Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Thursday, October 10

Berio's "Sinfonia" in New York

Synopsis

In James Joyce’s novel “Ulysses,” the thoughts of its major characters keep shifting from the sights and sounds they encounter in and around Dublin to their private, non-stop interior monologues. This narrative technique came to be called “stream of consciousness” writing.

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 his new work entitled “Sinfonia.”

“Sinfonia” included music 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 Joyce’s “Ulysses” tossed in as well, alongside slogans from the student protests of 1968. The text of Sinfonia’s second movement was a tribute to the recently-assassinated Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King – and consisted of nothing but the intoned syllables of his name.

“Sinfonia” was Berio’s “stream of consciousness” interior monologue on the year 1968 made public with great theatrical flair: a dizzying mix of poignant music and political text. Berio was quoted as saying, “The juxtaposition of contrasting elements, in fact, is part of the whole point.”

Somewhat to everyone’s surprise, “Sinfonia” turned out to be a hit, and Columbia Records even released a recording of the work with its premiere performers.

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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