One of the most important composers of the twentieth century, Luciano Berio took classical music out of the age of the traditional orchestral instruments and into the world of electronic music made with computers and tape. Not only did he combine instrumental performance with pre-recorded sounds and/or music on tape, giving the tape recorder an role equal to other instruments, he also created new kinds of pieces by electronically manipulating recordings of instruments or voices.
Ironically, Berio’s interest in electronic music—he saw it as the musical wave of the future—was accompanied by a deep interest in traditional folk music and in singing. His goal was to extend the range of vocal music and the spoken word by meshing them with the musical structure. To achieve this, he frequently set to music experimental literary texts, by writers like James Joyce, Italo Calvino, e.e. cummings, and Samuel Beckett.
Berio was born on October 24, 1925 in Oneglia, Italy, to a family that traced its musical lineage back to composers in the mid-eighteenth century. Both his father and grandfather were organists and composers. From the time Berio was six years old, both contributed to his musical education, teaching him to play piano and organ. Even as a child, they allowed him to assist in their musical duties at church. When his skill on the piano was far enough advanced, he performed chamber music at home with his father.
After the end of World War II, 20-year-old Berio enrolled as a law student at the University of Milan. While studying there, he was exposed for the first time to the music of the great avant-gardists of twentieth century music: Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Milhaud, and others. Berio was awestruck by this music that for decades had gone unheard in Mussolini’s Fascist Italy. He left law school after one year and enrolled in the Conservatorio Guiseppe Verdi in Milan. There he studied composition with Giorgio Ghendini and Giulio Cesare Paribeni, and conducting with Carlo Maria Giulini. He was a brilliant student and graduated with highest honors.
Once out of school, Berio supported himself for a short time by coaching opera seminars and conducting for various Italian opera houses. He was composing as well. Works from this period, such as 1951’s Due Pezzi for piano and violin and 1952’s Variazioni, are clearly Modernist in intent, but are nonetheless written using the framework of traditional classical music. Another work hinted at things to come. In 1952, Chamber Music used poems by James Joyce, a writer his friend Umberto Eco introduced him to and whose work would play a tremendously significant role in Berio’s later compositions. In 1950, Berio began to tour as the piano accompanist for American soprano, Cathy Berberian. Her remarkable vocal abilities would inspire some of Berio’s later experiments for the human voice.
In 1952, Berio received a Koussevitzky scholarship to Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood, Massachusetts, where he continued his studies in composition. At Berkshire, he was introduced to serialism, a highly influential technique developed by composers such as Anton Webern and Alban Berg earlier in the century. Berio later rejected strict serialism. However, this technique influenced most of his subsequent compositions for instrumental ensembles Variations for Chamber Orchestra in 1953, Nones in 1954, Allelujah I, in 1956, and the Sequenza series.
A visit he paid to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City while in the United States had a much more profound impact on his composing. There, he attended the first concert of electronic music given in the United States. Berio was captivated by the possibilities that electronics seemed to offer and returned to Italy in 1953 determined to explore them more deeply. He began working at RAI, the Italian radio network, where the following year he founded the Studio di Fonologia Musicale, an electronic music center. He began producing his own radical works using electronics and tape, such as Mutazioni in 1955, Perspectives in 1956, and Momento in 1958. These works further loosened the already tenuous bonds of avant-garde music to melody, pitch, and traditional musical sound.
Thema (Omaggio a Joyce), composed in 1958, is a prime example. Considered to be Berio’s first important electronic work, Homage to Joyce was written for a single voice reading the first 40 or so lines of the
Born on October 24, 1925, in Oneglia, Italy; married Cathy Berberian, 1950; divorced, 1963, one daughter; married Susan Dyama, 1964; divorced, 1971, one son, one daughter; married Talia Pecker, 1977, two sons. Education: Conservatorio Guiseppe Verdi, Milan, Italy, degree in composition, 1951.
Received Koussevitzky scholarship, studied at Berkshire Music Center, 1952; heard first performance of electronic music at New York Museum of Modern Art, 1952; attended Darmstadt School for first time, 1953; established studio for electronic music at RAI in Milan, 1955; composed Thema (Omaggio a Joyce), 1958; edited contemporary music journal Incontri musicali, 1956-60; composed the first of his Sequenza, 1958; began teaching composition at the Berkshire School, 1960; composed Passaggio, 1961-62; taught at Mills College in Oakland, California, 1962; taught at Harvard University, 1965-66; taught at the Juilliard School of Music, New York, 1965-71; composed Sinfonia for 125th anniversary of New York Philharmonic, 1968-69; moved back to Italy, 1972; assumed directorship of Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique Musique (IRCAM) in Paris, 1974; resigned IRCAM position, 1980; founder and director, Tempo Reale, Florence, Italy, 1987—; Distinguished Composer in Residence, Harvard University, 1994—.
