Notation in the Works of Luciano Berio

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<ul><li><p>Notation in the Works of Luciano Berioby William Andrew Burnson</p><p>The rendering of any piece of music in notation by a composer, like a fingerprint, allows</p><p>us to infer many things about the composer through the manner of its distinctions. A composition</p><p>can not exist without a notation to communicate the composition. Arguably, all composition is</p><p>notation.</p><p>We often isolate the content of the music from the notation containing it, yet as a</p><p>sculpture presents its form both through what it is and what it is not, not simply an object</p><p>occupying space, but a form contrasting the emptiness around it, notation defines a composition</p><p>through the subtraction of an otherwise limitless musical space, giving with each symbol a more</p><p>finite existence to the music. All musical compositions are obviously subsets of the language</p><p>they employ. For example, no piece uses every feature of all forms of musical language</p><p>expression (yet!). Taken in the other direction, all musical compositions are also supersets of any</p><p>notation in that the manner in which the notation is used is specific to the piece. The</p><p>combinations, the patterns, the congruity of composition is just as much an expression of musical</p><p>unity as it is notational unity.</p><p>That seemingly tautological argument is not necessarily so. The purpose of any study in</p><p>notation should not be to find the most superficially interesting, visually-striking elements but to</p><p>identify the parameters that allow the notation to contain music. Most of these we take for</p><p>granted. The idea of a sixteenth note actually has no single notational equivalent. We could argue</p><p>for the sake of practicality that the graphical symbol x is a sixteenth note, much the way we</p><p>could argue that T is a letter of the alphabet. Yet, only in the context of pitch, dynamics,</p></li><li><p>articulation, tempo, staff lines, instruments, systems, pages, and all the surrounding musical</p><p>material does a sixteenth note express anything at all. If we then place another sixteenth note</p><p>next to the first x x and observe the two otherwise identical graphical objects, we see that they</p><p>each take on different roles in the composition: perhaps an antecedant-consequent relationship,</p><p>or the establishment of a pulse, or perhaps the creation of an iamb or a trochee. Similarly, as a</p><p>painter who places a single red dot on an otherwise empty canvas instantly changes the</p><p>relationship of an otherwise abstract dot to an otherwise abstract canvas, a second dot, instantly</p><p>defines a relationship between the dot and dot, and the two dots to the canvas.</p><p>Another useful analogy to bring to the relationship between notation and composition:</p><p>consider again the letter T. We think we see just two features: a long stroke up forming a stem,</p><p>and a horizontal plank crossing the top of the stem. Now consider the significance of the</p><p>following graphic: T (and imagine having drawn it with black not white ink). Without an extra</p><p>thought, we again see the same letter, albeit through the guise of an inverted scheme of</p><p>foreground and background colors. Could it be that our understanding of the construction of this</p><p>shape (composition) is inextricably tied to the space (notation) containing the letter's form</p><p>(music)?</p><p>The subject of Luciano Berio and his use of notation, a vastly underexplored aspect of his</p><p>music, provides tantalizing insights into the construction and composition of his works. Several</p><p>of these works as published today remain in the hand of the composer, allowing us to catch</p><p>glimpse of the skillful negotiation between the composer's musical intentions and their</p><p>corresponding execution on the page. Berio's innovations in notation run the full gamut of</p><p>musical expression, from tinkering with and embellishing features of the Western music lexicon</p><p>to manipulating performance structure and the very foundation of the music. Through the lens of</p></li><li><p>such precisely notated music, as document of the ephemeral moments in between the pen and the</p><p>paper, the commitment of the grand scheme to individual notes and other symbols, a careful</p><p>examination of the composer's choices in notation may bring telling clues regarding the</p><p>processes of composition.</p><p>Many composers will say that notation is secondary to their composition. Berio said in</p><p>interview: Usually, I'm not concerned with notation itself. When I'm concerned, that means</p><p>there's a problem. The issue of notation comes out, at least in my own musical perspective, when</p><p>there is a dilemma, when there is a problem to be solved. And that pushes me to find solutions</p><p>that maybe I was never pushed to find before.1 Clearly, Berio uses notation regardless of</p><p>whether or not he is concerned with it. Let us instead test this hypothesis: if composition is</p><p>simply the execution of notation, then can we also say that Berio's innovative compositional</p><p>techniques are reflected by equally innovative notation?</p><p>A simpler question might prove more profound: what things comprise musical notation?