CATHY BERBERIAN - NEVER KNOWINGLY MISUNDERSTOOD
JENNIFER PAULL questions the focus
of the lens of musical history
'I like not only to be loved, but to be told that I am loved; the realm of silence is large enough beyond the grave.' -- George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), novelist (1819-1880)
When musicians as great as Cathy Berberian or Luciano Berio die, they leave behind a wealth of evidence of their enrichment of music and each other. This union was a fusion of minds; a scintillating chimaera at the summit of creativity the influences of which marked the second half of the twentieth century, indelibly. The ensuing, echoing dilemma is that Cathy (an adoring wife who remained intellectually devoted to Berio even after their divorce) is placed by the vast majority of musical historians into a secondary role well out of the limelight and often, eclipsed completely. When she is mentioned, it is mostly with neither chivalry nor accuracy, en passant. It was taken for granted that the woman stood in secondary ranking by both Italian society and her Armenian-American upbringing. This is no excuse for contemporary historians perpetuating the errors of the post World War II climate in theoretical, matrimonial hierarchy. Had Cathy been more of a feminist and less self-sacrificing to her husband's cause, she would have claimed credit for herself repeatedly where it was truly due. The present, incongruous conundrum may well have been less momentous as a result. Their marriage however, would undoubtedly have been curtailed as an inevitable, consequential corollary.
She lived her married life without any consideration for the importance of her own career and dedicated it entirely to her husband and to his music, which she served way and above those dreams to which any composer might aspire --
'It was a sort of indirect osmosis, as it should have been -- ...
What I had to give, he took -- and what he gave I took. We always helped each other. The only difference is that I admit it and he doesn't. I'm always ready and willing to say how much I owe him, but he ... maybe due to male pride?' (Des femmes en movement, October 1981) -- Cathy Berberian, Cant'actrice (Fayard) -- Marie Christine Vila, page 322
Copyright © 18 August 2005
Jennifer I Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland