Born in Oneglia, Italy, October 24, 1925; died in Rome, May 27, 2003
Sequenza VIII, for Solo Violin
Composed in 1976; 15 minutes
Over a period of 44 years (1958–2002), Luciano Berio composed 14 works that he entitled “Sequenza,” most of them for a solo instrument and all of them presenting formidable challenges to the performers. He composed his Sequenza VIII, for Solo Violin in 1976 under a commission from Serena de Bellis, who was then the curator of the vast Frank V. de Bellis collection of Italian books and recordings at San Francisco State College. The dedicatee of Sequenza VIII, the violinist Carlo Chiarappa, performed the world premiere in La Rochelle the following year.
Luciano Berio’s own program note for this work provides valuable clues to its substance:
To compose Sequenza VIII has been like paying a personal debt to the violin, which to me is one of the most subtle and complex of instruments. I studied violin myself, while I was already learning the piano and before starting the clarinet (my father wanted me to practice “all” the instruments), and I have always maintained a strong attraction for this instrument (mixed, however, with rather tormented feelings, perhaps because I was already 13—much too late—when I started my violin lessons).
While almost all the other Sequenzas develop to an extreme degree a very limited choice of instrumental possibilities, Sequenza VIII deals with a larger and more global view of the violin and can be listened to as a development of instrumental gestures. Sequenza VIII is built around two notes (A and B), which—as in a chaconne—act as a compass in the work’s rather diversified and elaborate itinerary, where polyphony is no longer virtual, but real, and where the soloist must make the listener constantly aware of the history behind each instrumental gesture. Sequenza VIII, therefore, becomes inevitably a tribute to that musical apex, the “Ciaccona” from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Partita in D minor, where—historically—past, present and future violin techniques coexist. Berio’s brilliant tribute to Bach is punctuated by aggressive chords, and the tension generated by the A-B conflict is modulated by a brief passage of lyricism. A long, held double-stopped A-B interrupts the perpetual motion, and the journey ends in fading sounds.
In an interview with Rossana Dalmonte (published in 1982), Berio spoke at length about his Sequenza series:
In the Sequenzas as a whole there are various unifying elements…The most obvious and external one is virtuosity…. Virtuosity often arises out of a conflict, a tension between the musical idea and the instrument, between concept and musical substance…[As] I’ve often emphasized, anyone worth calling a virtuoso these days has to be a musician capable of moving within a broad historical perspective and resolving the tension between the creativity of yesterday and today. My own Sequenzas are always written with this sort of interpreter in mind, whose virtuosity is, above all, a virtuosity of Knowledge. (I’ve got no interest in, or patience for, those who ‘specialize’ in contemporary music.)
Back to Top