</p><p>A musical score, cover to cover may contain a title page, a list of instruments, remarks by the</p><p>composer, a stage setup, a set of performance directions, and other informationall of which are</p><p>not usually considered to be examples of musical notation. Consider a literary example: the</p><p>preface. Many manuscripts include one for the purposes of introducing a subject to a reader,</p><p>sometimes to introduce terms, prerequisites, corrections, or even justifications for the text that</p><p>follows. In theory, the manuscript stands on its own without an introduction. Yet, in light of the</p><p>preface, is it the same work? In many pieces of modern music, some prefatory remarks are</p><p>essential to the proper performance and comprehension of the work. Especially when in the</p><p>music of Berio, commentary is itself a vehicle for musical expression, we should not accept a</p><p>1 Benedict Weisser, Notational Practice in Contemporary Music: A Critique of Three Compositional Models(Luciano Berio, John Cage, and Brian Ferneyhough). Ph.D., Composition, City University of New York, 1998.Appendix A, p. 1.</p></li><li><p>narrow definition of notation.</p><p>As a preliminary example, Recital I (for Cathy) contains at the score's beginning three</p><p>large pages of detailed staging directions by Berio indicating humorous stunts: the soprano</p><p>initially walks on stage and, having no accompanist, flies into a rage going backstage to nag; or:</p><p>the soprano is instructed to sing standing in the nook of the piano (though without a piano player</p><p>actually present) as in traditional performance practice, thereby interrupting her otherwise</p><p>operatic role, hence juxtposing two essentially incompatible modes of concert. These directions</p><p>are clearly notational.</p><p>Another thought experiment: could something outside the bound music score, such as a</p><p>program note written by the composer, or a composer interview regarding a particular piece also</p><p>notate the music? (Perhaps annotate would be a telling substitution here.) Many composers</p><p>reluctantly discuss their music, neither for lack of certainty or shyness, but to avoid cheapening</p><p>it. If notation is likened to the subtraction of musical possibilities, then we might also say that</p><p>discussing one's music is a subtractive (and thus notational or annotational) process, by which a</p><p>piece of music is made more definite and therefore more narrow, something that for some</p><p>composers might be akin to revising the work simply through its discussion or annotation.</p><p>Continuing our gedanken with an altogether different composer, Terry Riley, we might</p><p>ask if the notational simplicity of In C yields a music that is more all-encompassing (and perhaps</p><p>that it is why some minimalists might prefer the term totalist) than, say, a sonata of the same</p><p>length since In C subtracts much less from the realm of all musical possibilities. Stravinsky in his</p><p>Poetics of Music2 lectures at Harvard, spoke of the importance of limits in music. So let us put</p><p>forth the following relationship: notation, as the ultimate arbiter of limits, can encompass</p><p>2 Igor Stravinsky. The Poetics of Music. Revised edition. Boston: Harvard University Press, 1993. Chapter Four:The Composition of Music, p. 45.</p></li><li><p>anything that defines a piece of music more narrowly.</p><p>With a working definition of notation in reach, we proceed to attempt the previous</p><p>inquiry regarding the dual nature of compositional and notational innovation. Considering the</p><p>above example, In C, a single page of music representing up to an hour of performed music is in</p><p>indeed a feat of both composition and notation. In fact, that composition requires the notation it</p><p>was given. Riley's magnum opus is an equal innovation in both composition and notation.</p><p>Or, consider serial music. If we insist on a narrow view of notation, then it would appear</p><p>that the process of the music is independent of the graphical notes that express it. Yet such an</p><p>argument fails to explain the sets, rows, hexachordal combinatoriality, etc., all of which owe</p><p>most of their popularity to the easy of which they are notated. (Think: [0 1 4] is itself merely a</p><p>notation, and say, F-sharp, G, and A-sharp is one possibility for notating this set in music.) The</p><p>mapping of any external concept into music, is inescapably an issue of notation, even when no</p><p>new graphical symbols must be invented to represent the new mapping. The notation of serial</p><p>music could therefore be considered just as innovative as the underlying composition (since</p><p>composition is, under this hypothesis, equivalent to notation).</p><p>In the following investigation of Berio's use of notation, we will consider aspects that</p><p>limit or define the music in some way that are beyond the norm. There are a number of</p><p>enterprising notations serving hugely different musical functions ranging from performance</p><p>considerations to compositional considerationsbasic extensions to the nominal language,</p><p>rendering a particular passage in a more graphically convenient way; extensions to instrumental</p><p>technique; rhythmic translations for multilingual texts; optional passages, alternative passages;</p><p>randomness, aleatory; cueing; stage directions, commentary; metastructures such as mirror</p><p>compositions. Due to the large number of full-page illustrations, see the Appendix for the</p></li><li><p>musical examples.