Saturday, October 17, 2009


For some time, the series of landmarks I've been compiling for this blog (see the list of links in the sidebar) has been hung up over a single piece, Luigi Nono's 1980 string quartet, Fragmente-Stille, An Diotima.  As a marker for the European post-War avant-garde's final turn away from a dertain ideological and technical rigidity, it clearly has some importance and there are features in the music — the exploration of the lower threshold of audibility, the glacial tempi, Nono's use of a scale of fermati, the fragmentary continuity, and the incorporation of poetic-philosophical texts (by Hölderlin) into the score, as messages to the players —  which are extremely attractive.  However, I am not able to hold back a persistent sense of doubt about the piece as a whole.  Some of this doubt is because these features are romantic in character, a spirit not quite my own, and more of this doubt is of a technical nature, as the facile application of the slow and the low and the use of the arbitrary and fragmentary to suggest something of cryptic significance can lead to an impression of a profundity, when none is really there.  At times, Nono's score has had me convinced, but at other auditions,  more aware of my gullibility, doubt exceeds any conviction.  

A difficult position to have with regard to a work by a composer whose music was so intimately tied to (one or another form of) belief.   


Charles Shere said...

It's the way I often (too often) feel about Feldman. So much of his music truly is profound, but other pieces — especially late pieces — sometimes sound routine, almost formulaic. (I'm trying to avoid the word "glib.") I knew Feldman enough to know his character had both profound and quite mundane sides; perhaps he couldn't accommodate the latter qualities in his music; perhaps he simply composed too much. Oh well. I love him, and his (first-rate) music.

Samuel Vriezen said...

The difference between Feldman and Nono here of course is that Nono in this piece makes explicit reference to high-brow romantic tradition with his Hölderlin quotes, whereas Feldman claims in a piece like For Philip Guston to have stopped asking questions. In other words, Nono is wearing "profundity" on his sleeve, but in late Feldman the question "Profound or mundane?" may just have become moot - the difference may no longer be there. (Something similar I believe happens in Ashbery).