Awards: Grammy Award (with New York Philharmonic, Swingle Singers), Best Choral Performance, Classical (Other Than Opera) for Sinfonia, 1969; Koussevitsky International Recording Award for “Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra,” 1977; Siemens Prize, 1989; Wolf Foundation Prize of Jerusalem, 1990; Imperial Praemium prize, 1996.
Addresses: Office —Il Colombaio, Radicondoli, Siena, Italy.
“Sirens” chapter of Ulysses by James Joyce. Berio taped Cathy Berberian’s voice reading the passage, then modified the sound of her voice electronically, to explore the borderlands between speech and music. For example, he would alter a taped sequence, then superimpose it back onto the original version. The result, wrote Alfred Frankelstein in High Fidelity magazine, “is a rich, elaborate and dramatic polyphony of pure sound.”
The 1960s represented a high water mark for Berio’s work for voice. He continued his literary-musical experiments, premiering on his next trip to the United States Circles, a work for voice, harp, and percussion based on the poetry of cummings, a performance that was also Cathy Berberian’s American debut. His next great work was Visage, a work in which Berio had Berberian improvise various monologues, which were based on the pure sound of various languages but which did not possess any sense at all. The only word used in the entire piece was “parole” Italian for “words.” David Ewen quotes Berio himself on this work: “Visage is a purely radio-program work: a sound track for a drama that was never written…. Visage can be heard also as a metaphor of vocal behavior.”
Two years later, in 1963, Berio presented an even more radical work, Passaggio, a theater piece with a libretto by Edoardo Sanguineti. In it, a single female character called “Her” is, for reasons never explained, being persecuted on all sides. Two sets of vocal choruses are part of the piece. One sings from the orchestra pit. The other chorus is scattered throughout the audience and continually interrupts Her’s screams and cries with spoken insults and commentary in various languages, including Latin. The piece was designed to provoke the audience, and indeed some listeners in the first night crowd responded to the work with indignant catcalls. However, “as the more vocal members of the audience began to protest,” wrote David Osmond-Smith in Berio, “they heard their exclamations echoed and transformed by the speaking chorus, whom Berio had instructed to improvise in this fashion whenever appropriate. With their favorite weapon neutralized … the Milanese audience was compelled to endure the authors’ barbs as best they might.” The work ends with Her triumphantly casting her persecutors from the theater.
In 1961, Berio resigned from the Studio di fonologia and in spring 1962 accepted an offer to teach composition at Mills College in Oakland, California. Berio lived and worked in the United States until 1971. Divorced from Berberian in the early 1960s, Berio met his second wife at Mills and married her in 1965. He continued to write for Berberian, however, including works such as Folk Songs of 1964 and Sequenza III, a work he later considered rescoring for three voices. Few singers besides Berberian, he felt, could manage it alone.
In the fall of 1964, Berio’s wife began her doctoral work at Harvard University and Berio began teaching music there. The following year, he accepted a teaching position at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City and between 1965 and 1967 commuted between the two schools, while at the same time maintaining a busy schedule of concerts and appearances through-out the world.
The New York Philharmonic commissioned a work from Berio to commemorate the orchestra’s 125th anniversary. Sinfonia, premiered in 1968, was a vast work that reflected Berio’s interest in linguistic phenomena, the human voice, the avant-garde music of the early twentieth century, and the radical politics of the late 1960s. Composed for orchestra and the eight-voice group, the Swingle Singers, Sinfonia consists of four sections. The first is based on a number of fragments from the writing of French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss. The second section is a tribute to Martin Luther King who was murdered earlier the same year. The third section is a collage of fragments from the writings of Samuel Beckett and James Joyce, graffiti from the 1968 student uprisings in Paris, and of quotes from the music of composers Alfred Schoen-berg, Claude Debussy, Alban Berg, Igor Stravinsky, and Gustav Mahler. In fact, the section has been called a tribute to Mahler. The final movement combines the themes of the preceding sections.
The piece was well-received by critics. Harold C. Schonberg described it in the New York Times, as “music of the absurd, perhaps, or a new kind of Walpurgisnacht. But it moves, and it has a force and it never lets the attention down…. [It is] one of the musics of the future.” Berio’s subsequent work was not as successful. When This Means That was premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1970, it drew a hail of boos and some members of the audience even stormed out in the middle of the performance. Critics were also dismissive of Opera— which was not an opera—an overly complicated work that used the sinking of the Titanic as a metaphor for the destruction of humanity by the technological age.
Berio left Juilliard in 1971 and returned to Europe. In 1974, he took over leadership of the Electro-Acoustic Department of the Institut de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique (IRCAM) in Paris where he worked until 1980. He also became the director of the Accademia Filharmonica Romana, the Rome Philharmonic. In 1977, the recording of his work “Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra” was distinguished with the Koussevitsky International Recording Award.
