Luciano Berio (1925-2003) was an Italian composer, theorist, conductor and teacher, a leading representative of the musical avant-garde. His style is distinguished by the combination of lyrical and expressive musical values with the most advanced techniques of electronic and aleatory music.
Berio studied composition and conducting at the Conservatorio Giuseppe Verdi in Milan, and in 1952 received a grant from the Koussevitzky Foundation in Tanglewood, where he studied with the composer Luigi Dallapiccoli. Together with another leading Italian composer, Bruno Maderna, he founded the Studio di Fonologia Musicale at Milano Radio in 1955. Under Berio's management until 1959, it had grown to become one of the leading electronic music studios in Europe. There, he confronted the problem of reconciling electronic music with concrete music (i.e. a method of composition using the recorded sounds as a raw material, such as the sound of a storm or street noises, and not the sounds created in a studio). Berio and Maderna also founded the magazine Incontri Musicali (1956–60), a review of avant-garde music.
The logical and expressive structures of his works are considered highly inventive and poetic, drawing elements of style from composers such as Igor Stravinsky and Anton Webern. Serenata I (1957), his last major serialist work, was dedicated to Pierre Boulez. Différences (1958–59, revised 1967), a composition for tape and chamber group, contrasts live and recorded instruments. In addition, Berio's pieces for tape include Thema-Omaggio a Joyce (1958; Homage to Joyce) and Visage (1961), which used the extraordinary voice of the American singer Cathy Berberian.
His series Sequenza (1958–2002) includes solo pieces for flute, harp, female voice, piano and violin with aleatoric elements. The compositions Laborintus II (1965) and Sinfonia (1968) contain a wide range of literary and musical references. The Sinfonia also accumulates great performance power, using the orchestra, organ, harpsichord, piano, choir and reciters. The piece Coro (1976) is written for 40 voices and 40 instruments. His later works include the orchestral works Formazioni (1987) and the operas Outis (1996) and Cronaca del luogo (1999). In addition to composing, Berio has also lectured at many institutions, including the Juilliard School in New York (1965–71) and the Harvard University (1993–94) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1996, he received the Praemium Imperiale Music Award from the Japan Art Association. In 2000 he became the president and the artistic director of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.