Nuria Schoenberg Nono, a golden interval of ninety years, with texts by Rossana Rossanda and Claudio Magris

Reading Time: 13 minutes
Nuria Schoenberg at the Mestre Politics Festival, during the presentation of the book Louis Nono Caminantes (8 September 2021)


to Nuria “the Bright”


Nuria Schoenberg Nono is certainly, among the personalities on the international scene in the field of music and beyond, one of the best known and loved and numerous historical and valuable figures have written and told a lot about her, always telling of a generous and industrious grace in his tireless work of patient and smiling weaving of a warp-weft of the musical and cultural history of the twentieth century, generated and 'tuned' on a 'polar and golden interval' that resonates in complete form, from the paternal root of Arnold Schoenberg to that of companion husband Luigi Nono.

Happy birthday Nuria!

Finnegans pays homage to the ninetieth anniversary of Nuria Schoenberg Nono with the publication, in the online version, of two of the numerous and authoritative contributions published in 2002, those by Claudio Magris and Rossana Rossanda, collected in the volume Happy Birthday to Nuria Schenberg Nono on May 7, 2002, created by their daughters Serena and Silvia Nono and edited and edited by Annamaria Morazzoni.



Nuria at Giudecca, looking at the photos with her father, 2018


With Schoenberg al exile table
Los Angeles: among the objects
of the “diaspora”
escaped the Nazis
by Claudio Magris


TO Nuria with much much affection


The image of goodness is often linked to a friendly and confidential relationship with things, to a respectful familiarity with objects, to a careful and wise ability to handle them with skill, but also with care and consideration. The kindness addressed to people, animals, plants spontaneously extends to things, to the glass into which the flower is placed; goodness is also in the hands, in the way they reach out to others or take an ashtray from the table. Attention, it has been said, is a form of prayer, the recognition of objective reality, of an order, of boundaries: a way of looking beyond and above one's egocentric self, of knowing that no one is the satrap tyrannical and capricious of the world and can devastate it at his will, as happens to us in those painful and impotent outbursts of anger in which, not being able to destroy ourselves, others or the universe, we tear to pieces the first object that comes within reach . Saint Joseph or Geppetto have strong and good hands, they move at ease among the tools in their workshop. That goodness resembles the authentic love of those who care for others and not he focuses sterilely only on his own desire; it resembles childhood, whose imagination is sparked by a stone or an empty matchbox, and above all it resembles art, which does not exist without this sensual, curious and scrupulous passion for the physical and sensitive concreteness of details, for the shapes, colours, smells, a smooth or angular surface, the revelation that can come from the edge of a surf or the misplaced button on a jacket.
All things and materials can be wrapped in this light, rusty nails, skyscraper glass or computer screens that come to life like Aladdin's lamp, but above all wood has its own religious brotherhood, perhaps due to the close proximity to the hand that holds it it holds and shapes it, for the pleasure it gives to the touch, for the lively smell. It is not for nothing that the carpenter is an ancient, mythical figure of protective paternal goodness, like Saint Joseph or Geppetto.


Arnold Schoenberg in Los Angeles in 1948 (Wikipedia)

Arnold Schoenberg's work table is also full of objects, acstacked in profusion in that apparent disorder in which only those who have them put and dispersed in that way one finds one's way, but which - precisely for this reason - it is the true order of those who live and work, arranging and organizing reality. On that table, haphazardly, there are notebooks, inkwells, notepads, sheets of music full of notes, pencils, pen holders and books, ingeniously constructed rollers to affix stamps or close letters, a cardboard violin, complicated chessboards devised by him and different from the usual ones, with bizarre chess pieces, models and drawings of the famous playing cards of his invention, the small squares of colored cardboard that he used to study the combinatorial possibilities of the twelve notes. On the floor there are splints, paper folders, saws, hammers, tools and contraptions of various kinds. Most of them are both objects and many tools made by him himself, partly out of necessity, partly to save money, partly for taste and pleasure. Schoenberg built his world like Robinson Crusoe, he cut, sawed and glued, he made baskets for waste paper or cylinders to hold pens and pencils, he carefully wrapped pencil stubs in strips of cardboard to make them last longer.
That table is located in Los Angeles, at the Arnold Schoenberg Institute at the University of Southern California. He therefore finds himself in the place of exile, where he had taken refuge to escape Nazism; and not in the house where he lived - and where one of his sons, Ronald, now lives - but in the institute which collects the very rich archive material made available in 1976 by his three sons: six thousand pages of musical, literary and personal manuscripts, two thousand volumes often full of handwritten notes in the margins, essays and articles, letters, photographs, magazines, records and cassettes, paintings, testimonies of various kinds, from license sheets during the First World War to greeting cards, and documents of every kind sort and of great interest, classified and ordered with clarity and precision.


