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On the 40th anniversary of 'The Miniskirt Affair', JENNIFER PAULL sets the mood of the 1960s into which Cathy Berberian's imaginative style of recital programming shook the conventional rafters of 'classical music' through sheer daring - her legacy to music-making


Catherine Anahid Berberian (1925-1983). Original photo courtesy of Cristina Berio
Catherine Anahid Berberian (1925-1983). Original photo courtesy of Cristina Berio


Trying to distil the essence of someone who changes the way the world wags has never been easy. When Henry Vlllth was desperately looking for a suitable bride (having grown weary of his first), he was obliged to wait upon a series of portraits of the most eligible, would-be candidates for the role of England's future Queen. The one thing fine art could not portray was how the lady sounded when she spoke, or how she became pock marked or wrinkled during Henry's long wait to cast his impatient eyes upon her miniature. After all, it took Holbein quite some time to complete his portraits of suitable sitters in various foreign lands, which were only accessible by boat and the horse-drawn carriage. He surely returned to Hampton Court far less swiftly than were he to have enjoyed full access to the privileges of today's British Rail (an arguably questionable hypothesis, however).

In the BBC's on-line News Magazine (30 September 2005), Jonathan Duffy wrote about the Kinsey Report's research sequel in Britain the following year (1948), and quoted comments by the late poet, Philip Larkin: 'sexual intercourse began in 1963'. Duffy continued; 'His Poem Annus Mirabilis famously links the start of the sexual revolution with the Beatles' first LP', and concluded -- 'In these liberated times, when sex is almost a constant undercurrent of everyday life, it's hard to imagine how much of a taboo sex once was.'

If the whole of Cathy Berberian's legacy were to be summarised within the infinitive of a single verb -- it would be to dare. Just as a two-dimensional portrait can render no clue to her mastery and hypnotic skill upon the concert platform, listening to her recordings of the mini tableaux galants into which she transposed The Beatles' music can provide no clue, today, of the sheer courage it took to dare to undertake such ventures.

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Copyright © 30 October 2005 Jennifer I Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland


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