Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Peace and freedom

I love this inspiring triptych of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winners—Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkul Karman—who were recognized "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work." Peace and equality were twin themes of the '60s, as chronicled in Everybody Says Freedom: A History of the Civil Rights Movement in Songs and Pictures and many related books on our website.

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.
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.
Here is a video of the third movement, with those very same Swingle Singers.


  1. I always appreciate these. I had (again, shamefully:) no prior knowledge of this and it afforded me a chance to look into the history of this piece and the concept/origins of the term "sinfonia" itself. I love that everything came together both seamlessly and harmoniously (bad pun, I know)...

  2. Kudos to these three women and all the amazing, inspiring work they do! A well deserved recognition for them.