Luciano Berio

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About Luciano Berio

A leading figure among European avant-garde composers in the decades after the Second World War, Luciano Berio combined his music’s radical modernism with an Italianate flair for alluring sonorities. He was born in 1925 in Oneglia, and his desire to be a concert pianist was ended by a self-inflicted hand injury, caused by a gun on his first day of wartime army conscription. Instead, Berio studied composition, first at Milan Conservatory, then with Dallapiccola at the 1952 Tanglewood Summer School. In 1955 he cofounded an electronic-music studio in Milan; for his first wife, American mezzo-soprano Cathy Berberian, he wrote the electronic Thema (Omaggio a Joyce) (1958) and Visage (1961) and the orchestrally accompanied Epifanie (1961-65). A series of 17 works titled Sequenza (1958-2002), each for a different solo instrument or voice, was partially expanded into a parallel series of Chemins (“Pathways,” 1964-92) for different ensembles. Berio’s world reputation was confirmed by Sinfonia (1968-69) for eight vocalists (originally The Swingle Singers) and symphony orchestra; the work’s central movement is a monumental collage of historical and modern styles and quotations, both musical and verbal, assembled with astonishing technical panache. Major works in the following years included the large-scale Coro (“Chorus,” 1976-77) for 40 voices and 40 instruments, and the opera Un re in ascolto (“A King Listens,” 1981-83). In 2001, two years before he died, Berio composed his own completion of Puccini’s unfinished opera Turandot.

Oneglia, Italy
October 24, 1925

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