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S. Crayton: ‘Sinfonia’, Out of Order (University of Cambridge, 2023), pp. 145-159.


Luciano Berio's name is not to be found in the 1134-page Oxford Handbook of Western Music and Philosophy (2021) yet his poetics sits among the most profound and expansive of the twentieth century. Berio's electro-acoustic output, the Sequenze, and Sinfonia are radical applications of this philosophy only they have been claimed by the proponents of the very structures they challenge, and their meaning effectively reduced.

By the mid-sixties Berio was writing lucidly about tensions between synchronic and diachronic meaning. Side-by-side comparison with Bloom's thought situates Berio's work within a contemporary context of theories of meaning, as well as offers a different kind of route for understanding the complexity of his thought.

The chapter presents Sinfonia as a staging of the mechanisms of meaning, whose expression is the transformational possibilities generated by the negotiations between musical gestures such that not simply does the "river of Mahler" transform into Webern, for instance, but so can Webern produce Mahler itself, almost as if to sound an echo of a later expression. In particular, at the precise moment Berio breaks from strict adherence to the linearity of the Mahler, a particular expression of Mahler's—one whose beauty is in its overheard solemnity—is effectively framed by the physical reality of Sinfonia itself in such a way as to transform not simply the material of expression but the location of expression’s characterising “distance”. This is remarkable, and illustrates an expressive scope of Sinfonia far beyond that of the “catalogue of references” to which the movement is routinely reduced, notwithstanding Berio’s various attempts to clarify his argument.

In addition, examination within a poetic context of the early electro-acoustic work reveals further concern with the physicality of gesture, leading to a presentation of the Sequenze as encyclopaedic examinations of an instrument’s physical orders. We have a tremendous amount to learn from Berio.

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Berio, L.: ‘Meditation on a Twelve-Tone Horse’, The Christian Science Monitor (July 15, 1968).

——— ‘Remarks to the Kind Lady of Baltimore’, Electronic Music Review, Vol. I, No. 1 (January 1967), pp. 58-59.

——— Remembering the Future (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006).

——— Scritti sulla musica (Turin: Giulio Einaudi, 2013).

Berio, L., Dalmonte R., and Varga, B. A.: Two Interviews, trans. and ed. D. Osmond-Smith (New York and London: Marion Boyars Publishers, 1985).

Bloom, H.: The Anxiety of Influence, 2nd ed. (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press,1997).

——— Kabbalah and Criticism (New York: The Seabury Press, 1975).

——— A Map of Misreading, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).


Causton, R.: ‘Berio’s Visage and the Theatre of Electroacoustic Music’, Tempo, No. 194 (October 1995), pp. 15-21.

Mitchell, D.: The Wunderhorn Years (Colorado: Westview Press, 1975). 

Osmond-Smith, D.: Berio (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).

——— Playing on Words: a Guide to Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia (London: Royal Musical Association, 1985).

——— ‘Voicing the Labyrinth: the Collaborations of Edoardo Sanguineti and Luciano Berio’, Twentieth-Century Music, Vol. 9, Issue 1-2 (Cambridge University Press, March 2012). 

Pasticci, S.: ‘«In the meantime, we’ll keep translating»: the strength of the ethical dimensionin the creative thought of Luciano Berio’, Nuove Prospettive, ed. A. I. De Benedictis (Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 2012).

E. Sanguineti: ‘Poesia informale?’, I Novisimmi: Poesie per gli anni ‘60, ed. A. Giuliani (Milan: Rusconi and Paolazzi, 1961), pp. 171-172.

Uvietta, M.: ‘Gesto, intenzionalità, indeterminazione nella poetica di Berio fra il 1956 e il 1966’, Rivista Italiana di Musicologia, No. 46 (2011), pp. 197-243. 

Various authors: Sequenze per Luciano Berio (Milan: Ricordi, 2000).

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