Berio — Circles

Luciano Berio — Circles
for female voice, harp and two percussion players (1960) Texts by e. e. cummings

Music is never pure: it is attitude: it is theatre. It is indivisible from its gestures.
The task is to entrust the sense of the musical action to the specific abilities of the protagonists, to give them the possibility of defining for themselves the conditions through which eventuality is transformed into reality, before the eyes of the listener, in the hearing of the viewer.

In Circles the possibilities are enlarged by the presence of the words, Nos. 25, 76 and 221 from Collected Poems by e. e. cummings: “stinging gold swarms…”, “riverly is a flower…”, “n(o)w the how dis(appeared cleverly)world…”. Poems 25 and 76 appear twice, in different moments of the musical development.

Circles is not a series of vocal fragments with instrumental accompaniment, but rather an elaboration of the three poems in a unified form where vocal and instrumental action strictly condition each other. The theatrical aspects of the performance are inherent in the structure of the work itself which is, above all, a structure of actions: to be listened to as theatre and to be viewed as music.

Circles, commissioned by the Fromm Foundation, was composed in 1960 and performed in the same year at the Berkshire Music Festival by Cathy Berberian and members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

L. B. (1960)
[Programme note on the first perfomance Berkshire Music Festival, Tanglewood, 1 August 1960 Berkshire Music Festival, Tanglewood, 1 August 1960]

-Annotated by Noah Rosen