivio Nono in Venice) confirms the application of the procedure described above also to many subsequent compositions (vocal and instrumental) based on a text.

[11] F. de Saussure, Course in general linguistics, ed. by C. Bally and A. Sechehaye, transl. from the French by W. Baskin, London, Gerald Duckworth, 1990. This way of musically ‘living’ the reading seems to anticipate what Nono will experiences in the space of S. Lorenzo’s Church during the composition of Prometeo, tragedia dell’ascolto: «io mi sento attualmente come se la mia testa fosse S. Lorenzo... Mi sento occupare […] dai suoi silenzi... e ascoltando tutto ciò cerco di trovare i suoni che possono leggere, scoprire quello spazio e quei silenzi: i suoni che poi diventeranno Prometeo. […] e l’opera che non c’è, la cui scrittura, i cui suoni sono assenti, vive già […]» [“I feel like my head is Saint Lorenzo… I feel occupied by his silence…and while I listen to all of this I try and discover the sounds that possibly read this silence and this space: the sounds that will become Prometeo. […] and the piece that don’t exist yet, its writing, its missing sounds already live”], see Verso Prometeo, conversazione trans. L. Nono e M. Cacciari (1984), in Scritti e colloqui, cit., vol. II, pp. 338-358: 350-351.

[12] More interested in the essence of the text than in its original formal layout, Nono takes possession of the poetic and literary ‘surface’ as the ‘material’ to be used for his musical ends. A case of total re-elaboration of the text involves, for example, the textual selection for Sul ponte di Hiroshima - first part of Canti di vita e d’amore. Several extracts from the original prose text are freely re-constructed in verses (see infra). We should recall here what Nono writes in 1969: «[Text] is not limited to a naturalistic and literary use, but it is confronted in its internal linguistic structure, in the heart of  its ‘life’» («Il testo non è limitato a un uso letterario naturalistico ma è affrontato nella sua interna struttura linguistica nel vivo della sua ‘vita’», Il potere musicale, in L. Nono, Scritti e colloqui, cit., I, pp. 261-271: 270).  

[13] L. Nono, Sul ponte di Hiroshima, «Musical Events», September 1963, pp. 11-12: 12 (now in Scritti e colloqui, cit., I, p. 443). For the first project of Sarà dolce tacere (conceived as a triptych on the lyrics: Tu sei collina, Di salmastro e di terra, and Sei la terra e la morte, all written by Cesare Pavese), Nono creates a type of meta-textual expressive path by connecting in sequence the following words: «tu-sei-tua-ritroverai-conosci // salmastro-terra-mare // morte-dolore» [you – are – yours – you will find again – you know // brackish – land – sea // death – pain], and matching each term with different sound forms (what is written by Nono in his notes is faithfully marked between quotation marks, here as everywhere). Among the “desiderata of expression” that I found, the most articulated is the one he outlined for the first project of Sul ponte di Hiroshima. The first textual part (never composed) is ‘summarized’ in four emotional stages: A: «distruzione e conseguenze» [destruction and consequences]; B: «volo – raccolta – viaggio / I° tentativo reazione» [flight – gathering – journey / first attempted reaction]; C:  «delusione – mortificazione – abbattimento» [delusion – mortification - despondency]; D: «decisione – azione / grido azione / no – lotta – azione» [decision - action / shout action / no – fight – action]. Also the second part (text included in the actual measures 40-164), is summarized in an internal path: A: «annuncio» [announcement] is tied to B: «descrizione» [description]; C: «inizio impegno» [engagement begin] preludes D: «impegno» [engagement]. The third part (text included in the actual measures 14-34) is assigned to the «epitaffio» [epitaph] with a function of final «motto».