From the 1970s on, traditional folk music played an increasingly important role in his work. In 1972, he completed E vo, for soprano and instrumental ensemble. It is based on the sound and techniques of Sicilian folk tunes and uses the words to a Sicilian lullaby. He was also interested in the music of Croatia, Brittany, and the Balkans. In 1978, Berio composed Coro, a work for vocal ensemble and orchestra. In it, he paired off 40 vocalists with 40 instrumentalists, to emphasize particular sonic textures. The piece utilizes folk texts and highly political, anti-fascist poems of Pablo Neruda about the Spanish Civil War. Almost no real folk tunes are used in the piece; instead, Berio composes sounds that are reminiscent of various folk musics.
In the 1980s, with Italian writer Italo Calvino, Berio composed an opera, Un re in ascolto, or “A King Listening.” The story, based on The Tempest by Shakespeare, concerns a theatrical impresario, Prospero, searching for the voice that will perfectly suit a character he has imagined. Over the course of the drama, Prospero “auditions” various voices, until the one he is looking for arrives and sings a tour de force aria. Besides Shakespeare, the opera was inspired by the work of French philosopher Roland Barthes and English poet W.H. Auden.
Sequenza was a series of solo works begun by Berio in the late 1950s. They include works for flute, harp, voice, piano, trombone, viola, oboe, violin, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, and in 1988, guitar. Ideal for virtuoso performers and not requiring the long rehearsal time required for Berio’s larger scale works, the Sequenza were probably the most frequently heard pieces of all the Italian composer’s music. Berio’s output slowed in the 1990s, but not his conviction in the importance of music. As he told Rossana Dalmonte in Two Interviews, “It is obvious that the edifice of our culture would make no sense without the bricks of music.”
Tre pezzi for three clarinets, 1947.
Magnificat for two sopranos, chorus, 1949.
Opus No. Zoo for reciter and wind quintet, 1950-51.
Due liriche di Garcia Lorca for bass and orchestra, 1947-51.
Due pezzi for violin and piano, 1951.
Chamber Music for female voice, cello, clarinet, and harp, 1953.
Ritratto di citta for single track tape, 1954.
Nones for orchestra, 1954.
Variazioni for chamber orchestra, 1954.
Mutazioni for one-track tape, 1955.
Allelujah I for five instrumental groups, 1955.
Perspectives for two-track tape, 1957.
Allelujah II for five instrumental groups, 1957-58.
Thema (Omaggio a Joyce) for two-track tape, 1958.
Allez Hop, “racconto mimico” (mimed story) for mimes and, orchestra, 1952-59.
Momenti for four-track tape, 1960.
Epifanie for female voice and orchestra, 1959-61.
Quaderni II for orchestra, 1961.
Quaderni III for orchestra, 1961-62.
Passaggio” messa in scena” (theatre piece) for soprano, Chorus A (in the pit), Chorus B (of five groups of speakers in the auditorium) and orchestra, 1962.
Esposizione for voices and instruments, 1963.
Sequenza II for harp, 1963.
Chemins for harp and orchestra, 1964.
Wasserklavier for piano, 1965.
Sequenza III for voice, 1965-66.
Sequenza IV for piano, 1965-66.
Gesti for recorder, 1966.
Sequenza V for trombone, 1966.
Sequenza VI for viola, 1967.
Chemins II for viola and nine instruments, 1967.
Chemins III for viola, nine instruments, 1968.
Sinfonia for eight solo voices and orchestra, 1968-69.
Sequenza VII for oboe, 1969.
Opera for ten actors, soprano, tenor, baritone, vocal ensemble, orchestra, and tape, 1969-70.
Air for soprano and orchestra, 1969-70.
Bewegung for orchestra, 1971.
E vo for soprano and instruments, 1972.
Cries of London for six voices, 1973.
A-Ronne, radio documentary for five actors on a poem by Sanguineti, 1974-75.
Sequenza VIll for violin. 1975.
Concerto for two pianos and orchestra, 1977.
Encore for orchestra, 1978.
Sequenza IX for clarinet, 1980.
Sequenza IX B for saxophone, 1981.
La Vera storia opera in two acts for soprano, mezzosoprano, tenor, baritone, bass, and vocal ensemble, 1977-81.
Corale for violin, two horns, and strings, 1980-81.
Duo “teatro immaginario” for baritone, two violins, choir, and orchestra, 1982.
Lied for clarinet, 1983.
34 duetti for two violins, 1979-83.
Un re in ascolto “azione musicale” in two acts, 1979-84.
Sequenza Xfor trumpet, 1984.
Requies for orchestra, 1984-85.
Voci for viola and instrumental ensemble, 1985.
Call—St. Louis Fanfare for brass quintet, 1985.
Luftklavier for piano, 1985.
Naturale for viola, tam-tam, and recorded voice, 1985-86.
Sequenza XI for guitar, 1987-89.
Concerto II (Echoing Curves) for piano and two instrumental groups, 1988-89.
Rendering for orchestra, 1988-89.
Festum for orchestra, 1989.
Feuerklavier for piano, 1989.
