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Originally written for the six members of the King’s Singers, Berio reworked Cries of London for eight voices (SATB, two voices to each part), adding three sections. The words are compiled from phrases used by street vendors in old London, but the music is in no way a stylisation of folk-tunes. It is more like an echo of the street vendors’ voices, as the composer absorbed them as they rebounded from the walls of the old houses.
The piece calls for voices singing “instrumentally,” without vibrato, to perform their highly virtuosic music, which is by turns abstractly polyphonic, richly melodic and humorous.