Music tends to be a realm apart for some reason. By the 1970s, when I was an undergraduate music student, the same sort of training as Nono received was still present in nearly all serious music schools. A friend of mine was an undergraduate in a Bachelor of Fine Arts program at the same time and over there all traces of traditional craftsmanship had been eliminated. Instead of classes in drawing, they were all into "concept" art which may have been clever, but involved little or no craft. Indeed, when I returned to school in the mid-1990s taking the seminars for a doctorate in musicology exactly the same kind of training was in effect. I found myself studying fugue, DuFay, early polyphonic notation and classical formal structure alongside courses in 20th century analysis, Stravinsky and Shostakovich.In 1947, Nono took the courses and examinations of the first level of composition, achieving 9/10 for tests of harmony and classical pastiche. He worked through the early chapters of Hindemith’s A Concentrated Course in Traditional Harmony , presumably at Malipiero’s behest. In the middle level, two years later while already working on his own language, Malipiero awarded him only 7. Here the tests were of another order: a four-part fugue on a given subject, a double chorus over a bass line, an analysis of the Kyrie from Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli (the first score Nono had seen some years previously in the library of the choir of San Marco), and the completion of a movement for piano. In the latter, one can see the traces of an emerging individualism, to which Malipiero presumably took exception. In the context of a 3/4 classical pastiche, Nono creates an additional level of structural rhyme with the regular insertion of a bar of 2/4. Trivial as these details might be, they illustrate an extraordinary speed of development, from complete absorption in the established techniques of music to their assimilation and transcending.Impett, Jonathan. Routledge Handbook to Luigi Nono and Musical Thought (Kindle Locations 1203-1211). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
I have mentioned before that music seems to have a kind of natural resistance to the inroads of progressivism. Much as activists bemoan the imbalance between male and female composers and conductors and no matter how many recommendations are made by marketers as to how to improve audience engagement, there simply does not seem to be any way of devaluing the music of the great composers without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We are going to keep loving Bach, Beethoven and Mozart despite their unfortunate skin color and gender!
Nono, while chafing at some aspects of Malipiero's traditionalism, remained influenced by others:
The next important influence was Bruno Maderna:A sense of Venice as an idealised cradle of modern Western musical thought emerges from [Malipiero's] study of the development of Italian music theory from Zarlino to Padre Martini, l’armonioso labirinto. Published in 1946, it gives a picture of Malipiero’s thought during the period of Nono’s study with him, and which he was presumably discussing during their ‘ritual meetings’. In his own copy, Nono underlined Malipiero’s assertion that: ‘Certain rules cannot be broken – rules not dictated by nature or by God but by philosophers, by mathematicians, and by reflection by the theorists of music.’Impett, Jonathan. Routledge Handbook to Luigi Nono and Musical Thought (Kindle Locations 1236-1240). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
It was Malipiero who proposed that Nono should contact Bruno Maderna. Maderna had returned to Venice from Verona early in 1946 after his wartime experiences, was studying composition with Malipiero and newly married. Malipiero helped him find work at the Conservatory as his assistant, nominally teaching solfeggio . Nono was keen to study Hindemith’s Unterweisung in Tonsatz , and Maderna had a copy.
Impett, Jonathan. Routledge Handbook to Luigi Nono and Musical Thought (Kindle Locations 1278-1281). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.Nono later described the influence of Maderna in these words:
Maderna taught me to think in music […] Thus, he didn’t teach me to compose – I repeat, it’s not possible – he taught me much more: “What is thought?”, in this case: “What is it to think in music?” Bruno Maderna taught me to think. Thought, musical thought, needs time.Impett, Jonathan. Routledge Handbook to Luigi Nono and Musical Thought (Kindle Locations 1338-1340). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
Let's end with an early piece by Nono that shows some of those historic influences, the Canonic Variations from 1950: