Recorded in July of 1962, this is a fascinating interview between composer, music professor, and KPFA presenter, Glenn Glasow, and the Italian avant-garde composer Luciano Berio, who had just joined the faculty at Mills College. In many ways this interview highlights the difficulty that many musicologists and listeners of traditional classical music, had dealing with the new, radical concepts being promoted by the likes of Berio, Pierre Boulez, and John Cage.
The interview begins with Glasow inquiring about Berio’s previous observation that a composer’s “attitude” or “conception” about life and society could be discerned from hearing their music. Berio suggests while there may be no obvious cause and effect relationship between a particular piece of music and current trends in society, he does feel that some works can reflect certain social conditions. Glasow does not fully agree with Berio’s attempts to trace those relationships, and wonders how pure music, removed from any knowledge about the composer’s life, could be interpreted in such a manner. Glasow also quizzes Berio on the idea that contemporary composer’s feel required to shock their audience. Berio considers this tendency toward protest a somewhat American phenomenon, which while not always agreeable may be required in certain societies. He thus defends the work of John Cage, and states that is many ways America deserves, nay even requires, John Cage. A concept that Glasow seems to accept, suggesting that perhaps America has lusted after culture to such a point, that Cage was prompted to make fun of such pretensions.
The conversation eventually turns from such abstract pondering, to more concrete subjects, namely the conception and attitude of Berio’s own works. This includes a discussion of Berio’s, “Circles,” which Berio states requires an audience to see it as well as hear it, to fully appreciate the spacial interplay between the vocalist and instruments. Also discussed is Berio’s “Tempi Concertati,” and the role of formal musical structure in this and other compositions. While it becomes clear that Glasow at times is struggling to understand Berio’s rather intellectually abstract concepts and intentions (as might the any listener), he is always appreciative of the Italian’s genius and avant-garde sensibilities, and open to further persuasion about his ideas.