Berio, Luciano, Two Interviews, Marion Boyars, New York, 1981.
Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd edition, Gale Research, 1998.
Osmond-Smith, David, Berio, Oxford, 1991.
Writers Directory, 14th edition, St. James Press, 1999.
Economist, March 11, 1989.
Contemporary Authors Online, http://www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (February 2, 2001).
National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences,www.grammy.com (March 22, 2001).
—Gerald E. Brennan
Berio, Luciano, eminent Italian composer, conductor, and pedagogue; b. Oneglia, Oct. 24, 1925. Following initial training from his father, Ernesto Berio, he entered the Milan Cons, in 1945 to study composition with Paribeni and Ghedini, obtaining his diploma in 1950. He married Cathy Berberian in 1950 (marriage dissolved in 1964), who became a champion of his most daunting vocal works. In 1952 he attended Dallapiccola’s course at the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood. After attending the summer course in new music in Darmstadt in 1954, he returned to Milan and helped to organize the Studio di Fonologia Musicale of the RAI with Maderna, remaining active with it until 1961. In 1956 he founded the journal Incontri Musicali, and also served as director of the concerts it sponsored until 1960. He taught composition at the Berkshire Music Center (1960, 1982), the Dartington Summer School (1961–62), Mills Coll. in Oakland, Calif. (1962–64), and Harvard Univ. (1966–67). From 1965 to 1972 he taught composition at the Juilliard School of Music in N.Y., where he also conducted the Juilliard Ensemble. From 1974 to 1979 he worked at IRCAM in Paris. He also gave increasing attention to conducting, eventually appearing as a guest conductor with leading European and North American orchs. In 1987 he became founderdirector of Tempo Reale in Florence, a research, educational, and composition center. During the 1993–94 academic year, he was the Charles Eliot Norton prof. of Poetry at Harvard Univ., and then served as its Distinguished Composer-in-Residence from 1994. In 1980 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the City Univ. of London. He received the Premio Italia in 1982 for his Duo. In 1989 he was awarded the Ernst von Siemens-Musikpreis of Munich. He won the Premium Imperiale of Japan in 1996.
From the very beginning of his career as a composer, Berio embraced the ideals of the avant-garde. His early use of 12-tone writing was followed by imaginative explorations of aleatory, electronics, objets trouvés, and other contemporary means of expression. As one of the principal composers of his era, Berio has demonstrated a remarkable capacity for infusing new life into established forms. The theatrical nature of much of his music has rendered his vocal scores among the most challenging and significant works of their time. These works, like most of his output, have set daunting hurdles of virtuosity for the performer while demanding a level of tolerance from both critics and audiences alike.
DRAMATIC: Allez Hop, racconto mimico for Mezzo-soprano, 8 Mimes, Ballet, and Orch. (1952–59; Venice, Sept. 23, 1959; rev. 1968); Passaggio, messa in scena for Soprano, 2 Choruses, and Orch. (1961-62; Milan, May 6, 1963); Laborintus II for Voices, Instruments, and Tape (1965); II combattimento di Tancredi e Clordina, after Monteverdi (1966); Opera for 10 Actors, 2 Sopranos, Tenor, Baritone, Vocal Ensemble, Orch., and Tape (1969-70; Santa Fe, N.Mex., Aug. 12, 1970; rev. version, Florence, May 28, 1977); Per la dolce memoria de quel giorno, ballet (1974); La vera storia, opera (1977–78; Milan, March 9, 1982); Un re in ascolto, azione musicale (1979–83; Salzburg, Aug. 7, 1984); Duo, imaginary theater for radio for Baritone, 2 Violins, Chorus, and Orch. (1982); Naturale, theater piece (1985–86); Wir Bauen eine Stadt, children’s opera, after Hindemith (1987); Outis, opera (Milan, Oct. 2, 1996); Cronaca del Lugo, music theater piece (Salzburg, July 24, 1999). ORCH.: Preludio a una festa marina for Strings (1944); Concertino for Clarinet, Violin, Harp, Celesta, and Strings (1951; rev. 1970); Variazioni for Chamber Orch. (1953-54; Hamburg, Feb. 23, 1955); Nones (1954; Rome, Oct. 15, 1955); Mimusique No. 2 (1955); Allelujah I (1955–56) and II (1957–58; Rome, May 17, 1958); Variazoni for 2 Basset Horns and Strings, after Mozart (1956); Divertimento (Rome, Dec. 2, 1957; in collaboration with B. Maderna); Tempi concertati for Flute, Violin, 2 Pianos, and Other Instruments (1958–59); Quaderni I (1959), II (1961), and III (1962); Chemins I for Harp and Orch. (1965; based on Sequenza II, III for Viola and Orch. (1968; rev. 1973; based on Chemins II), IIB (1970), IIC for Bass Clarinet and Orch. (1972), IV for Oboe and Strings (1975; based on Sequenza VII), and V for Guitar and Chamber