Dr. Damjana Bratuz
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10th International Congress on Musical Signification
Vilnius, 21 – 25 October 2008

Il suono che diventa significato/ Sound Becoming Sense: Listening to Luciano Berio
PowerPoint Presentation by Damjana Bratuž

Berio returned often to the statement that serves as the title of this presentation, both in his writings (e.g. Intervista sulla musica (1981), Remembering the Future (2006)) and in his lectures: he also used it to conclude the last of his Sei lezioni sulla musica given at the University of Bologna in the spring of 2000.
“I’m interested in [vocal] music that mimes and, in a certain sense, describes that prodigious phenomenon that lies at the heart of language: sound becoming sense.”  The Italian term significato, rendered into sense, meaning, preserves a richer etymology that includes sign. From the point of view of semiotics of performance I find it fruitful to explore Berio’s insights into the relation between text and music, and into the acoustic dimension of the verbal material, crucial, he says, for the reconquering of sense.

Berio mistrusted  semiology as he did Schenkerian analysis and repeatedly discussed the equivoco/misunderstanding of both, in his writings. He considered the enormous associative and semantic openness of musical experience to be “of such uncoded nature that a semiologist may be able to come to grips only with interpretive codes implied in listening and (more important) in re-listening, rather than with creative and structuring processes.”
Listening/ascolto not only to musical examples, but to Berio’s lessons, is the focus of this presentation, searching in a larger dimension for those moments of transformation when sound becomes sense. The musical examples are taken from Berio’s  Azione musicale     ” Un re in ascolto” on a text by Italo Calvino. The review of its Salzburg premiere in 1984 by Fedele D’Amico (pre-eminent music critic whose correspondence with Berio was published in 2002) examines the relationship of Berio’s modified text to its sources and references, and to the music.

In contrasting the vocal music of Webern to that of his predecessors, Berio had mentioned that in Mozart and Schubert “the pre-established forms of poetic narration coincided with the music in miraculous fashion, and on all levels....poetry and music move symmetrically and analogically not only on the rhetorical level, but also on that of ‘langue’ and ‘parole.’  Only “a minimal disjunction between the two” was needed “to open up abysses of sense/voragini di senso.” In Webern’s vocal music Berio sees instead “a certain impassivity…of the music in the face of the text.”
Fedele D’Amico use this very term impassibilià when he describes the musical discourse of Un re in ascolto, where the enigmatic majesty of the procedure, the stupefying economy of means, lead to an extraordinary emotion – one that is due paradoxically to the score’s supreme indifference to all literal relationships with the text.


Professor Emeritus Damjana Bratuž was recently appointed Adjunct Research Professor at the Faculty of Music, University of Western Ontario. In recent seasons she has given papers at ICMS events in Rome and Paris, and at international conference held at Bard College (N.Y.), Washington D.C. and Leuven. She has been invited to speak at the Goggio Lecture Series and the Semiotic Circle at the University of Toronto, and has appeared elsewhere as a lecturer, performer and adjudicator.


  Damjana Bratu TOP

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