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Main page » Non-Fiction » The Sixties, Without Apology

The Sixties, Without Apology


The second and third movements of Luciano Berio's Sinfonia (1970) are emblematic of the 1960s. After a two-minute memorial to Martin Luther King, the third movement evokes the contrast between the exuberant past and the decentered present. Against the backdrop of the Scherzo move­ment of Mahler's second ("Resurrection") symphony, a continuous rendi­tion which provides the only apparent structure, we hear bits of the 60s— fragments from May 1968, in France, conversations about art and music, references to other events, chatter.
Like Schoenberg, Berio has introduced the human voice as an instrument without the mediation of melody; the voice speaks but not in song. While Mahler's music reminds us of that tradition which, however dissonant and rambunctious, is still familiar as high art, Berio is not concerned to replace the late-romantic canon with a new one, not even one claiming modernity. Here there is no attempt at congruity: the movement hangs together only by its statement about the nonsynchronicity between the time when the symphonic form was strained by the breakup of the familiar narratives, and the contemporary moment when formal coherence is abandoned. The reference to Schoenberg is to the spoken words in Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte where even the serial musical voice of the earlier Pierrot Lunaire has been left behind. However, Schoenberg, forever seek­ing a new system, made no break with the story. Berio, on the other hand, presents the bits of our time, and the Mahler only reminds us that there is no resurrection of the past, for the referent is present but recedes as the noise of the everyday gains ground. He reminds us of discontinuous time and space, where the old distinctions between speech and poetry disappear, where narratives lose their endings as well as their origins. His "movement" has no development and the bits of conversation are left to the listener to decipher, even if one suspects that the bits are merely the code of anti-aesthetics.

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Tags: third, second, provides, apparent, structure, Sixties, third, Without, which