The Pit and the Pendulum, Dramatic Cantata for Baritone, Chamber Ensemble, Male Choir and Electronics; Formal Plan and Constructive Principles of the Heterophonic Textures in Berio’s Coro.

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2021

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This dissertation consists of two parts: the artistic part is a dramatic cantata for Baritone, Chamber Ensemble, Male Choir and Electronics. The scholarly part is an article which inquires into compositional aspects of Luciano Berio’s choral and symphonic piece Coro.Chapter 1 presents The Pit and the Pendulum, a dramatic cantata, in full score. Using the enhanced sonic environment allowed by the superimposition of vocal and acoustic music with a fantastic landscape created by means of electronic sounds, my composition explores the themes of Poe’s story. The tale, full of powerful metaphoric images, could be seen as a description of the experience of imprisonment. The pendulum descending from the ceiling, beyond being a clear metaphor of the inexorable passing of time, was actually one of the tortures used by the Spanish Inquisition. The blazing walls directly recall instruments of torture used at the time, as well. Nonetheless, the pit, whose black abyss is a symbol of indeterminacy, seems to point us to the annihilation of our conscience, typical of the most brutal torture of every kind and era. Victims of torture normally succumb to delirium though isolation, starvation and the alternation of torture and respite. On the brink of the pit, faced with the blackness of death, the mind of the condemned is, in this case, pushed beyond its limits and, ironically, he becomes able to conceive things that otherwise would be beyond his intellective and emotional faculties. From this terrible experience, in Poe’s tale, the prisoner gains the intuition and the knowledge of a deeper inner reality. In this regard, The Pit and the Pendulum is a tale of salvation and growth, against all odds. Chapter 2 presents the theoretical part of the dissertation, “Formal Plan and Constructive Principles of the Heterophonic Textures in Berio’s Coro.” This analytic essay on the large choral/symphonic work Coro, written in 1976 by Luciano Berio, is based on my study of his manuscripts preserved at the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel. I was able to consult the archive in June 2019. The article explores Berio’s motives in his placement of the choir in relation to the orchestra onstage, its premises and its consequences from a compositional point of view. It also investigates the relation between Berio’s music and the work of the ethnomusicologist Simha Arom on central African music, which inspired the composition. Thanks to some sketches left by the composer, I have been able to reconstruct the motivation behind some of the most significant compositional choices of the piece as well as several compositional procedures used by the composer to present and develop his musical discourse. In Chapter 3 the aesthetic and scholarly conclusions of this dissertation are summarized.

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Amici, Maximiliano (2021). The Pit and the Pendulum, Dramatic Cantata for Baritone, Chamber Ensemble, Male Choir and Electronics; Formal Plan and Constructive Principles of the Heterophonic Textures in Berio’s Coro. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/23735.

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