MEETING with Luciano Berio
By Arno Bornkamp
The interpretation of musical works is largely dependent on the text. This is self-evident. Less so, in contemporary literature, is the great diversity that exists between texts in the details of their notation) and the composers themselves (meaning of the signs, their tolerance, and so on). I think it is good, as far as possible, to meet the composers and to confront them with the interpretation of their work.
A confrontation that teaches us a lot about the composer’s motivation, the precision to be brought to the reading of their text, the priorities to be given to the performance, as well as the space to be given to other ideas…. All this can shed new light on the vision one has of the score.
Last June, I visited Luciano BERIO in Italy, who received me in his studio “Tempo Reale” in Florence. Of course, I had carefully prepared our interview, and I had a long list of questions to ask him about his “Sequensa lXb” for solo alto saxophone.
I particularly remember the observations he made to me before starting the score.
For him, dynamics is an important point. After making me aware of the problem he let me play, marking his satisfaction. I had to interrupt myself to ask questions. For example about the “sempre non vibrato”. He placed this note at the beginning of the composition, in reaction to some bad memories. However, he did not object to my proposal to play a few passages with a well chosen vibrato. He even applauded!
– On the “timing” of the appogiatures (the groups), he advised me not to count too much, to play them with a kind of “feeling” (hence the initial notation: “tempo poco instabile”).
– on the multiphonics: I showed him that the fingerings given are not correct. My remark surprised him, but he immediately accepted the proposed solution.
Use in 1 as fingerings: 1-2-3-Bb-4-6-7 and C5 to get the written notes;
and in 2 use: 1-2-3-C 4-7 and C5 to hear F-D (notes different from the notation: F-C ). The most important thing for BERIO is to have F as the upper note of the interval. “Any solution must take this into consideration”.*
– The repeated notes must be clearly articulated despite the speed;
– Fast sequence from the end of page 3 to page 4.
– Last line of the piece. He prefers the triplet with appogiature played in the upper octave, as in the clarinet version.
In conclusion, the composer, considering dynamics and articulation as important parameters, was (at least in front of me) more tolerant of other things.
Therefore, I asked him for his deep motivation for the composition of this “Sequenza”. He replied that he had been looking for jazz music, that is to say, without this piece being written for jazz saxophonists, he wanted the particular articulation of jazz, assimilated to his own language and his own style. This observation, which surprised me at first, finally finds its justification in the use of ” ghost notes “, sound colours (subtone, for example), articulations, and so on.
This meeting was very beneficial for me. His tolerant attitude is particularly exemplary there (compare it with STOCKHAUSEN’s who wants his music to be rigorously played – “In friendship” for example – even if he does not ignore the involuntary musical fantasy of the performer). However, it should not be forgotten, despite this great tolerance, that the text is always the starting point of the interpretation, especially when it is a text as rich as “Sequenza IXb” by Luciano BERIO.
*A little later, J.-M. LONDEIX advised me to sing the second note while playing the first one. That seems to me a good solution, although it produces another effect. But at least we play the text.
Arno BORNKAMP is a young and brilliant Dutch soloist, who, not afraid to commit himself to resolutely modern works, makes a name for himself in works of consistent music (listen to his remarkable compact disc: GLOBE GLO 5032, dedicated to the works of CRESTON, F1.
SCHMITT, P. HINDEMITH, A. DESENCLOS, J- CHARPENTIER and E. DENISOV)