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'In art, all who have done something other than their predecessors have merited the epithet of revolutionary; and it is they alone who are masters.' -- Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) post-impressionist painter

I thought that the best litmus test about writings concerning her role in music and her recognised place in Berio's oeuvre, was simply to ask musician friends what they happened to have on their shelves in the way of encyclopaedias. Not everyone buys reference books afresh, annually. What they have to hand is more of a really random evaluation.

The Concise Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, eighth edition, edited by Nicolas Slominsky -- Schirmer Books, 1994; pages 82/3 :

'Cathy Berberian, versatile American mezzo-soprano ... studied singing, dancing and the art of pantomime ... then went to Italy; attracted wide attention in 1958, when she performed the ultrasurrealist Aria by John Cage, which demanded a fantastic variety of sound effects.'

Her incredible technique is described as follows:

Her vocal range extended to 3 octaves, causing one bewildered music critic to remark that she could sing both Tristan and Isolde. Thanks to her uncanny ability to produce ultrahuman (and subhuman) tones, and her willingness to incorporate into her professional vocalization a variety of animal noises, guttural sounds, grunts and growls, squeals, squeaks and squawks, clicks and clucks, shrieks and screeches, hisses, hoots, and hollers, she instantly became the darling of inventive composers of the avant-garde, who eagerly dedicated to her their otherwise unperformed works. She married one of them, Luciano Berio, in 1950, but they were separated in 1966 and divorced in 1968.

As to the rest of her ability, it is very briefly summarised.

She could also intone classical music, and made a favorable impression with her recording of works by Monteverdi ... She resented being regarded as a "circus freak", and insisted that her objective was merely to meet the challenge of the new art of her time.'

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Copyright © 18 August 2005 Jennifer I Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland


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