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Luciano Berio: Formazioni

Year of composition:
1985-1987
Scored for:
for orchestra
Composer:
Luciano Berio
Instrumentation:
4 3 5 3 - 6 4 4 2 - perc(3), hp(2), cel, alto sax, t.sax, str(12 12
12 10 8)
Instrumentation details:
group A1: 1st flute
2nd flute
oboe
cor anglais
tenor saxophone in Bb
bassoon
group A2: 1st flute
2nd flute
oboe
alto saxophone in Eb
bassoon
group B1: 1st horn in F
2nd horn in F
3rd horn in F
1st trumpet in C
2nd trumpet in C
1st trombone
2nd trombone
bass tuba
group B2: 1st horn in F
2nd horn in F
3rd horn in F
1st trumpet in C
2nd trumpet in C
1st trombone
2nd trombone
bass tuba
group C: clarinet in Eb
1st clarinet in Bb
2nd clarinet in Bb
3rd clarinet in Bb
bass clarinet in Bb
contrabassoon
group D: violin I(12)
violin II(12)
viola(12)
violoncello(10)
contrabass(8)
group E: 1st percussion
2nd percussion
3rd percussion
1st harp
2nd harp
celesta
Commission:
scritto per la Concertgebouw Orchestra
Duration:
20’
Dedication:
dedicato a Alfred Schlee

Work introduction

The commission provided Luciano Berio with an opportunity to consider yet again a new kind of
deployment of the orchestral apparatus. He decided to divide the instruments into the following
groups:

group A1: 1st flute; 2nd flute; oboe; cor anglais; tenor saxophone in Bb; bassoon;

group A2: 1st flute; 2nd flute; oboe; alto saxophone in Eb; bassoon;
group B1: 1st horn in F; 2nd horn in F; 3rd horn in F; 1st trumpet in C; 2nd trumpet in C; 1st
trombone; 2nd trombone; bass tuba;

group B2: 1st horn in F; 2nd horn in F; 3rd horn in F; 1st trumpet in C; 2nd trumpet in C; 1st
trombone; 2nd trombone; bass tuba;

group C: clarinet in Eb; 1st clarinet in Bb; 2nd clarinet in Bb; 3rd clarinet in Bb; bass clarinet in
Bb; contrabassoon;

group D: violin I(12); violin II(12); viola(12); violoncello(10); contrabass(8);

group E: 1st percussion; 2nd percussion; 3rd percussion; 1st harp; 2nd harp; celesta

But – Berio wondered – do a viola and a double-bass, under specific conditions, have less in
common than a viola and a flute? Is there really less of an acoustic kinship between a horn and a
trumpet than between a stopped trumpet and an oboe or a cor anglais?

That is (among other things) what Formazioni is about: relationships within the traditional families
of instruments and the roles they are given to play are defined and allotted in a new manner.
Hence the unusual arrangement of the orchestra. To the left in front and to the right in the back
there sit two groups of woodwind instruments, with two groups of brass placed to the right and to
the left in the middle. An important group of five clarinets and contrabassoons

is put in the middle of the front, surrounded by violins and violas. Berio has referred to string
instruments as “the often hidden cement”; in Formazioni, the violins relinquish their prominence
to the double-basses (to the right in front). All in all, the lower instruments tend to sit closer to the
front whereas the higher ones take their places farther in the back.

As a result of this orchestral “geography”, there emerges an important new acoustic perspective.
Already in Coro (1974-1976) where each of the forty singers is placed next to a specific instrument,
Berio taught us something new about the significance of different instrumental relationships in
space. In Voci (1984-1985), too, new musical and acoustic balances are developed among the solo
viola and the two groups of instruments.

Spatial arrangement is also a primary concern in Formazioni with its ceaseless interaction between
massive sound blocks and chamber music-like passages. The composer himself talks of “composing
for orchestra which is made up of different ‘chamber musics’ heightened to the extreme”. That is
what renders a performance of Formazioni such a challenge both for the individual players as well
as for the orchestra as a collective.

Why Formazioni? These ‘formations of forms’ could be described as a strategic interaction of


‘military’ formations but equally also as a ‘geological’ superposition of musical layers, each of them
homogeneous.”

World première
Location:
Amsterdam
Date:
15.01.1987
Orchestra:
Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest
Conductor:
Riccardo Chailly

https://www.universaledition.com/composers-and-works/luciano-berio-54/works/formazioni-
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