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Luciano Berio: Folk Songs

  • for mezzo-soprano and 7 instruments
  • fl, cl, perc(2), hp(or guit), vla(1), vc(1)
  • Duration: 23’
  • Soloists:
  • Instrumentation details:
    flute (+picc)
    clarinet in Bb
    1st percussion
    2nd percussion
  • Composer: Luciano Berio
  • Table of contents:
    Black is the colour (USA)
    I wonder as I wander (USA)
    Loosin yelav (Armenia)
    Rossignolet du bois (France)
    A la femminisca (Sicily)
    La donna ideale (Italy)
    Ballo (Italy)
    Motettu de Tristura (Sardinia)
    Malorous qu'o un fenno (Auvergne [France])
    Lo fiolaire (Auvergne [France])
    Azerbaijan love song (Aserbaijan)
  • Dedication: to Cathy
  • Commission: commissioned by Mills College, Oakland, Calif.

Work introduction

I have always sensed a profound uneasiness while listening to popular songs performed with piano accompaniment. This is one of the reasons why, in 1964, I wrote Folk Songs - a tribute to the artistry and the vocal intelligence of Cathy Berberian. This work exists in two versions: one for voice and seven players (flute/piccolo, clarinet, two percussions, harp, viola, cello), the other for voice and orchestra (1973).

It is an anthology of eleven folk songs of various origins (United States, Armenia, France, Sicily, Sardinia, etc.), chosen from old records, printed anthologies, or heard sung from folk musicians and friends. I have given the songs a new rhythmic and harmonic interpretation: in a way, I have recomposed them. The instrumental part has an important function: it is meant to underline and comment on the expressive and cultural roots of each song. Such roots signify not only the ethnic origins of the songs but also the history of the authentic uses that have been made of them.

Two of the eleven songs (“La donna ideale” and “Ballo”) are only intentionally popular: I composed them myself in 1947 to anonymous Genoese and Sicilian texts.

Luciano Berio


The complete perusal score (PDF-preview)

Next performances

World première

Oakland, CA (US)
Luciano Berio
Main soloists:
Cathy Berberian

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