Orch. (1992); Bewegung (1971); Still (1971–73); Concerto for 2 Pianos and Orch. (1972–73); Points on the Curve to Find... for Piano and 23 Instruments (1974); Eindrücke (1973–74); II ritorno degli snovidenia for Cello and 30 Instruments (1976–77); Encore (1978); 2 piano concertos: No. 1 (1979) and No. 2, Echoing Curves (1988); Entrata (San Francisco, Oct. I, 1980); Accordo for 4 Wind Bands (1981); Corale for Violin, 2 Horns, and Strings (1981; based on Sequenza Vili); Fanfara (1982); Requies (1983–84; Lausanne, March 26, 1984; rev. 1985); Voci for Viola and 2 Instrumental Groups (1984); Formazioni (1986; Amsterdam, Jan. 15, 1987; rev. 1988); Continuo (1989); Festum (Dallas, Sept. 14, 1989); Récit (Chemins VII) for Alto Saxophone and Orch. (Milan, Oct. 12, 1996); ekphrasis (continuo II) (1996; Gran Canaria Festival, Jan. 24, 1997); Alternatim, double concerto for Clarinet, Viola, and
Orch. (1996–97; Amsterdam, May 16, 1997); Solo for Trombone and Orch. (Zurich, Dec. 7, 1999). CHAMBER: Divertimento for Violin, Viola, and Cello (1947; rev. 1985); Tre pezzi for 3 Clarinets (1947); Wind Quintet (1948); Wind Quartet (1950–51; rev. 1951 as Opus Number Zoo for Wind Quintet); Sonatina for Flute, 2 Clarinets, and Bassoon (1951); Due Pezzi for Violin and Piano (1951; rev. 1966); Study for String Quartet (1952; rev. 1985); 2 string quartets (1956; 1986–93); Serenata for Chamber Ensemble (1957); Sequenza I for Flute (1958), II for Harp (1963), V for Trombone (1966), VI for Viola (1967), VII for Oboe (1969), VIII for Violin (1976), IXa for Clarinet (1980), IXb for Alto Saxophone (1981), X for Trumpet and Piano Resonance (1985), XI for Guitar (1987–88), and XII for Accordion (1995); Differences for Flute, Clarinet, Harp, Viola, Cello, and Tape (1958); Sincronie for String Quartet (1963–64); Gesti for Recorder (1966); Chemins II for Viola and 9 Instruments (1967; based on Sequenza VI); Memory for Electric Piano and Electric Harpsichord (1970); Autre Fois for Flute, Clarinet, and Harp (1971); Musica leggera for Flute, Viola, and Cello (1974); Les Mots sont allés for Cello (1978); Duetti for 2 Violins (1979–82); Lied for Clarinet (1983); Call-St. Louis Fanfare for 5 Winds (1985; rev. 1987); Ricorrenze for Wind Quintet (1985–87); Comma for Clarinet (1987); Psy for Double Bass (1989); Brin for Guitar (1994; also for Piano, 1990); Glosse for String Quartet (Regio Emilia, June 22, 1997). KEYBOARD: Piano: Pastorale (1937); Toccata for Piano Duet (1939); Petite Suite (1947); Cinque variazioni (1952-53; rev. 1966); Wasserklavier (1965); Sequenza IV (1965–66); Erdenklavier (1969); Luftklavier (1985); Feuerklavier (1989); Leaf (1990); Brin (1990; also for Guitar, 1994). Organ: Fa-Si for Organ and Registration Assistants (1975). harpsichord:Rounds (1966). VOCAL: O bone Jesu for Chorus (1946); 4 canzoni popolari for Woman’s Voice and Piano (1946–47); Trio liriche greche for Voice and Piano (1946–48); Due canti siciliani for Tenor and Men’s Chorus (1948); Ad Hermes for Voice and Piano (1948); Due pezzi sacri for 2 Sopranos, Piano, 2 Harps, Timpani, and 12 Bells (1949); Magnificat for 2 Sopranos, Chorus, and Orch. (1949); Opus Number Zoo for Reciters and Wind Quintet (1951; rev. 1970; based on the Wind Quintet); Deus meus for Voice and 3 Instruments (1951); El Mar la Mar for Soprano, Mezzo-soprano, and 7 Instruments (1952); Chamber Music for Woman’s Voice, Clarinet, Cello, and Harp (1953); Epifanie for Soprano or Mezzo-soprano and Orch. (1959-61; rev. 1965); Circles for Woman’s Voice, Harp, and 2 Percussionists (1960); Folk Songs for Mezzo-soprano and 7 Instruments (1964; also for Mezzo-soprano and Orch., 1973); Sequenza III for Voice (1965); O King for Voice and 5 Instruments (1968); Questo vuoi dire chel for 3 Women’s Voices, Small Chorus, and Tape(1968); Sinfonia for 8 Voices and Orch. (1968–69); Air for Soprano and Orch. (1969); Melodrama for Tenor and Instrumental Ensemble, after Opera (1970); Agnus for 2 Sopranos and 3 Clarinets (1971); Bewegung II for Baritone and Orch. (1971); Recital for Cathy for Mezzo-soprano and 17 Instruments (1971); E Vó for Soprano and Instrumental Ensemble (1972); Cries of London for 6 Voices (1973–74; also for 8 Voices, 1974-76); Calmo (in memoriam Bruno Maderna) for Mezzo-soprano and Chamber Orch. (1974; rev. 1988–89); Com for 40 Voices and Instrumental Ensemble (1974–77); Scena de La vera storia for Mezzo-soprano, Bass, Chorus, and Orch. (1981); Ecce: musica per musicologi for Women’s Voices, Men’s Voices, and Bells (1987); Ofanim for Woman’s Voice, 2 Children’s Choruses, 2 Instrumental Groups, and Computer (1988–97); Canticum novissimi testamenti II for Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass, 4 Clarinets, and Saxophone Quartet (1989); Epiphanies for Soprano or Mezzo-soprano and Orch. (1991–92); Echo for Soprano and Flute (Salzburg, Aug. 17, 1999).