[14] As the study of the pre-compositional material reveals, the first piece of the work (Sul ponte di Hiroshima) was initially independent and separate from another tripartite project, which the author refers to in a sketch only as «canti d’amore» (Songs of Love, based on texts by Brecht, Pavese and Pacheco). The two different ideas seem to come together in the same work only after the commission by the Edinburgh International Festival. The priority of the initial project is clearly shown in the work’s title, written on the second page of the Schott edition: Canti di vita e d’amore. Sul ponte di Hiroshima. The idea of the ‘canti’ wasn’t new: between Canti per 13 (1955) and Il canto sospeso (1955-56) a further incomplete project was figured by the composer as «canti di vita» (Songs of life), perhaps first idea for Il canto sospeso.

[15] While the Italian “pannelli” can hardly be translated by anything but “panels” it refers to “block sections” in common English analytical discourse [ed].

[16] One of the first hints of the ‘panels’ composition appears already in Composizione per orchestra n. 2 - Diario Polacco ’58 (1959), where the title itself (“diario” = “journal”) refers to a composition formed by different ‘pages.’ The novelty in Canti di vita e d’amore is the systematic way in which this procedure by ‘panels’ is applied. This composition is a true synthesis of processes and intuitions already present in embryonic stage in previous works: in the first sketches of the work the composer takes upon himself to «develop», among others, the techniques used in Incontri (1955); Varianti (1957); La terra e la compagna (1957); Composizione per orchestra n. 2 - Diario Polacco ’58; Intolleranza 1960 and «Ha venido». Canciones para Silvia. Also in the quartet Fragmente-Stille, an Diotima (1979-80) the succession of “fragments” recalls this procedure by panels.

[17] G. Anders Essere o non essere. Diario di Hiroshima e Nagasaki, preface by N. Bobbio, translation by R. Solmi, Torino, Einaudi, 1961. Nono copies out long sections from this dramatic documentary text in several subsequent typescripts. Through these different stages it is possible for us to observe a peculiar case of de-construction of the prose text and subsequent re-interpretation in a poetic and epigrammatic form. (Here and in the following two notes the bibliographic indications refer to Nono’s text sources preserved in the Archivo Luigi Nono in Venice).

[18] J.L. Pacheco, Pongo la mano sobre España, presentation by G. Vigorelli, translation by A. Repetto, Roma, Rapporti Europei, 1961, p. 42 (on the figure of the Algerian combatant, see S. de Beauvoir - G. Halimi, Djamila Boupachá, Paris, Gallimard, 1962).

[19] C. Pavese, Passerò per Piazza di Spagna [I will pass by Piazza di Spagna], in C. Pavese, Verrà la morte e avrà i tuoi occhi, Turin, Einaudi, 1951, pp. 34-35. It is possible to date the different selections of this lyric thanks to several handwritten glosses in Nono’s copy. On one hand, these annotations go back  to the hypothetical first project of La terra e la compagna (1957), and on the other to the never-realized cycle based on Pavese’s texts, conceived about 1960, almost at the same time of the  first tripartite idea of Sarà dolce tacere (see note 14).

[20] Chosen for the first time for La terra e la compagna (1957), Pavese will appear in Sarà dolce tacere (1960), Tu (1962), La fabbrica illuminata (1964), Musica-Manifesto n. 1: Un volto, e del mare (1969) and Al gran sole carico d’amore (1972-74). This list increases remarkably if we also include selections for unrealized projects. For more details see F. Breuning, Luigi Nonos Vertonungen von Texten Cesare Paveses Zur Umsetzung von Literatur und Sprache in der politisch intendierten Komposition, Münster et al., Lit 1999, and A.I. De Benedictis, Luigi Nono et Cesare Pavese: miroir croisé, in Musique vocales en Italie depuis 1945. Esthétique, relations texte/musique, techniques de composition, sous la direction de P. Michel et G. Borio, Paris, Millénaire III, 2005, pp. 79-106.

[21] L. Nono, Canti di vita e d’amore, cit., p. 443.

