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  • Nostalgia for the Future: Luigi Nono's Selected Writings and Interviews ed. by Angela Ide De Benedictis and Veniero Rizzardi
  • Jonathan Impett
Nostalgia for the Future: Luigi Nono's Selected Writings and Interviews. Edited by Angela Ide De Benedictis and Veniero Rizzardi; foreword by Nuria Schoenberg Nono. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2018. (California Studies in 20th-Century Music.) [490 p. ISBN 978-0-5202-9120-1. $85]

One of the most extraordinary aspects of this recent publication is that it has taken so long—more than half a century, in some cases—for these texts to be made available in English. An early collection in German was edited by Jürg Stenzl in 1975, a Hungarian edition by István Balázs in 1985, and a more complete selection in French by Laurent Feneyrou in 1993. The present editors—Angela Ida De Benedictis and Veniero Rizzardi—know these texts better than anyone. They produced a near-complete two volume collection of Nono's writings (in the original Italian or using Italian drafts) in 2001, many of which appeared in a Portuguese version by Paulo de Assis in 2014. The authoritative Italian publication was sadly reduced to a single-volume edition in 2007—La nostalgia del future—although that includes some valuable additional material and editorial insights. Nostalgia for the Future largely presents the content and structure of the 2007 book. The scholarly apparatus of this new edition is impeccable, unsurprisingly, given the editors' vital role in the path of transmission to this point.

The reasons for such a delay are complicated and fascinating. Nono was born in 1924 and died in 1990. He was thus of the same generation as Pierre Boulez (1925–2016) and Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928–2007); the editors describe the three as 'a hegemonic triad of the new music scene', a highly reductive and disputable view, but not without a basis in common perception then and now. They knew this; when the SüdWestFunk attempted by strategic programming to bring the three together for the 1987 Donaueschingen Festival, they each independently found ways to subvert the plan.

Boulez and Stockhausen, however, serve as comparators to illuminate the reception of Nono in the anglophone world. Both became very public figures, their reputations enhanced by being very articulate and engaging English speakers. They relished the presentation of their ideas with the intense unassailable performative logic and conviction of an expert barrister. This, of course, also becomes their weakness: a magnificent brittleness that is also evident in their music. Many of their texts have been available in English for decades, and some—Boulez's Aléa and Possibly, Stockhausen's How Time Passes,for example—are firmly part of the canon of later twentieth-century musical thought. Collected writings by both were published already in the 1960s. Nono did not want to become part of a canon or a club (apart from the Italian Communist Party), and had an ambivalent relationship with the publishing of texts, texts that would inevitably become material for reduction or categorisation. The first text in this new collection relates to a case in point. It refers to an article by Nono intended for a journal edited by Luciano Berio, but they were never able to reach agreement as to how it should be cut, and the article was not published. While an article by Nono did appear in the Darmstädter Beitrage, an issue that Nono should have edited never materialised, and despite his annual presence at the Darmstadt summer school, he does not appear as an author in Die Reihe.

Nono was far from being a fluent Englishspeaker. Like Boulez and Stockhausen, he did not appear to give high-profile lecture series in English. But the pragmatic anglophone world kept its distance for other reasons. On the one hand, he had an utterly ill-founded reputation as a formalist, largely the result of misguided reports such as Reginald Smith-Brindle's 1966 book Serial [End Page 381] Composition (London; New York: Oxford University Press). This was exactly the kind of reductive misrepresentation that made Nono reluctant to publish texts on his music. On the other, he was a communist; not a...