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Per la dolce memoria di quel giorno (author's note)

Per la dolce memoria di quel giorno
Ballet (1974)

I. Trionfo dell’Amore
II. Trionfo della Pudicizia
III. Trionfo della Morte
IV. Trionfo della Fama
V. Trionfo del Tempo
VI. Trionfo dell’Eternità

The encyclopaedic ambitions of the poetical, mythological, amorous, political and mystical world of Petrarch’s Trionfi are certainly not an easy thing to deal with today. The formal idea, however, already taken up by painters in the course of centuries, is its most accessible, universal and perhaps actual aspect: a form progressing symbolically step by step, getting through successive stages. It is for this reason that the music of Per la dolce memoria di quel giorno (it is the second verse of the “Trionfo dell’Amore”) unfolds like a sequence of different situations and episodes and, sometimes, like a polyphony of different visions: it is not intended to illustrate the musical sense of the crowded world of the six Trionfi (something, in any case, impossible and useless) but only its outline. Thus the original, complex meaning of the Trionfi is translated into something else: it is sometimes expanded, or simplified, or put between brackets and transformed; sometimes the discourse takes on an epic character, dwelling on a fixed image. Each of the six episodes is deeply different even if fragments and transformations of a cantus firmus derived from an isorhythmic motet of Guillaume de Machault (a contemporary of Petrarch) are constantly exchanged from one episode to the next. A series of five intermezzi for piano connects, like an external thread, one “Trionfo” to another.
I. The “Trionfo dell’Amore”, preceded by a brief ceremonial for flute, unfolds in following waves, like an “orchestral river” in which the Nibelungen E flat is predominant.
II. The “Trionfo della Pudicizia” takes up several of the preceding episode’s harmonic characters on top of which, however, is superimposed the voice of the dancers exchanging vocal “gifts” (a simple melody of three notes) and “gifts” of movement (based on a rhythmic elaboration of Machault’s motet). The musical discourse then comes to a stop and becomes ritualized in a duet where a male voice caresses and envelops an impassive female voice, celebrating the meeting of two completely different and irreconcilable traditional vocal techniques and modes of expression: the Middle Eastern ones of the man and the Far Eastern ones of the woman.
III. The “Trionfo della Morte” is treated like a ballata, a dance song. After a short melody sung by the man, a piano “accompanies”. It accompanies nothing. Or children’s broken voices. Then the orchestra slowly creeps in, overwhelming the piano and the vocal fragments. Just like a ballata, the solo piano ends symmetrically this third “Trionfo”.
IV. The “Trionfo della Fama”: after a short spoken divertimento, over the busy surface of an amplified string orchestra snatches of Petrarchian phrases are brought forward, and treated like graffiti, like newspaper captions, like echoes of emphatic recitations, of clumsy readings; as a whole, like the remains of a grand verbal banquet.
V. The “Trionfo del Tempo” is a time for waiting, a concentric movement of simple elements (mostly intervals of a fifth or an octave are employed) scored for piano, organ and vibraphone.
VI. After returning to the solo flute of the opening, the “Trionfo dell’Eternità” opposes and superimposes - without blending them - different and historically distant musical characters. The sound plays here a very important role especially with regard to instrumental doublings and the organ-like treatment of the orchestral registers in the final section.
Commissioned by the Italian Television, Per la dolce memoria di quel giorno is also the result of my profound understanding with Maurice BĂ©jart. Composed in April 1974 in New York, this work is dedicated to my children Marina and Stefano.

Luciano Berio