             [22] The complexity of the organization of time and intervals in the work does not allow any lingering over analytical exemplifications. For more details on these technical aspects, see my paper Il rapporto tra testo e musica nelle composizioni vocali di Luigi Nono. Studio filologico e analitico con particolare riferimento a «Canti di vita e d’amore» (cit., see footnote 6), pp. 42-56; 59-98; 99-126; 127-140 and, with particular reference to the third section Tu, pp. 141-164.particolare riferimento a «Canti di vita e d’amore» (cit., see footnote 6), pp. 42-56; 59-98; 99-126; 127-140 and, with particular reference to the third section Tu, pp. 141-164.

[23] The organization of tempo is structured according to subdivided fixed “duration fields,» which the composer associates with different time units (quaver, triplet eighth, crotchets etc.). The comprehensive proportions of each field result from the sum of its internal subdivisions (which are further sub-divisible). The pre-selected temporal fields chosen here are: 1) subdivisions 1-3-6-10 (total duration 20); 2) subdivision 2-5-9-14 (total duration 30). After several second thoughts, the third field (below to the right) is fixed in the succession of 3-8-15-24 units (total duration 50). The third field results from the sum of the respective elements of the two preceding fields. For a deeper discussion on the matter, see my dissertation cited in footnote 23.

[24] While the term «le scale» (the stairs) is kept in the purple panel (see Figure 2), in this copy it occurs as «le strade» (the streets); this version (presumably an assonant error in the copying) is kept in the draft.  We can notice this confusion in the score: on page 5 appears «scale», while in measure 204 appears the incorrect version «strade» kept in the typescript-guide. The question marks near the second verse of the “black” panel (see Figure 2) are removed in the final copy. Other hesitations inherent in the second “green” section are also evident. The marks crossing the text do not indicate an erasure but the compositional completion of the respective section.

[25] See caption Figure 3.

[26] Which, according to the particular connection made by the composer (see ‘purple’ panel, Fig. 2) in the final verse  - «sarai tu - ferma e chiara» ([It] will be you - still and clear) - the song of the stones, swallows, balconies and stairs (subjects of the first two segments), seem to objectify.

[27] While pre-figuring time units and durations for the four textual ‘characters,’ in one sketch Nono provides that the color purple has a function of “rhythm and intervals synthesis” («sintesi ritmo e intervalli»). The third duration field (see Figure 4), the 50-unit time field (3-8-15-24, used only for the vocal episode of measures 204-212) is thus meant as synthesis of the other two of 20 and 30 units (see note 24). This has great symbolic significance. The duration units and the intervals are also enunciated in their totality by the three distinct occurrences of the color purple.

[28] The instrumental timbres are subdivided on four levels (percussion, strings, brass and woodwinds).  The punctuation of Pavese’s poetry reproduced in Figure 5 is the result of the collation of the two final typescripts. The writing of the intervals («2+», «4» etc.) follows that of the composer. The designation of the time fields is global and refers to the whole duration (therefore 20 = 1-3-6-10 units, etc.) The second purple episode (measure 217-221) is based on the scansion of the unit 14 only, the last temporal subdivision of the durational field 30. Fermatas and measure indications are in conformity with  the printed edition. «Refr.» stands for «Refrain» (Ritornello).

[29] In the first piece of the Canti di vita e d’amore - Sul ponte di Hiroshima - Anders’ text is almost entirely enunciated by instrumental voices (in over 164 measures only 18 show in fact the use of the human voice); in Djamila Boupachá, the central monody, the alternating sentiments of hope are only tied with the Soprano. Conversely, in this third part (Tu), harmonic motion is suppressed in the instruments by different variation techniques on the initial sound profile and through the fixed registration of pitches.

[30] This new technique, defined in 1960 with Sarà dolce tacere and «Ha venido». Canciones para Silvia, and then evolved in the theater play Intolleranza 1960, allows him to develop the pre-selected interval relations starting from a basic pitch. For more detail on this particular technique of interval generation, see A.I. De Benedictis, “Gruppo, linea e proiezioni armoniche. Continuità e trasformazione della tecnica all’inizio degli anni Sessanta”, in Le musiche degli anni Cinquanta, Olschki, Firenze 2004 («Archivio Luigi Nono. Studi» II), pp. 183-226.

