On today's date in 1968, Italian composer Luciano Berio, conducted the Swingle Singers and the New York Philharmonic in the premiere performance of a new work called Sinfonia. As NPR's Composer's Datebook recounts,
"Sinfonia" included direct orchestral quotes from Bach to Mahler intermingled with sung and spoken texts ranging from Claude Levi-Strauss to Samuel Beckett. There's even a bit of James Joyce's "Ulysses" tossed in as well, alongside quotations of French and American student protesters circa 1968. The text of "Sinfonia's" second movement was a tribute to the recently assassinated civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr.—and consisted of nothing other than the intoned syllables of his name.Here is a video of the third movement, with those very same Swingle Singers.
Berio's "Sinfonia" was a dizzying mix of 1968 politics, avant-garde montage, familiar concert hall melodies, and theatrical flair. "The juxtaposition of contrasting elements, in fact," wrote Berio at the time, "is part of the whole point." Somewhat to everyone's surprise, Berio's "Sinfonia" turned out to be a hit with both the critics and the audiences at its premiere performances.