ELECTRONIC: Mutazioni (1954); Perspectives (1957); Momenti (1957); Thema (Omaggio a Joyce) (1958); Visage (1961); Chants parallèles (1975); Diario imaginario (1975). OTHER: Brahms-Berio, Op.120, No. 1 for Clarinet or Viola and Orch. (1984–85); Schubert-Berio: Rendering for Orch. (1989; a restoration of fragments from a Schubert sym.); arrangements of various other works, including those by Verdi, Mahler, Weill, and Falla.
R. Dalmonte and B. Varga, L. B.: Two Interviews (London, 1985); D. Osmond-Smith, B. (Oxford, 1991); F. Menezes Filho, L. B. et la phonologie: Une approche jakobsonienne de son oeuvre (Frankfurt am Main, 1993).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire
Born October 24, 1925, in Oneglia, Italy; died May 27, 2003, in Rome, Italy. Composer. For some five decades before his death, Luciano Berio was one of the twentieth century's most prolific composers, and considered Italy's leading musical pioneer of his era. Writing in a primarily modernist style, Berio produced large–scale orchestral works, operas, and chamber music, but it was his solo voice compositions for which he became particularly renowned. Berio's works "combined innovative imagination and analytical depth with a richly sensuous feeling for sound and form," declared Paul Griffiths in the New York Times.
Berio was born in 1925 in Oneglia, a town on Italy's northwest Ligurian coast. Both his father and grandfather were accomplished musicians, and Berio was initially trained by the latter as a youngster. He planned to become a pianist, but injured his hand while serving in the Italian Army during the final days of World War II. After the war's end, he studied composition at the Milan Conservatory, where he met his first wife, the American singer Cathy Berberian. After their 1950 marriage, they began traveling to New York City often, and there Berio came to know the Italian composer Luigi Dallapiccola, and was influenced by Dallapiccola's atonal style. One of Berio's first works was 1953's Chamber Music, a vocal piece with clarinet, cello, and harp based on the writings of Irish author James Joyce, which he wrote for Berberian to perform. Berio and Berberian later welcomed the birth of their daughter. During the 1950s, Berio became deeply involved in European avant–garde music. After 1955, he ran a Milan studio for electronic music with Italian composer Bruno Maderna, whom he knew through summers spent at an academy for modernist composers and musicians in Darmstadt, West Germany. Some of Berio's most complex works came out of this era, including Tempi Concertati (1958–59) for flute, violin, two pianos and four instrumental groups. At Darmstadt he also came to know Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and other leading names in European music, and Stockhausen's daring electronica compositions were particularly influential on the direction of Berio's work. In 1958 he debuted what became "one of the early classics of tape music," according to Griffiths, Thema (Omaggio a Joyce), another work drawn from the Irish writer's free–form prose. That year, the first in Berio's important "Sequenza" series was introduced as well, which were complex works for one instrument that showcased the history, style, and mood of each, beginning with the flute.
Berio spent a much of the 1960s living and working in the United States. He taught at Mills College in California in the early 1960s, where his students included future composer Steve Reich and Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh. After 1964 and the end of his first marriage, Berio lived in New York City with his second wife, Susan Oyama, a union that produced a son and daughter. For a number of years he was a professor of composition at the esteemed Juilliard School, and founded its Juilliard Ensemble, which performed many of his works under his baton. Over the years he increasingly drew from the pantheon of musical forms of the past, including Giuseppe Verdi's operas, the early modernist works from Igor Stravinsky, and even Gustav Mahler's romantic symphonies. He continued to find inspiration in literary works as well, and his Sinfonia for orchestra and vocal octet (1968–9) incorporated Mahler's "'Resurrection" Symphony as well as the words of dramatist Samuel Beckett. "The result was Mahler transformed," Mark Swed noted in the Los Angeles Times, "and a work that was credited with kicking off the contemporary genres of post–Modernism and New Romanticism."
