Monday, March 28, 2011

Better Know a Composer: Luciano Berio (Part II)

Berio's Italian, but he has some strong connections to the US and New York City in particular. He wrote Sinfonia for the 125th anniversary of the New York Philharmonic in 1968. This was no commission to an out-of-towner: Berio had been teaching at Juilliard since 1964, and before taking the Juilliard job he had taught at Mills College in Oakland for two full school years. He studied at Tanglewood in 1952 with Luigi Dallapiccola and then returned as an instructor in 1960.

As the second movement of Sinfonia, Berio included a version of his 1967 piece O King, an elegiac tribute Martin Luther King, Jr.

Originally scored for a small ensemble and one singer, O King (here in its symphonic arrangement) projects the individual syllables of the phrase "O Martin Luther King" into the surrounding musical landscape; gradually they coalesce to sound out the slain civil-rights leader's name at the end of the piece.

Even if you can't hear this, it's a beautiful, powerful piece. And for all its avant-garde pretensions, it's general form--slow and steady progress toward a definite endpoint--is pretty conventional.