[31] See: the initial «Sarà» (It will be, D-G, measure 174), which refers to the clear («chiaro») sky (F-B flat, measure 176); the two occurrences  of «cante/ranno» (they will sing, A-E/D-G, measures 209-210; A-D/E flat-Aflat, measures 217-218; in the final «sarai» ([it] will be you, F#-B (measure 263) and the ‘sealing’ «chiara» (clear), (D-G, measure 269, same of the beginning). This peculiar structural/semantic meaning of this interval is already anticipated in Djamila Boupachá, with the F#-C# pre-selected for the Spanish word «distinto» (clear). The absence of the interval of perfect fourth in the vocal sections marked in green (associated with the turmoil and the beat) is symbolic. Also some of the intervals in Sul ponte di Hiroshima have specific ‘meanings.’ The minimal distances of the quarter tone, semitone and tone are associated with chaos, the tritone with the oxymoron hope-pain, the perfect fifth with order.

[32] These meta-instrumental voices are sometimes accompanied by complementary timbres: winds, drums, bass drums and tamtam (as ‘commentary’ and sustain), timpani (in measures 190-197 as reinforcement of the turmoil).

[33] «Wozu dann überhaupt Text, und gerade diesen?». By asking this question Stockhausen pointed out the impossibility of understanding why in Il canto sospeso Nono used some texts written by prisoners condemned to death during the Resistance so as to make them incomprehensible (K. Stockhausen, Luigi Nono. Sprache und Musik II, cit., p. 158).

[34] The vocal line of measures 231-235 is the reprise, first retrograde (for «Come l’acqua», as water) then linear (for «nelle fontane», in the fountains), of the pitches C3, B2, A3, C#3, E flat2, and F#2 used for «cuore» (heart, measures 226-227). In measure 235 the seventh pitch F3 is inserted while ending the reprise.

[35] In 2b the retrogradation is linear (measure axis 240, 2 on F4) and is taken up exactly from the vocalise of the Soprano. Notice that for «la voce» (the voice), in structural correspondence with the purple episode, no timbres are envisaged other than Tenor and Soprano.

[36] The terms «interludio» and «ritornello» (interlude and refrain) are taken right from the sketches. These elements of formal articulation are clearly inspired by Monteverdi («ricorda Monteverdi», remember Monteverdi, is written in a sketch). Far from a nostalgic and stylistic imitation and easy echoing of strophic structure, these indications are translated into a conscious critical re-elaboration of a technique of the past. It is developed specifically to gain symmetry in form and, through the ‘ritornello’, to attain a refined device of mnemonic recall.  The idea of an instrumental ‘interlude’ between the vocal parts was already in «Ha venido». Canciones para Silvia and is used again in Canciones a Guiomar (1963).

[37] «Le finestre sapranno / l’odore della pietra e dell’aria / mattutina» (the windows will know / the smell of stone and morning air).                            

[38] Enunciated with same pitch, same tempo, same breath, and same dynamic nuances of the Tenor line, the Soprano’s ‘vocalic spectrograph’ is then to be interpreted as: the first «a» stands for «sarà» and  then, after the change in tempo and breath (measure 242), for «questa»; the vocal «o» belongs to «voce»; then follows: the «a» of «salirà»,  the «u» of «tue», the «a» of «scale». An important antecedent of this technique of vocalic reverberation is found in Il canto sospeso. It is used in a varied way in sections # 2, 3 and 6b, where it serves as a semantic “thickening,” and in section #7, where in the dramatic farewell of Luibka vowels reverberation is suppressed, substituted by symbolic «bocca chiusa», «quasi chiusa», «quasi aperta» and «aperta» (closed mouth, almost closed, almost open and open).

[39] In this case one section follows the other but not without interruption as in the previous case; between the two different lines (sung by the Tenor) more than two measures intervene (from measures 242,3 to 245,2).  The vocalic echo of the Soprano is meant to be a semantic-expressive background for the new part by the Tenor.