Berio's first full–scale opera, simply titled Opera, debuted with the Santa Fe Opera in 1970. In 1971, he and Oyama divorced. After 1972, he lived and worked primarily in Italy, settling in a town near Siena called Radicondoli. He married Talia Pecker in the mid–1970s; they had two sons. His sole excursion was a few years in the 1970s spent running Boulez's computer–music institute in Paris, France, but in 1980 Berio established his own electronic studio in Florence, which he named Tempo Reale. His most important works of the decade are considered Una vera storia ("A True Story"), which had its premiere in Florence in 1982, and Un re in Ascolto ("A King Listens"), which debuted at the prestigious Salzburg Festival in Austria in 1984. Both operas were collaborations between Berio and Italy's foremost living writer of the time, Italo Calvino.
After 2000 Berio served as president of the National Academy of St. Cecilia, a venerable Roman institution that includes an orchestra, library, school, and array of other musical organizations. He was also a frequent guest conductor with the Los Angeles Philharmonic for a number of years, and was working on an orchestration for a Monteverdi opera commissioned by the Los Angeles Opera artistic director Placido Domingo just before his death in 2003. The famed tenor sometimes teased the avant–gardist about his style. "'Luciano,'" Domingo recalled in the Los Angeles Times article, "'write for me some melodic music that I can sing,' I would say to him. And he would reply, 'Placido, everything I write sounds melodic to me.'"
Berio died on May 27, 2003; he was 77. He is survived by his third wife, Talia Pecker Berio; daughters Cristina and Marina; sons Stefano, Dani, and Yoni; four grandchildren, and one great–grandchild.
Chicago Tribune, May 30, 2003, section 1, p. 11; Guardian (London, England), May 29, 2003, p. 27; Los Angeles Times, May 28, 2003, p. B10; New York Times, May 28, 2003, p. A21; May 30, 2003, p. A2, June 5, 2003, p. A2.
Luciano Berio (born 1925), Italian composer, created some of the most advanced styles of music in the mid-20th century. His unique style is a result of the combination of Italian lyricism with a highly original idiom.
Luciano Berio was born in Onegia, northern Italy. His father and grandfather were church organists and composers. After preliminary study with his father, Berio entered the Milan Conservatory, specializing in piano, conducting, and composition and after graduation worked as an operatic coach and conductor. In 1951 he received a scholarship to the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts, where he studied with Luigi Dallapiccola, the Italian twelve-tone composer. Dallapiccola's influence is evident in the compositions Berio wrote after his return to Italy. Nones (1955), written to W. H. Auden's poem "Ninth Hour," is "totally controlled"; that is, not only the tones but also the durations, dynamics, and articulations follow a preconceived serial order.
In 1953 Berio attended the Darmstadt Summer School for New Music, where he met Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Boulez, and other advanced young composers and became acquainted with their revolutionary musical ideas. Back in Milan, Berio established the first electronic music studio in Italy and started to compose in this medium. One of his first pieces was Homage to Joyce, in which the sound material is not electronically produced tones but is a reading of the opening section of the "Sirens" chapter of James Joyce's Ulysses. The sound of the words is distorted through tape manipulation so that meaning is lost and only expressive vocal sounds remain. Berio was fascinated with such sounds, and in many of his pieces he explored unusual manners of speaking and singing. In his discoveries the composer was greatly aided by his first wife, Cathy Berberian, the versatile American singer.
Circles (1961), for voice, harp, and percussion instruments, is another early piece that exploits the expressive quality of words. The words, an E. E. Cummings poem, are "fractured," that is, separated into their component parts: single vowels and consonants. In Visage (1960) the singer emits cries, laughs, sobs, and moans, creating a whole drama on a preverbal level.
Berio was a characteristic 20th-century composer in that he did not repeat himself; each piece called for new sounds and embodied his developing aesthetic. Sinfonia (1968), an extraordinary composition written for eight singers (the Swingle Singers) and orchestra, is a vast collage of words and sounds, reflecting the complexity and disorder of modern life. Parts of it sound as though several radio programs were being played simultaneously. Underlying everything, a distorted but recognizable performance of the third movement of Gustav Mahler's Second Symphony can be heard. In addition, there are words from a Samuel Beckett play, student slogans from contemporary confrontations, and fleeting references to a score of other composers ranging from J. S. Bach to Stockhausen. The piece is a Joycean bringing-together of everything in a time-destroying present. In spite of its unconventionality and complexity, the first performances were highly successful.
