The Music of Luciano Berio

  • Module Tutor: Professor Roger Marsh
  • Level: C/4 (1st year students), I/5 (2nd year students), H/6 (3rd year students)

Aims and content

Luciano Berio (1925- 2003) was one of the most influential composers of the second half of the 20th century.  His huge and diverse output includes at least a handful of works  acknowledged by all to be modern masterpieces. His eighteen Sequenzas for solo instruments have become part of the essential repertoire of contemporary performers. His Folk Song Suite has become a concert hall favourite, and his Sinfonia for large orchestra and amplified voices has been performed in virtually every major symphony hall in the world and recorded several times. His operas are innovative in form, and he was a leading figure in the creation of a non-operatic music theatre, with works such as A Ronne. Like Stravinsky, however, he was not without his detractors. There are those who are suspicious of his success (a serious avant-garde composer should not be so popular) and still many for whom his music is too difficult, since he was not one to pander to populist tastes. Like Stravinsky, too, Berio was a 'synthesiser'. His work embraces a love of and fluency in a wide range of musics, from folk music to electro-acoustic music, combined with a huge appetite for literature and the other arts.

This project will attempt to cover as much as possible of Berio's work  and the musical context within which it was created, bearing in mind that - as with Stravinsky - there is far more material than can be dealt with adequately in four weeks.  Students will be encouraged to focus on one area of Berio’s work for their personal study.


An essay of 5,000 words, which may be analytical or musicological or (more likely) both.  Students will also give a short seminar presentation during the project which will form part of the assessment.

Reading and listening


  • Osmond-Smith, David. Berio, Oxford: OUP, 1991.
  • Osmond-Smith David, (ed). Two Interviews with Luciano Berio. London: Marion Boyars, 1985.
  • Osmond-Smith David, Playing on Words. London: RMA Monographs, 1985.
  • Muller, Theo, Marsh, Roger.  ConSequenze: festival rond Luciano Berio. Rotterdam, 1995.
  • Halfyard, Janet (ed.).  Ashgate 2007  Berio's Sequenzas: essays on performance, composition and analysis.  Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007.
  • Berio, Luciano.  Remembering the Future.  Cambridge, Mass. ; London: Harvard University Press, 2006.
  • Any books on music since 1945 as a general background; for example:
    Griffiths, Paul. Modern Music: The Avant Garde Since 1945. London: Dent,1981.


All Berio’s major scores are in the library.  You might like to look first at the sequenza for your instrument (or voice).  You should also familiarize yourself with Sinfonia, Berio’s most famous work.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the taught part of the module all students should:

  • have widened their knowledge of 20th century music generally, be familiar with a range of Berio’s music, and be able to place it within a musical and historical context;
  • have developed analytical approaches (of broad application) which enable them to engage with the music in appropriate ways;
  • be familiar with some of the techniques employed by composers of the post war avant-garde, and be able to identify and discuss their effect;
  • be aware of wider musical and cultural questions, and have considered their own positions on these issues;
  • have developed a critical appreciation of Berio’s music in its widest sense;
  • have developed their presentation skills.

First years: On completion of the module, in their independent work, students should demonstrate Learning Outcomes A1-A6

Second years: On completion of the module, in their independent work, students should demonstrate Learning Outcomes B1-B6

Third years: On completion of the module, in their independent work, students should demonstrate Learning Outcomes C1-C6