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Born in Venice, Nono studied composition at his hometown conservatory during World War II, but it was his experience of the Nazi occupation and the Italian Resistance that shaped his artistic commitment to social and political causes. That commitment was usually explicit in the texts that he used in most of his major works, but it also led him to the forefront of technological developments, pushing the expressive boundaries of both prerecorded tape material and live electronics.

The intersection of text and tech was still fertile ground for him in the last years of his life, when he wrote works drawing their titles from an inscription he saw on a wall in a Spanish monastery in 1985. This inscription, “Caminante, no hay caminos, hay que caminar” (Wayfarer, there are no paths, [yet] you must walk), adds the Zen-like final phrase to a famous quotation from the “Proverbios y cantares” by Antonio Machado (1875-1939). Inspired and intrigued – he had set texts by Machado in two works in the 1960s – Nono composed Caminantes… Ayacucho for chorus, instrumental groups, soloists, and live electronics (1986-1987); No hay caminos, hay que caminar… Andrej Tarkowski for seven instrumental groups (1987); La lontananza nostalgica utopica future, madrigale per più caminantes con Gidon Kremer for violin and tape (1988-1989); and “Hay que caminar” soñando for two violins (1989 – his last completed work).

In the 1980s Nono began to explore a very still, quiet, fragmentary sound world. This is very much apparent in his final two works for solo violin(s), as is the impact of the “caminante… caminos… caminar” incantation. In “Hay que caminar” soñando (“You must walk” dreaming), six music stands are freely arranged and the performers walk around them, literally searching out the music, which is rearranged from La lontananza, including the use the “scala enigmatica” that Verdi employed in the “Ave Maria” of his Four Sacred Pieces. This dream pilgrimage is one of gaps and frayed edges, with all manner of demanding bowing techniques and dynamics down to ppppppp, as the violinists call to consciousness and each other.