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Coro (author's note)

for forty voices and instruments (1974-76)
Texts: Pablo Neruda and folk songs

Coro was written between 1974 and 1976 for the Westdeutscher Rundfunk of Cologne and is dedicated to Talia Berio. With Coro I went back to folk music which, in an explicit manner, had already been the basis of my Folk Songs (1964) and Questo vuol dire che (1969). In Coro, however, there are no quotations or transformations of actual folk songs (with the exception of Episode VI, where a Croatian melody is used, and Episode XVI, where I quote a melody from my Cries of London), rather, many heterogeneous folk techniques and modes are displayed and sometimes combined, without any reference to specific songs. It is the musical function of those techniques and modes that is continuously transformed in Coro. Thus the title refers not only to a chorus of voices and instruments but also to a chorus of different techniques extending from song to Lied, from African heterophony (as analysed by Simha Arom) to polyphony.
In the wide range of techniques adopted in Coro, the folk element is certainly not the only one. I stressed its importance because it is a fundamental element to the general structure of the work: a substantially epic and narrative structure made up of thirty-two mostly self-contained and often contrasting episodes. It is not a question, however, of an elementary contrast: the same text can occur several times with different music or the same musical model can recur with different texts. Sometimes the voices totally identify themselves with the instrumental articulation, while the text generates phonetic transformations which spread from one episode to another; sometimes the speed of enunciation of the text changes independently of the general articulation.
Coro is therefore also an anthology of different modes of “setting to music”, hence to be listened to as an open project, in the sense that it could continue to generate ever-different situations and relations. It is like the plan for an imaginary city, which is realized on different levels and generates, assembles and unifies different things and persons, revealing their individual and collective characters, their distance, their relationships and conflicts within real and virtual borders.
Of the different levels in Coro, the harmonic one is perhaps the most important; it is the base of the work, but is at the same time its environment and its slowly changing landscape. A landscape, a sound base that generates ever-different events (songs, heterophony, polyphony, etc.), musical images engraved like graffiti on the harmonic wall of the city. The particular distribution of voices and instruments on the stage - where each individual chorus member is seated next to an instrumentalist - is intended to reinforce acoustically and visually the wide range of interactions between voices and instruments.
The texts of Coro are set on two different and complementary levels: a folk level, based on texts about love and work, and an epic level based on the words of Pablo Neruda (Residencia en la Tierra), which puts in perspective that very love and work.

Luciano Berio