Nuria with her father 

But that table does not make one think of exile, uprooting or longingtanance, but rather to the house, to the Lares, to a life deeply rooted in the family, in affections, in the daily order. That warm myriad of objects - which makes everyday life feel temporary and chaotic but indestructible in its passionate flow - expresses the Sabbath royalty of the Jewish family idyll, which no pogrom and no extermination can destroy. It is the home of the Jew of the diaspora, who has no homeland but has a homeland in his heart that he always carries with him and that nothing can destroy; the Jew inserted into tradition, into the Law, into the Book, who, according to the old story, when they see him leaving and ask him if he is going far away, Talmudically responds with a question, that is, he asks in turn: “Far from where?” , because on the one hand he is always and everywhere far away, but on the other he is never far from his center of values.
In that room of Schoenberg, master and creator of dissonances, you can feel the imprint of harmony, of a man who lived in harmony. It is the room of some fabulous father, grandfather or uncle that perhaps we had in our childhood, some family character who perhaps did little and relatives looked with suspicion, but who for us was the magician who makes things come alive, transforming pieces of paper into mysterious creatures, building puppet theaters or nativity scenes with shepherds and camels moving in the shadows.
Nuria Schoenberg Nono, the daughter who takes particular care of the museum and is working on a biography of the composer, tells me about the cardboard traffic lights and other imaginative and complicated toys that her father built for her and her brothers, or about the special hangers that he made so that his wife Gertrud could hang her skirts on them so that they remained well folded and ironed; in the essay written to accompany the publication of the enchanting playing cards designed by Schoenberg, fifty-two cards of a whist, Nuria remembers how as a child she loved to watch him when he prepared the models for his inventions, scissoring, planing and sticking, and feeling the smell of the glue and the flour-water mixture that the maker of Pierrot Lunitary and of Moses und Aaron he stirred in a pot.
Later, at dinner at the Schoenberg house, every now and then the three brothers - Nuria, Ronald and Lawrence - remember games and birthdays, family evenings and jokes at the table, warnings to do well at school, jokes and laughter, with that fraternal complicity that it is the best, spontaneous homage to parents who knew how to be such.


Arnold Schoenberg with his children in Santa Monica (USA)

Looking at that table and listening to those stories, one thinks with envy of the lordship that Schoenberg had over time, of the time that he used for many, many apparently trivial things, instead of dedicating it, as often happens, to the feverish administration of his own genius, the conferences , interviews, self-promotion, cultural organization.
Schoenberg's greatness does not seem to weigh on his children, as stale rhetoric would have it and as often happens; it doesn't crush them, but empowers them and above all cheers them up, it doesn't cast a shadow on their face, but a fresh and lovable light, the clear and affectionate smile with which the daughter speaks to me about her father. From their faces, from their way of being, it is clear that Schoenberg, a great figure of the highest and most rigorous art, must have given the three children that affection that teaches freedom, to feel in harmony with the world - within the limits where this is possible in the tragedy and absurdity of life.
Schoenberg's music delved deeply, with ruthless clarity, into that tragedy and absurdity of existence, into the dissonances of the heart, history and destiny. Without the experience of splitting and laceration, without venturing like Moses into the desert, renouncing the consolations of reassuring images, there is no great art and it is not even possible to give voice to harmony and joy, which are authentic only when they pass through knowledge and awareness of the tragedy, otherwise false and artificial. The great artist knows, like Kafka, that his task is to take upon himself the negative and evil of his era.
But this descent into hell is by no means necessarily a fascination with evil and a renunciation of humanity. Not very far from the Schoenberg house, and from the great waves of the Pacific that suddenly crash enormously onto the beach, was the house of Thomas Mann, also an exile. The Schoenbergs sometimes went to visit the writer, but the children, even older ones, had to stay outside, because childhood was not loved too much in that house.


