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Duetti per due violini, Vol.

1; Encore, for Orchestra; Sequenza X, for Trumpet by Luciano


Berio
Review by: Arnold Whittall
Music & Letters, Vol. 67, No. 4 (Oct., 1986), p. 447
Published by: Oxford University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/735177 .
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Berio, Luciano,
Duetti
per
due
violini,
Vol.
1; Encore,
for orchestra:
score; Sequenza X,
for
trumpet. (Universal, Milan, 1982, 1981, 1984, ?6.50, ?9.45, ?8.45.)
Berio's
'Sequenza'
series has now reached double
figures,
with
only cello,
horn and
bassoon of the
principal
orchestral instruments
unprovided
for.
Sequenza
X is
scarcely
a
revelation,
either in terms of the series or of the
subject instrument,
but it is a
characteristically mordant,
resourceful
display-piece, snatching continuity
from the
jaws
of
fragmentation.
In a ten-minute
single span
the
trumpet
stutters and
sings
its
way through
a
'text' that is
unashamedly
thematic in its use of
pitches,
intervals and
rhythmic groupings.
Berio,
as
always, skilfully
avoids the
arbitrary
in a
sequence
of events that treats both F and
D as
pivotal,
and in which a wide
range
of musical
figures
creates the sense of
developing
variation of thematic material more textural or
gestural
than motivic. At
fairly frequent
points
the
trumpeter
is directed to
play
towards the inside of a
'perfectly
tuned
grand piano
with the lid
fully open'.
The
pianist
has a 'silent'
role, depressing
the
keys
for chords
notated in the score and sustained either with
fingers
or
pedal.
Berio also asks that the
piano
be
slightly amplified.
The
range
of the
trumpet's
own colours is enhanced
by
varieties
of
tonguing,
the use of valve tremolo and
by placing
the hand over the bell. Mutes are not
required.
The febrile
lyricism
of
Sequenza X, powerfully dramatic, spontaneously expressive,
is
very
much Berio's own. His creative
confidence,
not least in his
willingness
to use
repetition
in
ways
which have
nothing
minimalist about
them,
is
heartening,
and is also
richly
evident
in the set of 34 violin
duets,
written between November 1979 and March 1983 and
intended,
the
preface notes,
'for school violin
teaching'.
Violin students should indeed seize
on these short
pieces,
for
they
are often
delightfully straightforward, yet strong
in character.
Each is
given
the name of someone known to or admired
by
Berio.
Bartok, Boulez,
Stravinsky, Maderna,
Pousseur are all
here, though
not Stockhausen or
Nono,
and it is
naturally tempting
to see an element of musical or even
personal portraiture. 'Stravinsky'
(one
of the
pieces
Berio feels can be
played by beginners)
is almost
starkly simple
in its
white-note,
folk-like
style,
whereas 'Boulez' is
ornate, refined, requiring subtlety
and
needle-sharp precision.
Berio's
ability
to transform
very
basic melodic formulae into
pointed
and
personal
statements without self-consciousness is remarkable. Most of the
pieces
would
undoubtedly
benefit from a
security
of
technique
and
maturity
of
approach
that
only fairly
advanced students could
aspire
to. But that is
scarcely
a serious limitation
and
they
must be
among
the
very
best educational
pieces by
a
major composer
to be
published
since Bartok's time.
Encore is a three-minute
jeu d'esprit,
an extract from Act II of the
opera
La vera storia
(1978)
that served to fulfil a commission from the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra in
1981. The orchestra was
celebrating
its 60th
anniversary,
and
Encore,
a miniature
display-piece,
sustains its
good-humoured
ebullience from start to finish. It should
certainly
end a concert rather than act as a curtain
raiser?especially
a concert where the
audience deserves the
reward,
after
heavy
and
demanding contemporary items,
of
being
reminded that modern music can be
light-hearted
without
casting
off all
avant-garde
attributes.
Arnold Whittall
Birtwistle, Harrison,
Clarinet
Quintet;
Pulse
Sampler,
for oboe and
claves; Duetsfor Storab,
for
two flutes.
(Universal, London, 1985, 1981, 1983, ?6, ?8.15, ?3.25.)
Harrison Birtwistle's Clarinet
Quintet,
a 22-minute work in one
movement,
was written
in 1980: the first
composition
with so neutral a title in a work-list
reaching
back to 1957.
Birtwistle has used the terms 'movement' and 'cantata' but never 'sonata' or
'symphony',
and the Clarinet
Quintet
was his first evocation of so
potentially
classical a form.
Nevertheless,
the title does not
portend
the
composer's
sudden conversion to neo-
Classicism,
and the music's initial
gesture?the
familiar E-centred cluster?is
enough
to
indicate that this is a work of
consolidation, perhaps
even another
by-product
of the labour
447
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