Luciano Berio (1925-2003) studied at the Milan Conservatory under Giulio Cesare Paribeni and Giorgio Federico Ghedini. In 1947 came the first public performance of one of his works, a suite for piano.
In 1951, Berio went to the United States to study with Luigi Dallapiccola at Tanglewood, from whom he gained an interest in serialism. He later attended the Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik at Darmstadt, meeting Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, György Ligeti and Mauricio Kagel there. He became interested in electronic music, co-founding the Studio di Fonologia, an electronic music studio in Milan, with Bruno Maderna in 1955. He invited a number of significant composers to work there, among them Henri Pousseur and John Cage. He also produced an electronic music periodical, Incontri Musicali.
In 1960, Berio returned to Tanglewood, this time as Composer in Residence, and in 1962, on an invitation from Darius Milhaud, took a teaching post at Mills College in Oakland, California. In 1965 he began to teach at the Juilliard School, and there he founded the Juilliard Ensemble, a group dedicated to performances of contemporary music. His students include Louis Andriessen and Steve Reich, among others.
All this time Berio had been steadily composing and building a reputation, winning the Italian Prize in 1966 for Laborintus II. His reputation was cemented when his Sinfonia was premiered in 1968.
In 1972, Berio returned to Italy. From 1974 to 1980 he acted as director of the electro- acoustic division of IRCAM in Paris. In 1987 he opened Tempo Reale in Florence, a centre similar in intent to IRCAM.
In 1994 he became Distinguished Composer in Residence at Harvard University, remaining there until 2000. He was also active as a conductor and continued to compose to the end of his life. In 2000, he became Presidente and Sovrintendente at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome.
Berio’s electronic work dates for the most part from his time at Milan’s Studio di Fonologia. One of the most influential works he produced there was Thema (Omaggio a Joyce) (1958), based on Cathy Berberian reading from James Joyce’s Ulysses.
In 1968, Berio completed O King a work which exists in two versions: one for voice, flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano, the other for eight voices and orchestra. The piece is in memory of Martin Luther King, who had been assassinated shortly before its composition. The orchestral version of O King was, shortly after its completion, integrated into what is perhaps Berio’s most famous work, Sinfonia(1968-69), for orchestra and eight amplified voices. Berio’s works A-Ronne (1974) and Cororepresent examples of a number of collaborations with the poet Edoardo Sanguineti.
Berio also produced works of absolute music, and perhaps best known among these is his series of works for solo instruments under the name Sequenza, composed between 1958 and 2002. These works explore the possibilities of each instrument to the full, often calling for extended techniques.
Sequenza IV for piano was composed in 1966.
Berio is also known for his stage works (notably Un re in ascolto, 1984). He often adapted his own compositions: the series of Sequenze gave rise to a series of works called Chemins each based on one of the Sequenze. The Sequenze were also shaped into new works under titles other than Chemins; Corale (1981), for example, is based on Sequenza VIII. As well as original works, Berio made a number of arrangements of works by other composers, among them Claudio Monteverdi, Henry Purcell, Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler and Kurt Weill. He also wrote an ending for Giacomo Puccini’s opera Turandot and in Rendering (1989) took the few sketches Franz Schubert made for his Symphony No. 10, and completed them by adding music derived from other Schubert works.