You, me, the music, and me.

Saturday, October 15, 2005


Columbia Masterworks MS 7268 (1969?)

"A 'happening'... Music as jauntily complex as its title is simple." - The New York Post

I found this album in the bargain bin at Backstreet Records in Saint John, N.B. for fifty cents. Luciano Berio was an Italian composer whose name I remembered from my music history classes as being an important figure in twentieth century experimental music. Sinfonia features the New York Philharmonic (conducted by Berio) and the a cappella vocal group the Swingle Singers. It is constructed in the form of a symphony, with four movements (a fifth was added after this recording); at just under 27 minutes, the album may seem short (even for a vinyl disc), but it feels full, as if no other music could possibly fit on a disc alongside a piece this massive in content.

A "happening" is an apt way to describe this composition; it feels totally in sync with the psychedelic sixties during which it was composed, yet it doesn't sound dated. Parts of it sound like a dream or hallucination, where things that normally wouldn't make sense possess a strange logic. Berio uses some interesting compositional devices, such as creating a text for the second movement made up entirely of the letters of Dr. Martin Luther King's name. The third movement is a "mutation" of the third movement of Gustav Mahler's second symphony (the "Resurrection") which acts as a "container" for a number of musical quotations and references to composers such as Bach, Debussy, Ravel, Strauss, Beethoven, Wagner, Stravinsky, Stockhausen, and on and on up to Berio himself. As the piece progresses, the references become newer and more recent, producing a feeling of travelling forward through time (kind of like the opening scene in the movie Contact, but in reverse).

Sinfonia is a special piece of music, an "experimental" compostion that actually feels like an experiment. It's a document, both of its time and beyond its time. All for only fifty cents! Kids, don't neglect those bargain bins!


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