Though arguably constituted by an underlying utopian drive, the musical avant-garde has rarely been explicit in its desire for political and social emancipation. Perhaps music’s ambiguity best lends itself to tracing only the sense – an ever-forming outline – of imagined futures, attracting both spurners of didacticism and suckers for romantic futility. A cynic might observe that overt musical politicism reduces nuanced expression to anthemic sloganeering. But I’m no cynic, and the atonal wail of the solo voice in pre-1980s Luigi Nono, or the flourish of Frederic Rzewski’s virtuoso pianist, sound both urgent and vital, if disarmingly literal. Others, like Cornelius Cardew, chose to perform – rather than dictate – alternatives, writing indeterminate pieces for ramshackle collectives of amateur performers. And even Nono eventually turned to a more oblique approach, finding in intense quietude a fundamental prerequisite to radical change: attentive listening.
1-3. Como una ola de fuerza y luz (I-III), Luigi Nono (1972)
4-6. The People United Will Never Be Defeated (IV-VI), Frederic Rzewski (1975)
7. Workers Union, Louis Andriessen (1975)
8. The Great Learning (Paragraph 2), Cornelius Cardew (1971)
9-11. Quando stanno morendo (Ia-Ic), Luigi Nono (1982)
Image: Luigi Nono