Arnold Schönberg with his students Natalie Limonick, Endicott H. Hansen, Alfred Carlson, Richard Hoffman, ao, Los Angeles 1948 (Arnold Schönberg Center, Wien)

Schoenberg was very saddened when in Doctor Faustus, to represent the tragedy of contemporary art condemned to a perfection devoid of humanity and in its own way intertwined with Nazi barbarism, Mann identified this great, but inhuman and demonic art in twelve-tone music. Of course Schoenberg knew very well that, like any writer who invents a character, Mann had the full right to lend his imaginary protagonist, Adrian Leverkühn, traits or details suggested by other realities and other people, without claiming to objectively portray the latter.
The Doctor Faustus it certainly does not presume to be a study on Schoenberg, but a novel. But the greatness and fame of the novel may lead many to believe that Schönberg's music is actually what Mann attributes to his underworld hero. Jewish and deeply pervaded by a sacred sense of the human, Schoenberg could not help but feel saddened by hearing that his music was somehow connected with the final and barbaric outcome of the involution of Germanic culture. If Mann had asked me – he told his daughter – I could have invented demonic and inhuman music for him that he could have described in his book. I didn't invent it, because I wasn't interested in music of that kind, mine is something else...
Among many misunderstandings, this one had particularly embittered him. But Schoenberg, creator of a radically new music that was often misunderstood, rejected and accused in the most various ways, had learned to calmly tolerate even painful misunderstanding. “Whoever has had the mission from the Lord God to say something unpopular – his voice says serenely and profoundly in a Berlin speech from 1931, which I listen to at the museum – has also received from Him the ability to realize and accept that, to be understand, it's always the others."

[Courier from the Evening, Sunday 22 October 1989]



Nuria Schoenberg


To Nuria
by Rossana Rossanda


Venice, the Sixties, the post-war period is over, a generation born during the Resistance or shortly after, emerges from the factories and construction sites, they are young workers, convinced that they have history on their side and determined to gain work and rights, they are intellectuals who are not in the “national-popular” tradition of the left and in socialist realism – they think that the avant-garde and the new working class are made to grow together. They are created and recognized. Venice is a crossroads. Political and trade union leaders and artists are together like nowhere else - the Romagnoli, the Chinello, the Granziera, and Nono, Vedova, Turcato, and a group of young professors like Massimo Cacciari and Dal Co and others alongside. Everyone ends the day at Nuria and Gigi Nono's house. 


Luigi Nono and Nuria Schoenberg Nono (Luigi Nono Archive Foundation, Venice, © Eredi Luigi Nono)

At Giudecca, overlooking the grey-blue southern lagoon, there was an approximate strip of garden on the water where there was a large dog with whom we spoke while Gigi, barefoot, fiddled with the dinghy in which he would fortunately take us - straight skirts, stockings and shoes of the time – up to the slippery steps of the Railway. We climbed the stairs and found Nuria, who had already put the girls to bed, had cut a little blue or red dress for them on the knitting loom, was putting the gray sea snails and the pasta on the table, but she really didn't have the The air of a homely little woman. She was a slender, dark-haired girl, she had short words and eyes that scrutinized us a bit from afar, she listened and intervened with her own accent somewhere between Venetian and international, holding up without apparent effort one of those houses that rich people have when they are poor and not they care, all comfortable and a little messy under a wall where Silvia and Serena had the right to very clearly scribble whatever they wanted: even a vindictive one: Dad picks his nose! Respecting everything else. It was a tatsebao, freedom and responsibility – that was Nuria. I don't remember him coming to meetings in the PCI federation, he worked at the base, as they said then, in that still authentic neighborhood - almost streets as well as streets and even a few trees in the fields.


