Music as Parable of the Cave

L.Nono: Prometeo                                                             SACD col legno 20605

Text: Peter Hirsch

During the rehearsals of Prometeo at the Südwestrundfunk (SWR) in Freiburg in 2003 for the performances that are the basis for this SACD production, I recalled the premiere of the „new“ Prometeo in Milan in 1985, which I conducted in alternation with Claudio Abbado. A year after the premiere of the first version in Venice, Nono had substantially rewritten the score, completely recomposing essential parts.
  During my preliminary rehearsals with the Sinfonia Varsovia in Warsaw (at that time still behind the Iron Curtain) the musicians expected to be asked to demonstrate their virtuosity on their instruments. Instead, they were asked to play long held, quiet sounds with microtonal intervalls of quarter, eighth, and sixteenth notes, not as timbre or approximate alterations within a tempered system but as harmony that can be heard, at once audible and utopian. Every tone expands, becomes sound space, almost three-dimenional. Even the utopia of a fourth dimension is inscribed in these (sound)spaces, which are, after all, constituted by their course in time. In addition the point was to develop a new virtuosity of dynamic gradations, especially in the piano range. Nono‘s distinctions between a single p and seven p‘s may be almost unachievable at times, especially in the upper range, but they are not specukative! Rather, they survey, so to speak, the inner space of sounds, which is bounded by what is „al limite dell‘udibilità“ (at the limits of the (in)audible). At this threshold „ascolta“ (listen!) signifies the being-thrown-back-upon-oneself for the listener that Nono and Cacciari compare to the aspect of drân in Greek tragedy, the hero‘s tragic moment or irrevocable decision - and responsability. This deciding which „penetrates like a  wedge into the flow of time“ (Cacciari), is reflected in Nono‘s „other possibilities of listening“, in the hearing of other possibilities.
  In Milan we rehearsed with Nono and all the other participants in Renzo Piano‘s „struttura“ in Ansaldo in Milan. This wooden „struttura“ was a shiplike construction, with the audience sitting in the middle. Distributed on various levels on the continous galleries were the four orchestral groups, soloists and the chorus. Origianally designed for San Lorenzo in Venice, the imposing structure now stood not in the confines of a church but in an enormous factory hall. With its loudspeakers, some of them placed outside the structure, it seemed to me like a Trojan horse of sound. Nono‘s suono mobile (mobile sound) wandered between inside and outside. The „coro lontanissimo“ of Prologo and Isola 1  did indeed go off into unreal distances. For the first time I heard the magically sudden change from extreme dynamics into sound: unheard-of and crystalline, lucid even in the depth of glass chimes and of the Interludio 2, music as if on the tip of a glacier, endangered and free, painful.
  Nono‘s emphasis on the significance of the rhythmic quasi-citation from Schumann‘s Manfred revealed something of his view of the Promethean. The syncopated gesture, which seems to seize space as if harried, shelters above all rebellion, but also: so much doubt and questioning!
  Nono‘s most frequent remark - „it all has to be much quieter“ - was not simply a demand for exreme dynamics but also a hint of what was depicted on a backdrop behind the sound. Everything that sounds is merely a pale reflection, the silhouette of the real, the unknown, the utopian. Music as parable of the cave.
  March 2003: rehearsals for a new production at the SWR in Freiburg. A new listening and the opportunity to spend a week in the hall, the Konzerthaus, searching and filing the sound, and producing stereo and surround-sound recordings - a technology that seems almost to have been invented for Prometeo. The careful setting up, performing and recording in the concert hall was followed in 2004 by mixing in the studio, generously made possible by the SWR. It was a completely new process that can not be compared to traditional editing technology, something I had never experienced before - and that with a work that truely composes the space, as this one does. What it is about - and a new challenge in every hall: to achieve a balanced yet fragile equilibrium between sound spaces and architecture generated by the live electronics and those sounds which are played or sung live and only heard live. It takes surround sound technology to come near to reproducing this subtle relationship. The precise balancing out of twenty-six channels and distributing them meticulously in terms of space and dynamics across five loudspeakers has been an alaborate, fascinating task, recalling Sisyphus, the optimist; always searching for the ‚true‘. the fragile, or even the existential sound, always with the goals of preserving the truth of the fragmentary - in the reproduction of the work‘s sweeping spatiality.

Translation: S. Lingberg