Although Bailey’s opinions strike me as sheltering a general intolerance of non-tonal music, I do not think her observations should be discarded. I think instead this demonstrates the direction (Il canto sospeso being by no means a contemporary example) in which music must be taken in order to overcome obsolescence, both musical and social. Towards Synthesis!
While fascinated by the intellectual operations that lay behind the composition of Nono’s work, I am much less attracted to it as ‘music’. This leads me to ask – at the risk of sounding philistine – whether ‘music’ is in fact an accurate description of the piece at all. When sense and sound – constructive achievement and aesthetic effect – are out of kilter to the extent that they appear to be here, something must be wrong. This is not to denigrate the intellectual accomplishment of the work: many of its problems are challenging, many of its solutions elegant. Perhaps, as writers like Nicolaus Huber and Ivanka Stoianova argue, it is expressive of its text (though it is surely not trivial that these authors have turned to theories of film making and of language to make their point). But if the problem I have highlighted is a real one, it is one that affects many modem ‘classics’ apart from II canto sospeso1.
- Bailey, Kathryn. ‘Work in Progress’: Analysing Nono’s ‘Il Canto Sospeso’. Music Analysis, Vol. 11, No. 2/3, Alexander Goehr 60th-Birthday Issue (Jul. – Oct., 1992): 329 ↩