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Finding Pathways from Onions: Large-scale Gestures in Berio's Reworking of his 'Sequenza VI for viola'.

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/ProceedingsChapter

  • Edward Venn
Publication date2008
Host publicationMusic, Senses, Body: Proceedings from the Ninth International Congress of Musical Signification
EditorsDario Martinelli
Place of PublicationHelsinki/Rome
Number of pages6
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Luciano Berio’s multiple reworkings of his Sequenza VI for viola (1967) gave rise to four separate works: Chemins II (1967), Chemins III (1968/1973) and Chemins IIb and IIc (1970 and 1972). Berio likened the relationship between these reworkings as being ‘something like the layers of an onion’. By this, Berio is referring to the practice of adding musical strata to an existing core. However, the fact that none of the Chemins preserve the structure of Sequenza VI intact suggests that the relationship between the Sequenza and its musical offspring is more complex than Berio’s comments would lead one to expect.

It is clear that the analogy of the onion only goes so far in describing this relationship. In this paper, I focus instead on the disruptions to the musical structure through insertion and deletion of material. These disruptions create structural discontinuities as well as previously unrealised continuities that have rhetorical and dramatic significance.

In this paper, I examine the discontinuities and continuities created by Berio’s reworkings with reference to Robert Hatten’s work on gesture (2004) and Eco’s theory of the open work (1959). Hatten’s observation that ‘discontinuity of discourse may be understood as intensifying the conflict that is at the heart of all drama’ (p. 237) is particularly relevant for the study of works that so compellingly foreground dramatic gestures. By adapting Hatten’s theory of gesture to Berio’s reworkings, and exploring the ways in which this relates to concepts of openness, I intend to show how Berio created new expressive and allusive pathways (Chemins) from the Sequenza.