Patricia Alessandrini: Omaggio à Berio (2012)
Since Berio's death in 2003, I had wanted to write an homage to him. When I was asked to write a work for voice and ensemble for the faculty of the Soundscape festival in Italy - including a pioneer in the current American contemporary scene, soprano Tony Arnold - it seemed inevitable. This first version, Black is the Colour (Omaggio à Berio) had this intention in parentheses, while this new version, Omaggio à Berio, embraces this homage fully, as I feel it completes the project of engaging with the material of the Folk Songs, and what in my opinion establishes this suite of arrangements of popular tunes as one of the most influential works of the 20th Century.
One of the reasons for which I almost always base my compositions on existing repertoire, is the fact that the musical material itself is not important to me, but rather the act of composing from that material, which in my case becomes something like an interpretation or performance. Musical material - such as relative harmonic dissonance or consonance - may function as an easily recognizable sign of a given style, and this was certainly the case of the post-war avant garde, which often availed itself of a dissonant language descended loosely from the second viennese school. Despite the fact that he based these works on simple folk tunes, Berio created something truly modern and extraordinary: a series of works which transcend style, which are experimental in their instrumental treatment, and at the same time respect and convey the character of each of the individual songs.
In the first version, Black is the Colour, I based the entire work on a descending line Berio had devised as a plaintive accompaniment in the harp in the first movement of the series. The entire work consisted of the efforts of the soprano, percussionist, and pianist to coax this melody from the piano in various indirect ways, as if it were a sort of harp which one did not quite know how to play. The staging of the work - with all three players hovering about and reaching into the piano - allowed for a mise en scène of two processes of the work: a dramatization of the efforts of obtaining various sounds - played notes and secondary resonances - from the instrument, as well as the process of the performers building the work themselves as we tried different techniques out over the course of our rehearsals during the festival. In the end, however, by the time the work was performed during the festival, it still felt to me somewhat still in the stage of experimentation and searching; not yet complete, and perhaps not yet worthy of an homage to Berio. After all, Berio was not interested in finding "new" sounds, but rather carving them out of what already exists, finding the potential of material and letting it take a form that was already latently present in it. (At least, this is what he had replied to a question about technology in a master class at the Accademia Chigiana, and I heard him repeat this idea at least once after that, as if it were a recurring theme for him.)
In the spirit of certain of Berio's works, this is a reworking, retranscription, rereading, based on both my own earlier composition and of a work from the repertoire. Above all, it is an homage, to the many contributions Berio made to new music, as the creator of a new virtuosity both for instruments and the human voice, and a dramatist, who said in 1981 that "the future of new music is theater music".