Luciano Berio


1925 — 2003
The Italian composer Luciano Berio came from a family of organists and he trained as a pianist until an injury to his hand at the age of 19 put an end to his ambitions as a performer. He studied composition at the Milan Conservatoire, where he gained his composition diploma in 1950. Encounters with Luigi Dallapiccola and Karlheinz Stockhausen helped him formulate a personal style, and after early experiments with electronics, his mature music combined a spirit of radical experimentation with a ravishing sense of instrumental colour, an unmistakably Italian lyricism and a playful relationship with musical history. Along with Sinfonia (1968) (which incorporates a musical collage based on the third movement of Mahler's Resurrection Symphony), he completed a series of Sequenzas for solo instruments, the operas Opera (1970) and Un re in ascolto (1984), and the widely-performed Folk Songs (1964 – composed for his then wife, the composer and soprano Cathy Berberian), as well as boldly imaginative arrangements and recreations of music by composers as diverse as Monteverdi, Schubert and Puccini. His ability to transcend the divide between avant-garde experimentalism and the traditional concert hall made Berio one of the most performed of postwar composers, both before and after his death in 2003.