Texas Society for Music Theory

Vestiges of Twelve-Tone Practice as Compositional Process
in Berio's Sequenza I for Solo Flute

Irna Priore, North Carolina School of the Arts

The first Sequenza is an important work in many ways. Not only it inaugurates Berio's Sequenza series, it also comes as the third major work for flute in the twentieth century. Berio's work is an undeniable challenge: it is a virtuoso piece, it is written in free proportional notation without barlines, and it is structurally ambiguous. Berio's compositional language was first influenced by Luigi Dallapiccola. Although he was never totally committed to serialism, this practice proved to be a central organizational principle of his works in those days. Another important aspect of his formative years was the Darmstadt School. The Darmstadt group had set themselves apart by making a stand in favor of total serialism and rejecting the use of traditional forms.

One of the problems that the Darmstadt School faced was how to reconcile serialism and chance music, as proposed by John Cage. Nonetheless, reconciliation came with scholar Umberto Eco. Eco proposed a new approach to structure, entitled the "open work." The old forms were to serve as a background frame, while the artist distorted the surface of the work by interpolating layers of other materials that opened up the work to multiple interpretations.

This article traces Berio's artistic influences and the impact that the strong artistic philosophies of the time may have had on Berio's compositional style. It also offers an analysis of the work based on the idea of the open form, motivic unification, and compositional language (through the twelve-tone system).