</p><p>Beginning with Sequenza VI for Cello Solo, we see examples of extensions to the</p><p>nominal language of notation. In several passages, Berio indicates a quadruple stop tremelo in</p><p>which accidentals change quasi-contrapuntally across the gesture's duration. They are indicated</p><p>by their relative placement (an embedded use of proportional notation, for one) and changing</p><p>accidental marks. Visually, such passages look like clouds of accidentals (though they are of</p><p>course interpreted linearly):</p><p>When we examine the purpose of the notation, we see that it has some interesting properties. For</p><p>example, the pitches change by small amounts, always within a half-step of the original note.</p><p>This is important for performance in that the cellist, given a quadruple stop with no open strings</p><p>will have all four fingers down on the neck and will only be able to adjust them by a minute</p><p>amount. When we consider the historical purpose of the accidental as an inflection of a pitch that</p><p>belongs to, say, a mode, we see that Berio has cleverly remapped the etymological purpose of the</p><p>accidental onto, instead of a mode, a hand position.</p><p>In this same Sequenza (and in some of the other Sequenzas) we also see Berio writing</p><p>detours which the performer is allowed to choose between, usually labeled A) and B).</p><p>Traditionally, editors use ossia staves to indicate the simplification of a texture in case the</p><p>performer is unable to execute a particularly difficult passage. Berio takes the idea one step</p><p>further by recomposing passages (composed editorializing), allowing the performer to take the</p><p>detour that is most appropriate. </p></li><li><p>All of the Sequenzas contain, in total, dozens of extended instrumental techniques for</p><p>which Berio invents notation symbols to describe. The composer uses new symbols on an as-</p><p>needed basis according to his sentiment, The issue of notation comes out, at least in my own</p><p>musical perspective, when there is a dilemma, when there is a problem to be solved. When</p><p>Berio refers to notation, he seems to be speaking more to the synthesis of graphical symbols and</p><p>not to the general use of notation in all of its guises which we examine here. However, the</p><p>incredible detail to which Berio usually defines these symbols often results in notational prefaces</p><p>which are longer than the pages of music itself (for example, the Sequenza III for Voice contains</p><p>a three and a half page preface for three pages of music!) begging the question, are definitions of</p><p>notation also notation and part of the music?</p><p>Another example of Berio extending notation to solve a problem would be Opus</p><p>Number Zoo in which members of the woodwind quintet alternate playing and speaking. The text</p><p>has been translated into English, German, and Italian. Since the number of syllables required and</p><p>the stress varies, Berio writes two rhythmic lines to precisely place the syllables regardless of the</p><p>language. In this piece, Berio makes use of two different types of narration notation: a</p><p>rhythmically specified notation and freely spoken text. For eighth and sixteenth notes, he uses</p><p>beams with headless stems; for quarter notes he uses single headless stems.</p><p>Extending idioms even further, in the solo piano piece Feuerklavier from Echoing</p><p>Curves, also in concerto form in Concerto II, Berio writes deliberate pedal markings for all three</p><p>pedals. Interestingly, the sostenuto pedal is given the marking (random) indicating that it</p><p>should be fluttered over the course of several measures. This has the effect of catching some of</p><p>the dampers (and due to the speed of the notated figurations, it is not possible to tell exactly</p><p>which will be held) resulting in unpredictable resonances. This notation is also an example of</p></li><li><p>controlled aleatory.</p><p>A more prominent example of aleatory occurs in the Concerto Per Due Pianoforti e</p><p>Orchestra. Berio indicates a set of notes, treated like a chord over time, in which the performer</p><p>iterates and reiterates through the set of notes at a specified tempo. There are + O and </p><p>markings to indicate very even, somewhat uneven, and very uneven respectively, or, in</p><p>other words, the relative steadiness of the pulse at any point in the sequence. The notation is</p><p>highly inventive, musical, and effective.</p><p>Gesti (1966) for Alto Recorder is a charismatic and energetic piece comprised of three</p><p>notationally distinct sections. The first two sections are written with strikingly percussion-like</p><p>symbols using one staff to dictate changes in embrouchere, and the second to indicate the</p><p>position of the fingers on the fingerholes. The last section is written out more or less</p><p>traditionally. All of the sections use numbers 1 to 7 for dynamics.</p><p>In the first section, the performer is instructed by the preface to, finger one or two</p><p>measures, continuously repeated, at the correct tempo, from the Allegro (Giga) of the D m...</p></li></ul>