Folk Songs (Berio)

Folk Songs (Berio)

"Folk Songs" is a song cycle by the Italian composer Luciano Berio composed in 1964. It consists of arrangements of folk music from various countries and other songs, forming "a tribute to the extraordinary artistry" of the American singer Cathy Berberian, a specialist in Berio's music.

The first two songs, "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair" and "I Wonder As I Wander", are not genuine folk songs. In fact, John Jacob Niles, a Kentucky-born singer and scholar, composed them in Elizabethan modes and made them famous by singing and recording them. Berio's suite opens with a viola, free of bar lines and rhythmically independent of the voice, evoking a country fiddler. Harmonics from the viola, cello and harp contribute toward the "hurdy-gurdy sound" Berio wanted to accompany the second song.

Armenia, the country of Berberian's ancestors, provided the third song, "Loosin yelav", which describes the rising of the moon. In the French song "Rossignolet du bois", introduced by antique finger cymbals, the nightingale advises an inquiring lover to sing his serenades two hours after midnight, and identifies the "apples" in his garden as the moon and the sun. A sustained chord colored by the striking of automobile spring coils bridges this song to the next one, the old Sicilian song "A la femminisca", sung by fishermen's wives as they wait at the docks.

Like the first two songs, the sixth, "La Donna Ideale", and the seventh, "Il Bello", come not from anonymous folk bards but from Berio himself, who wrote them in 1949 at the age of 24 for Cathy Berberian who was at the time a Fulbright Fellowship voice student in Italy. The old Genoese dialect folk poem "The Ideal Woman" says that if you find a woman at once well-born, well-mannered, well-formed and with a good dowry, for God's sake don't let her get away. "The Ball", another old Italian poem, says that the wisest of men lose their heads over love, but love resists the sun and ice and all else.

"Metettu di tristura" comes from Sardinia and apostrophizes the nightingale: "How you resemble me as I weep for my lover... When they bury me, sing me this song."

The next two come from Joseph Canteloube's "Chants d'Auvergne" and are in the Occitan language. "Malurous qu'o uno fenno" poses the eternal marital paradox: he with no spouse seeks one, and he with one wishes he had none. A cello echoing the improvisation at the opening of the suite introduces "Lo Fialaire", in which a girl at her spinning wheel sings of exchanging kisses with a shepherd.

Berberian discovered the last song, known in the suite as "Azerbaijan Love Song", on a 78 RPM record from the Asian republic of Azerbaijan, sung in the Azerbaijani language except for one verse in Russian, which a Russian-speaking friend told her compared love to a stove. Berberian sung, purely by rote, the sounds she transcribed as best she could from that scratchy old record. She knew not one word of Azerbaijani.


* Backsleeve of 1967 RCA record LSC-3189.

External links

* [ Listen to Berio's Folk Songs] on [ Magazzini Sonori]
* [ texts for "Folk Songs" at The Lied and Art Song Texts Page]

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