The “Theatre of the Ear”: Analyzing Berio’s Musical Documentary A-Ronne

Nina Horvath


In 1963 Luciano Berio (1925-2003) was introduced to the Italian neo-avant-garde poet Edoardo Sanguineti (b. 1930). Berio and Sanguineti’s mutual interest in the study of phonology and the possibility of deriving structural form from the transformation of small vocal units led to collaborations on numerous vocal works, including A-Ronne (1974-75).

Berio describes A-Ronne as a “documentary on a poem by Edoardo Sanguineti.” In this work, Berio dissects and transforms the text, providing an aural analysis of the poetic material. How does one analyze an analysis? This paper develops an analytical approach for A-Ronne by adapting existing models of analysis for contemporary vocal works. The primary model will be Peter Stacey’s doctoral dissertation, Contemporary Tendencies in the Relationship of Music and Text with Special Reference to Pli selon Pli (Boulez) and Laborintus II (Berio. This analysis will focus on the original poetic material, the techniques used to set the text, and how these techniques generate the overall form of the work.

Berio also referred to A-Ronne as a “theatre of the ear.” Just as the various elements of a theatrical piece (such as staging, actors, scenery, etc.) are synthesized to generate a total sensory experience, Berio dramatized the disparate vocal and textual elements in A-Ronne to generate recognizable situations that combine into a unified whole. The this article aims to demonstrate how Berio’s approach both enhances understanding and appreciation of the original text and produces a new theatrical entity.

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