Chromatic Saturation and the Significant Gap as Unifying Devices in Berio's Sinfonia

Catherine Losada, City University of New York Graduate Center



Traditional techniques of music analysis are based on the assumption of a governing unity in the musical language. Thus, the musical collage, which by definition subverts the concept of unity by juxtaposing fragmentary quotations from different musical styles within a single composition, poses the most stimulating questions for the analyst: What is the relationship between the disparate elements in a collage? What are the structural implications of combining such a variety of disparate elements? Finally: What theoretical tool should be used to analyze music with such diverse musical idioms?

Using concrete examples from Berio's Sinfonia (1968), considered by many the prototype of a musical collage, the current paper describes a sophisticated structural model based on concepts that simultaneously subvert and transcend traditional notions of unity. The apparently disparate musical layers are related in a variety of ways, including pitch relations of exclusion (which become a paradoxical source of unity through the concept of chromatic completion). Moreover, the concept of chromatic saturation in pitch space exploits the redefined concept of musical space, to which the musical collage gives special emphasis through its reliance on layering and referentiality, as the basis for structural connections that function on different and simultaneous levels. The paper outlines the major features of these pitch connections and demonstrates their relationship to the formal and dramatic structure of the piece, thus uncovering surprising sources of unification and continuity which complement the referential, poetic and dramatic content of the work in creating a pattern of expectation that transcends mere formalism.