[40] By “color” of the of the text or word I mean a peculiar sonority dictated by the vocalic or consonantal components, that is «the pure sound of word» (W. Kandinsky, Über das (W. Kandinsky, Über das Geistige in der Kunst: insbesondere in der Malerei (1910); Italian translation: Lo spirituale nell’arte, edited by E. Pontiggia, Milano, SE, 1989, p. 33; for the quotation mentioned, see p. 89; English translation: Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Dover, 2004, p. 15 and p. 54).

[41] The use of intervals for the creation of “color surfaces” seems to anticipate the interests and studies on pitch/color relation in the ’80s (see Un’autobiografia dell’autore raccontata da Enzo Restagno, in Luigi Nono. Scritti e colloqui, cit., II, pp. 477-563: 560; and Verso Prometeo, cit., ivi, p. 343).

[42] Luigi Nono, [Per il 70esimo anniversario di Anton Webern] (1953), in Luigi Nono. Scritti e colloqui, cit., I, p. 7.  Even in 1987 the composer states: «the text, besides inspiration, is also an acoustic material: it must, it can also become pure music» (Un’autobiografia dell’autore raccontata da Enzo Restagno, in ivi, II, p. 505).

[43] There is a singular correspondence with a poem by Pavese belonging to 1938 (La voce, published only in 1962), where he affirms: «If the voice would sound, the pain would return». Writing about Canti di vita e d’amore, Nono warns that «the text is written in the score. Not primitive programme music, but continuity for a text while it becomes pure music, both through the song and the orchestra alone» (L. Nono, Scritti e colloqui, cit., I, p. 443). An antecedent of this peculiar instrumental amplification of the text is found in the Epitaffio per Garcia Lorca n. 2: Y su sangre ya viene cantando (1952).

[44] Original: «alternati - insieme - rovesciati, per cui lo strumento diviene la voce, e la voce puro strumento. per cui parole scritte in partitura, ma non cantate dalla voce, ma suonate da str[umenti]”; “continuità tra le 2 voci | tra gli str[umenti] | tra voce e str[umenti]»; sketch held by the Archivio Luigi Nono in Venice.

[45] Originally in German in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 3.12.1980.

[46] N. Ruwet, Fonction de la parole dans la musique vocale (1961), in Language, Musique, Poésie, Paris, Ed. du Seuil, 1972, pp. 41-68 (Italian version: Funzione della parola nella musica vocale, in Linguaggio, musica, poesia, translation by M. Bortolotto, L. Geroldi ed E. De Angelis, Torino, Einaudi, 1983; quotation at p. 40).

[47] See among others M. Zurletti, Le opere corali, in Nono, cit., p. 121; A. Gentilucci, La tecnica corale di Luigi Nono, cit., pp. 116 and 129; J. Stenzl, Gli anni ottanta, in Nono, cit., p. 220.

[48] L. Nono, Testo-Musica-Canto, in Scritti e colloqui, cit., vol. I, pp. 57-83: 58 (original: «Nuovo e autonomo tutto»).

[49] The concept of ‘transformation’, though emphasizing an objective change of state (from linguistic/graphic to graphic/musical), does not involve the semantic domain which remains untouched. The concept of ‘transmutation’ is misleading, as it implies a change of substance of the object. By using the verb «compenetrare», interpenetration (see Testo-Musica-Canto, cit., p. 58), Nono means that the two elements are not subordinated one to the other; but if the verb is meant as transitive, there should be a logical precedence of one to the other (one thing actually penetrates the other before the fusion in a totality). Regarding the use of Boulez’s terminology, the attempt to cast the ideas of one composer over the poetics or procedures of another is methodologically and conceptually wrong. The term “pretext” is inappropriate for Nono’s aesthetic, since its original meaning is deliberately ambiguous: it could be intended as a “set of words that come before music” (pre-text) or as the “opportunity” for composing. The same holds for “center” (standing between an inspiring idea and a sense transposed in music) and “absence” (removing or twisting of comprehension?)


