Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Tuesday, October 10

Berio's "Sinfonia" in New York

Synopsis

In literature, the "stream of consciousness" style of prose writing was made famous by the 20th century Irish novelist James Joyce. In Joyce's "Ulysses," the thoughts of the novel's characters shift from the distracting sights and sounds from Dublin's streets to interior monologues, often including snatches of real or recollected snatches of music.

In music, something similar occurred on today's date in 1968, when the Italian composer Luciano Berio conducted the Swingle Singers and the New York Philharmonic in the premiere performance of a new work entitled "Sinfonia."

"Sinfonia" included direct orchestral quotes from Bach to Mahler intermingled with sung and spoken texts ranging from Claude Levi-Strauss to Samuel Beckett. There's even a bit of James Joyce's "Ulysses" tossed in as well, alongside quotations of French and American student protesters circa 1968. The text of "Sinfonia's" second movement was a tribute to the recently assassinated civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr.—and consisted of nothing other than the intoned syllables of his name.

Berio's "Sinfonia" was a dizzying mix of 1968 politics, avant-garde montage, familiar concert hall melodies, and theatrical flair. "The juxtaposition of contrasting elements, in fact," wrote Berio at the time, "is part of the whole point." Somewhat to everyone's surprise, Berio's "Sinfonia" turned out to be a hit with both the critics and the audiences at its premiere performances.

Music Played in Today's Program

Luciano Berio (1925-2003) Sinfonia New Swingle Singers; French National Orchestra; Pierre Boulez, cond. Erato 88151

Additional Information

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