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TWO LATE ORCHESTRAL WORKS OF LUCIANO BERIO

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 July 2015

Extract

Little has been said about Berio's work Formazioni (1987), and even less about Ekphrasis (1996), both large-scale orchestral compositions with non-traditional instrumental groupings. In his book on Berio, David Osmond-Smith gives a brief description of Formazioni, but one would be hard pressed to find any further published material about the piece, save for liner notes in the two available recordings (written by Roger Marsh and Ferdinand Schmatz respectively, and those from the latter coming in the form of abstract poetry). Ekphrasis has received one studio recording, and no published analysis. The two works were completed towards the end of the composer's life, and they demonstrate a refinement of his craft; a much closer look is therefore in order.

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RESEARCH ARTICLES
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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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References

1 Osmond-Smith, David, Berio (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 88Google Scholar.

2 Berio, Luciano: Chemins I, Chemins IIb, Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, Formazioni (Col Legno, 2008)Google Scholar. WWE 1CD 20281. Berio, Luciano: Formazioni, Folk Songs, Sinfonia (DECCA, 1990)Google Scholar. 425 832-2DH.

3 Formazioni is published by Universal Edition, Vienna, 1986, and Ekphrasis by the same publishers, 1996. The recording of Ekphrasis, paired with Berio's Sinfonia, is on Deutsche Grammophon, 2005. 0289 477 5380 3 GH.

5 Pitch names without octave numbers indicate pitch class.

6 For future mentions of ‘weak pitch significance’, ‘pitch density’, ‘pitch rarefaction’, and similar concepts, the reader should know that they refer to my pitch counting, which involves note values of semiquavers or smaller. Since most of the piece is rather fast, anything briefer than a semiquaver goes by very quickly, and is thus not especially significant harmonically. The opposite is true if notes are fast, but repeated, as repetition creates emphasis. In case of further significance (through loudness, or particularly extended duration), I counted notes more than once (most often twice).

7 Berio owned an extensive collection of folk music recordings, and was especially fond of Balkan music. See Osmond-Smith, David, ed., Two Interviews (New York: Marion Boyars, 1985), pp. 106, 153Google Scholar.

8 I am using the Concertgebouw Orchestra recording for the purpose of this analysis (DECCA, 1990, as detailed in footnote 2). The 2007 Vienna Radio Orchestra version, regardless of the more crisp engineering, does not do as much justice to the kinetic momentum and unity of thought in the work, and lasts close to two minutes longer.

10 Osmond-Smith calls it, among other things, ‘commentary by harmonic enrichment’ (1991: 53).

11 The quasi-melodic lines in the piece can more accurately be described as cells, since they scarcely possess any extended phrase structure.

12 Displacement, from a theoretical viewpoint, since the B♭ is a member of the opposing whole-tone scale. This displacement might produce a pleasant sonic combination, as in the case of C♯–B♭, while other pitches from the opposing scale might be more disruptive both in theoretical and aural terms (e.g. C).

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