January 30, 2017. Schubert, Mendelssohn and Nono. Two great German composers – and two prodigies – were born this week, Franz Schubert, on January 31st of 1797, and Felix Mendelssohn, on February 3rd of 1809. We’ve written about Schubert, a supreme melodist and one of the most creative composers of the 19th century, practically every year. And last year, we wrote rather extensively about Mendelssohn. So this year we’ll present some of their music and then turn to a lesser known talent. Schubert is rightly famous for his songs. He wrote several cycles, two of which, Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise, are considered the pinnacle of the German “lied.” He also wrote numerous individual songs, and Nacht und Träume (Night and Dreams) is one of them. Very difficult because of its exceedingly long melodic lines, it’s beautifully sung here by Nicolai Gedda. Gerald Moore is at the piano. Mendelssohn also wrote songs, eight books of them, but his were "Songs without words." Each book contains six short piano pieces, some very simple, some a bit more difficult, but all charming. Here’s Op. 19 no. 4, played by almost everybody who ever studied the piano, but probably not as exquisitely as Daniel Barenboim does in this recording. And slightly more challenging is Op.30 no. 2, here, also by Barenboim.
We just missed the birthday of Luigi Nono by one day – he was born January 29th of 1924 in Venice. He studied composition in his hometown with Gian Francesco Malipiero from 1941 to 1945. In 1946 he met Bruno Maderna, a modernist composer four years his senior, and they became friends for life.
Maderna got in touch with the Darmstadt courses in 1949; in 1950 both he and Nono went there for the summer, with Nono attending classes by Edgar Varèse. Nono continued going to Darmstadt for many years and from 1957 on he taught there every year. Through their work at Darmstadt, Nono, Boulez and Stockhausen, all three under 30, became known as leaders of the European avant-garde music. Politically active, Nono was involved in leftist causes. He wrote many pieces for human voice (often accompanied by tape recordings) for which he used text by Karl Marx, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and other revolutionaries. Obviously, that’s not what have made them interesting, his music did. In 1971, on suggestion by Maurizio Pollini, Nono started working on a piece for piano and orchestra called Como una ola de fuerza y luz (Like a wave of strength and light). While still working on it, he had learned of the death of his friend Luciano Cruz, the leader of The Revolutionary Left Movement in Chile. (It’s not clear who killed Cruz but CIA reports suggest that it was a result of the rivalry on the Left during the Allende presidency). Nono changed his plans and created a piece for orchestra, solo soprano, piano, a chorus recorded on tape and other pre-recorded sounds. A complex composition, it demonstrates an amazing evolution of how we perceive the organized sound that we call music. Written 140 years after Schubert and Mendelssohn’s songs, it completely abandons tonality and uses sound sources that were never considered before. Even 46 years later, it’s not easy listening. Still, it’s worth a try, even if in small dozes (the complete piece runs for about 30 minutes). The sounds (and silences) of it, the juxtapositions of fury and serenity, are at times profound. Here it is, with Claudio Abbado conducting the Bavarian Radio Orchestra. Maurizio Pollini is on the piano, Slavka Taskova is the soprano.
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