Playing on Words : A Guide to Luciano Berio's Sinfonia
Last updated: 25.04.19
Royal Musical Association Monographs, No 1
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Very sparse coverage of the fourth movement, but a useful guide.
PLAYING ON WORDS: A Guide to Luciano Berio's "Sinfonia" by David Osmond-Smith is an exploration of the Italian composer's great postmodern orchestral work.
The first chapter, "'Sinfonia' and its Precursors" places the work in the larger context of Berio's career up to 1968. The following five chapters are dedicated to a specific movement of the work. "Mythologiques" is mainly concerned with the source text for the first movement, drawn from Levi-Strauss. "O King" details the structural properties of the pitch set and the rhythmic set, and the selective resonance of the second movement. For the discussion of the third movement, readers will want to obtain a copy of the score of Berio's work, as Osmond-Smith catalogues the numerous quotations according to the rehersal number they are found in. Osmond-Smith explains the "obliteration as form" that makes the use of the Mahler quotation so idiosyncratic. The fourth chapter treats the fourth and fifth movements together. Discussion of the fourth movement is very brief, only two pages, but the fifth is exhaustively covered.
When I first got a copy of "Sinfonia", I could relate easily only the zany third movement, which is quite accessible. Osmond-Smith's guide helped me better understand the other movements of the work. The book does indeed expand appreciation of Berio's composition.