In the early 1970s, Berio began experimentation in opera, alongside his continuing orchestral, choral, and chamber pieces, notably the ongoing Sequenza series. However, despite the titular suggestion of Opera (1970), Berios's forays into the genre expectedly strayed from its traditional narrative structure while retaining its emotive peaks. Again working in collaboration with key figures of postmodern literature like Italo Calvino and Umberto Eco, Berio found an audience with subsequent "operas" such as La Vera Storia (1977), Un Re in Ascolto (1979), and Outis (1996), all of which deepened the composer's techniques of undermining normative conceptions of space and time. Outis, for example, was loosely based upon the classic myth of Odysseus, but lapsed in and out of a web of time frames, with Odysseus dying repeatedly in each scene. In the operas of Berio, characters were used less as coherent dramatic fictions and more as concepts on stage. Nonetheless, the works retained the color and excitement of opera, simultaneously celebrating the relationship with the legacy of musical history and interrogating that very relationship.
Berio became increasingly appreciated by a mass audience, and was hailed as a much-wanted link between popular audiences and the deconstructionist avant-garde. Accordingly, Berio was invited to give a series of oral dissertations for the 1993 Charles Eliot Norton lecture at Harvard University, a prestigious chair devoted to poetic expression in all the arts. Unfortunately, the lectures were ill received, the general consensus being that Berio's ideas were best expressed through his music.
Richard Steinitz's entry on Berio in Contemporary Composers (1994) provides an overall portrait of the composer as well as an exhaustive list of works. For a detailed companion to Sinfonia, see David Osmond-Smith's Playing On Words: A Guide To Luciano Berio's Sinfonia (1985). A good commentary on Berio's Circles appears in Wilfrid Mellers, Caliban Reborn in Twentieth-Century Music (1967). Joseph Machlis, Introduction to Contemporary Music (1961), and Peter S. Hansen, An Introduction to Twentieth Century Music (3d ed. 1971), contain a brief discussion of Berio. A good background book on the period is Otto Deri, Exploring Twentieth-Century Music (1968), which discusses the lives and analyzes the different styles of major 20th-century composers. □
BERIO, Luciano. Italian, b. 1925. Genres: Songs/Lyrics and libretti, Music. Career: Studio de Fonologia Musicale, RAI Broadcasting, Milan, Italy, founder and co-director, 1955-60; Juilliard School of Music, NYC, professor of composition, 1965-71; IRCAM, Paris, France, director of electro-acoustic section, 1974-80; Tempo Reale, Florence, Italy, founder and director, 1987-; composer and writer. Artistic director, Israel Chamber Orchestra, 1975, Accademia Filarmonica Romana, 1976, Orchestra Regionale Toscana, 1982, and Maggio Musicale Florentio, 1984; instructor at colleges worldwide. Publications: (with R. Dalmonte and B.A. Varga) Two Interviews, trans. and ed. D. Osmond-Smith, 1984; Remembering the Future, 1994; Collected Writings, 1995. Compositions include: Pastorale, 1937; Toccata, 1939; Preludio a una festa marina, 1944; Divertimento, 1946, revised 1985; O bone Jesu, 1946; Tre canzoni popolari, 1947; Tre pezzi, 1947; Petite Suite pour piano, 1948; Tre liriche greche, 1948; Magnificat, 1949; Due pezzi, 1951, revised 1966; El mar la mar, 1952; Mimusique No. 2, 1952-55; Allez Hop, 1952-59; Chamber Music, 1953; Cinque variazioni, 1953, revised 1966; Mimusique No. 1, 1953; Variazioni, 1953-54; Nones, 1954; Quartetto, 1955-56; Perspectives, 1957; Serenata, 1957; Allelujah II, 1957-58; Sequenza I, 1958; Thema (Omaggio a Joyce), 1958; Tempi concertati, 1958-59; Differences, 1959; Epifanie, 1959-62; Circles, 1960; Momenti, 1960; Visage, 1960-61; Passaggio, 1961-62; Sequenza II, 1963; Sincronie, 1963-64; Folk Songs, 1964; Chemins I, 1965; Laborintus II, 1965; Rounds, 1965; Sequenza III, 1965; Sequenza IV, 1965; Gesti, 1966; Sequenza V, 1966; Chemins II, 1967; Sequenza VI, 1967; Chemins III, 1968; Questo vuol dire che, 1968-69; Sinfonia, 1968-69; Sequenza VII, 1969; Opera, 1969-70, rev, 1977; Memory, 1970; Bewegung, 1971; Concerto, 1972-73; Still, 1973; A-Ronne, 1974-75; Chemins IV, 1975; Coro, 1975-76; Ritorno degli snovidenia, 1976-77; Sequenza VIII, 1976-77; La vera storia, 1977-81; Un re in ascolto, 1979-84; Sequenza IX, 1980; Accordo, 1980-81; Sequenza X, 1984; Voci, 1984; Requies, 1985; Formazioni, 1985-87; Ricorrenze, 1985-87; Sequenza XI, 1987- 88; Canticum novissimi testamenti, 1988; Ofanim, 1988; Concerto II (Echoing Curves), 1988-89; Calmo, 1989; Festum, 1989; Rendering, 1989; Continuo, 1989; and Notturno (quartetto III), 1990-91. Died 2003.