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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S. Crayton: ‘Sinfonia’, Out of Order (University of Cambridge, 2023), pp. 145-159.
Berio, L.: ‘Meditation on a Twelve-Tone Horse’, The Christian Science Monitor (July 15, 1968).
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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).