Contributed by Joey Tan (BMUS2, YST)
A trombone solo with the performer dressed up as a clown, a symphony for orchestra and eight amplified voices brimming with musical quotations from Beethoven to Boulez, an hour-long piece for 40 voices and instruments based on the idea of an imaginary city – these are just a few of the many ingenious creations of Italian composer, Luciano Berio. Born into a musical family, Berio received musical training at home and later entered the Milan Conservatory, where he studied with Ghedini. Subsequently, he studied with Dallapicola and attended the Darmstadt Summer School, where he met Boulez, Stockhausen, Ligeti and Kagel.
These composers made a considerable impact on Berio’s music and his development as a composer – for instance, under the guidance of Ghedini, Berio learnt to respect and appreciate the music of the past while still innovating in his music. It was this attitude that led to works like Sinfonia (1968 – 1969), an orchestral piece containing dozens of musical quotations from a multitude of renowned works – Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps, and Mahler’s Second Symphony, amongst dozens of others. But Berio did not simply keep to tradition – he experimented heavily with limits of music and musical instruments, spurring him to write 14 Sequenza (1958 – 2002) – solo pieces for different instruments. Many of these pieces are extremely virtuosic and include the use of extended techniques, like multiphonics (singing and playing simultaneously) in Sequenza V for trombone (in which the soloist is dressed as a clown) and microtonal trills in Sequenza VII for oboe.
Pierre Boulez was also a contemporary and friend of Berio, and Boulez frequently conducted Berio’s works. Both composers dedicated pieces to each other, and it was for Boulez’s 60th birthday that Berio’s Ricorrenze was written. A woodwind quintet written from 1985 to 1987, Ricorrenze was inspired by the art of Jean Dubuffet – a lithograph titled Terre Chaleureuse.
In Berio’s own words:
“Ricorrenze est le développement d’une graine plantée en printemps 1985 pour le soixantième anniversaire de Pierre Boulez. La graine s’appelait Terre chaleureuse (c’est un titre de Jean Dubuffet); elle est maintenant devenue une plante: sa forme globale, irrégulière et discontinue, est indifférente à la nature périodique et régulière des fruits qui sont distribués sur ses branches.”
(Ricorrenze is the development of a seed planted in the spring of 1985 for the 60th birthday of Pierre Boulez. The seed was called Terre chaleureuse (it is a title by Jean Dubuffet); it has now become a plant: its overall form, irregular and discontinuous, is indifferent to the periodic and regular nature of the fruits which are distributed on the branches.)
While nowhere near as revolutionary as Sinfonia or the Sequenza, Ricorrenze is nonetheless a charming and coherent piece – it is skillfully crafted & assembled, and exhibits great technical flair in composition. A technically demanding piece for the individual musician and for the ensemble (musicians sit in a straight line facing the audience, at least 2 metres apart), it is a staple in the modern woodwind quintet repertoire.
The regular pulsing which opens the piece has a strong presence throughout the work, and the seemingly simple material at the start proves to be more complicated as it is developed as the piece progresses. The pulsation is contrasted by more irregular exclamations, leading to the realization of Berio’s image of the regular fruits amongst the disorderly leaves and branches in the music. This effect is largely attributable to the distinction between independence and cooperation of the instruments. Melodies are passed note by note from one instrument to another, and sections of music are brought back at different parts of the piece – for the title, “Ricorrenze” translates to “recurrences”.
Listen attentively, and one can hear Boulezian harmonies, reminiscent of sonorities in Dérive and Répons – no surprise, as this was dedicated to Boulez for his 60th birthday. There might even be a few quotations of Boulez’s works concealed in this 15-minute piece.
Ricorrenze was premiered in Paris in 1988, by the Quintetto Arnold.