Venice, 15 September 1964, after the first performance of The Illuminated Factory (From left: Nuria Schoenbeg, Italo Calvino, Luigi Nono, Giuliano Scabia, Luigi Pestalozza, Toni Negri, Cichita Calvino, Martine Cadieu, Jean Paul Sartre, Rossana Rossanda, Massimo Mila) – © Fondazione Archivio Luigi Nono Onlus

Gigi had the look of a boy, his big questioning eyes, his impatient, passionate words. Nuria seemed to know more, perhaps with a hint of irony, she came from afar among us provincials and was less upset. She was Schoenberg's daughter, they told me, and I looked at her with veneration - a fragment of the great world, the one I touched in books and concerts, the best of Europe that survived Nazism and the war between escapees and exiles, she was called Nuria because she didn't she was born neither in Austria nor in Berlin, nor in the States, but in Barcelona. He neither imposed nor bestowed his knowledge easily, he carried that heritage with him, he must have given Gigi a lot, and not just tenderness, he opened many paths, he had woven together his and his daughters' existence. I don't know what he thought of us, who arrived like noisy seagulls, we never stopped arguing, they were the best years, perhaps the only happy ones of the Italian communists, they passed under his clear and reserved eyes. It was after midnight that, leaving that house or the tavern near the Fenice, we would spread slogans for Cuba or against Franco throughout the sleepy city, or Gigi would take it out with equal energy against the politicians who didn't understand his research and vice versa.

Then political events divided us. Gigi wavered on the invasion of Czechoslovakia, wasn't real socialism better than drifting to the right, hadn't Fidel chosen that way? Gigi, Massimo Cacciari, Dal Co who had pressed me - I was at Botteghe Oscure at the time, but what are you doing, it's too little, what is Pietro doing? – they did not approve the choice of the Manifesto. The relationships thinned out, but there were no tears, we loved each other. The Seventies were as heavy as the hopeful Sixties. Nuria ruled them with determination, Gigi created in Wupperthal, she faced those generational transitions which were also radical changes in history, in the way of being in the world. I found her with a little gray in her hair, always active and elegant, always with an open house - this time in Alghero - on a garden just above the sea where the geraniums fought to survive the pine needles and was full of rooms, beds and cabinets and signs of recommendations to be cheerfully used and possibly not destroyed. She came sometimes with the girls, then they were no longer girls, Silvia silent and thoughtful, Serena sweet and complicated, and the cat Luna. Then we spent many hours talking about ourselves and the melancholies and events of life, in the big old kitchen, trying not to devour too much ice cream absentmindedly produced by some new appliance. The world of Palisades Avenue passed before me: we exchanged respectful dislike of Thomas Mann, while when I observed, looking at a photograph of Alma Mahler, that she must have been terrible, she replied: she couldn't have been terrible if my father respected her. Since then Alma seems splendid to me.


Nuria with some paintings by her daughter Serena Nono behind her

But Nuria does not live in the past, she does not dissolve it in nostalgia, nor does she nourish a present that is entirely alive and articulated, she moves within it, it is her world and she knows it and frequents it and evaluates it and sometimes organizes it. Then he took care of his father's legacy, tidying it up as he would have done with Gigi's when he passed away, too soon. I have always wondered why Venice didn't make her a cornerstone of the musical initiative, why it left her alone to collect, sort, archive and preserve an irreplaceable asset - she doesn't complain about it, but we Italians are stupid and sloppy. It is not of great comfort that Los Angeles also got rid of Schoenberg, because the institute cost too much: what does too much mean? It's at least a good thing that Arnold Schoenberg is back in Europe. That we have seen his paintings. This too is due to her.



And yet it seems elusive to me to carve out her life on the profile of those she loved, understood, cared for - the destiny of a woman, intent more than herself on supporting others, leaving them to lose nothing due to male dissipation or tiredness? Once I said to her: why don't you write? and he put me back in my place: “But I don't write articles, I make a life”. I don't forget it. Nuria has created a masterpiece of life, hers, her daughters and her husband, I have nothing like it. Everyone makes a flash that first comes to mind when they think of others even if they've been around for a long time: for me it's Nuria who ties her waist around her neck, with the distracted and quick gesture with which I saw her one evening tying her dress around her neck. long and exit like an arrow, straight and light, towards a world of which it knows everything and from which it enters and exits demanding and smiling.


Rossana Rossanda, 7 May 2002 


Nicola Cisternino, Nuria and Luigi Nono with Bruno Maderna Caminantes, mixed techniques with collage on paper, cm. 29.5×42 (2021)


Nuria Schoenberg Nono, photo © by Fabrizio Annibali


May 7, 2022, happy birthday Nuria!


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