[50] For ‘selection’ and ‘combination’ in Linguistics see R. Jakobson, Essais de linguistique générale (1963), réimpression ed. by N. Ruwet, Paris, Les Editions de Minuit, 2003 (Italian version: Saggi di linguistica generale, ed. by L. Heilmann, Milano, Feltrinelli, 1994, p. 24).

[51] See R. Jackobson Linguistics and Poetics, in Style in Language, ed. by T.A. Sebeok, Cambridge, MIT Press, 1960, pp. 350-377.

[52] That is «the ultimate definition considering the message in itself» (R. Jakobson, Linguistic and Poetics, cit.).

[53] I borrow the definition of “semantic invariant,» extracting it from its original context, from R. Jakobson, Results of a Joint Conference of Anthropologists and Linguists, in Id., Word and Language. Selected Writing, II, The Hague-Paris, Mouton 1971, pp. 554-567.

[54] Roman Jakobson, while describing the code changes occurring in a translation, defines this shift as «code switching» (see R. Jakobson, Results of a Joint Conference of Anthropologists and Linguists, cit.; and Linguistique et théorie de la communication (1952), in R. Jakobson, Essais de linguistique générale, cit., pp. 87-99). He also defines «inter-semiotic translation» or «transmutation» as the interpretation of the linguistic signs through non-linguistic sign systems, as opposed to «inter-linguistic translation» which uses


two linguistic sign bases (see Results of a Joint Conference of Anthropologists and Linguists, cit.). In the concrete case of the encounter between text and music in Nono, these interpretative cues cannot be applied, since one should reduce the terms in question to “translation” and “interpretation” only, whereas here there is no “interpretation“: this music is the content of the textual message.

[55] See the principle of «funzione segnica» (sign function) in U. Eco,Trattato di semiotica generale, Milano, Bompiani, 1991, p. 73.

[56] I freely take the tripartition “framework” - “code” - “message” from the «rapport de transformation» (relationship of transformation) of C. Lévi-Strauss (see Le Cru et le cuit, Paris, Plon 1964; English version: The raw and the cooked, translation by J.D. Weightman, Chicago, The University of Chicago Press 1992).

[57] Nono himself wrote, while referring to the treatment of the text in La terra e la compagna: «Comprehension and intelligibility of the text mean comprehension and intelligibility of the music with all the questions regarding the capacity of acoustic perception […] the capacity of understanding the new musical fact in its technical-expressive specificity» (in Luigi Nono. Composizione per orchestra n. 2 - Diario Polacco ’58, ibid., pp. 433-436: 434).


[58] The disarticulation of the text on the musical level does not compromise the system of linguistic relations within the text (morphological, syntactic, semantic), which are inseparable from its semiotic essence and from the integrity (see N. Ruwet, Fonction de la parole dans la musique vocale, cit.). For all these reasons, and in my opinion, Nono’s vocal music does not suffer from the «dichotomy between ‘semantic’, ‘phonetic’, ‘concept’ and ‘acoustic’ image» (introduction by L. Feneyrou in L. Nono, Écrits, Christian Bourgois, Paris 1993, pp. 10-11), and far less from the «cancellation of the linguistic meaning» or from the «pluralization of its meanings […] which allows a multiplication of the possible readings» (I. Stoianova, Testo-musica-senso, cit., p. 128). The comparison done by Stoianova is misleading because it compares Nono’s vocal technique with the ones used by Berio and Boulez, which are different even in their application and poetics (I. Stoianova, Testo-musica-senso, cit., p. 128).

[59] E. Varèse Il suono organizzato, ed. by L. Hirbour, translation by U. Fiori and L. Mennuti-Morello, Milano, Unicopli-Ricordi, 1985, p. 136.

[60] Original: «non c’è nessuna ricetta!!!!!! Oggi come sempre. […] le vere e proprie “soluzioni” e le tecniche sono in cammino! Possono soltanto divenire» (Letter to Karlheinz Stockhausen dating 26th of November, 1955; unpublished, Archivio Nono in Venice, with kind permission).