Luciano Berio Biography

Luciano Berio

Birthday: October 24, 1925 (Scorpio)

Born In: Oneglia, Imperia, Italy

Luciano Berio was one of the brilliant composers of his age. His popular works were the scores that he wrote in the 60s and 70s after he moved to the United States. He was one of those forward thinking composers who mixed language, theater and music and made an incredible experience out of it. Berio was known for dipping into the genre of electronic music and is most famous for his ‘Sinfonia’ that he composed in 1967–69. He also composed a piece called ‘O King’, in the memory of Martin Luther King. He is also known for creating the ‘eSACHERe’ along with other composers, for Sacher’s 70th birthday. Berio, besides composing, is known for adaptations of others’ music also. One of the more prominent works that Berio gave the world after the World War was his involvement with language which he inculcated into his compositions.
Quick Facts

Italian Celebrities Born In October

Died At Age: 77


Spouse/Ex-: Cathy Berberian (m. 1950–1964)

father: Ernesto Berio

mother: Ada dal Fiume

children: Cristina Berio, Daniel Berio, Jonathan Berio, Marina Berio, Stefano Berio

Atheists Composers

Died on: May 27, 2003

place of death: Rome, Italy

Notable Alumni: Milan Conservatory

More Facts

education: Milan Conservatory

Early Life and Childhood
On 24th October 1925, Luciano Berio was born in Oneglia, Imperia. He came from a musical family and his father taught him how to play the piano. Both Berio’s father and grandfather were organists as well as composers. Berio wanted to be a pianist, but injured his hand badly when he was learning how to use a gun while serving the Italian army during World War II. He ended up spending quite a bit of time at the hospital because of this. However, once the war ceased, he went back to his studies. Since he could not play the piano anymore, he began to concentrate more on composing instead. Berio made a living by assisting at a vocal music class; this is where he met Cathy Berberian who became his wife soon after.
Berio went back to his studies after the war and attended the Milan Conservatory in 1945. He studied composition under Giulio Cesare Paribeni and Giorgio Federico Ghedini, and learned how to conduct under Carlo Maria Giulini and Antonio Votto. He studied at Tanglewood in United States, in 1951, which is where he became interested in serialism; this is seen in many of his works. He also studied at the Ferienkurse für Neue Musik at Darmstadt.
Berio’s first ever public performance was ‘suite for piano’, in 1947. After his studies at Darmstadt, he founded the Studio di Fonologia in Milan, in 1955, along with Bruno Maderna who was also a European musical avant-garde leader interested in electronic music. This was an electronic music studio and Berio welcomed many composers to work here. Here, he also produced the ‘Incontri Musicali’ but resigned in 1961, after he grew tired of being overworked and of various political issues. Five years later, Berio returned to Tanglewood and taught at Mills College, California. During 1960–62, he also taught at Darlington International Summer School and later, came to teach at the Juilliard School in 1965. He formed a group, called the ‘Juilliard Ensemble’, which promoted musicians who performed works of contemporary music

By now, Berio had made a name for himself in the music industry as such. He won the Italian Prize for his ‘Laborintus II’. When his ‘Sinfonia’ came out in 1968 for the first time, his reputation reached new heights. He worked as a director for ICRAM in Paris during 1974-80 and was in-charge of electro-acoustic music. He opened a research center for music in Florence in 1987 and called it, ‘The Tempo Reale’. 

Famous Works
  • Berio was famous for his electronic-acoustic works and worked largely with serialism. Some of his more prominent works are:
  • ‘Thema (Omaggio a Joyce)’ in 1958 which was a reading by Cathy Berberian from Joyce’s Ulysses. It was the first time ever that an electro-acoustic piece like this, with voice and elaborative technology, was ever made.
  • In 1961, ‘Visage’ was made by cutting up a recording of Berberian’s voice and rearranging it.
  • In 1968, ‘O King’ was written in memory of Martin Luther King
  • In 1958–69, he produced his most famous work, the ‘Sinfonia’.
  • He wrote Sequenzas from 1958 to 2002. The more well-known ones are the Sequenza I, II, IV, V, X, XI and XII.
  • His popular stage works include ‘Un re in ascolto’, ‘Cronaca del luogo’ and ‘Turandot’.
  • Won the Italian Prize in 1966 for ‘Laborintus II’.
  • Won a Grammy Award in 1969 for the ‘Sinfonia’.
  • In 1988, he was made an Honorary Member for the Royal Academy of Music.
  • In 1989, he received the Ernst Von Siemens Music Prize.
  • In 1994, he was chosen as a Foreign Honorary Member for the American Academy of Arts and Science; he also became a Distinguished Composer in Residence at Harvard University.
  • In 2000, he became the Presidente and Sovrintendente at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome.
Personal Life
Berio married Cathy Berberian, an American mezzo-soprano in 1950, right after he graduated. He composed many pieces of music, based on her voice. They separated in 1964. He got married again in 1966 to Susan Oyama, a philosopher of science, and they separated in 1972. Berio got married for the third time in 1977 to a musicologist called Talia Pecker. They remained married till his death.
Death And Legacy
Luciano Berio died on May 27, 2003 in a hospital in Rome. He was 77 years old. The Centro Studi Luciano Berio, a music centre in the memory of this legendary maestro, was created in October 2009. This was started to promote the legacy of Berio. This center hopes to be a meeting point for study and research related to Berio. As of now, the center is an online forum, but as the Centro Studi wants to keep Berio’s places of work as historical sites, his studio in Florence, called ‘Via Di San Vito’, has been designated as the head office of the Centro Studi. This is not an archive and is not open to public.



Luciano Berio was born in Oneglia, Imperia.


His first public performance was a ‘suite for piano’.


Berio got married to Cathy Berberian, an American mezzo-soprano.


‘Thema (Omaggio a Joyce)’ was published.


He composed ‘Visage’.


Remarried, to a philosopher of science named Susan Oyama.


Won the Italian Prize for ‘Laborintus II’.


He composed ‘O King’ in memory of Martin Luther King.


Won the Grammy Award for ‘Sinfonia’.


Got married for the third time to musicologist, Talia Pecker.


He was made an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music, London.


He received the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize.


Was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; he also became a Distinguished Composer in Residence at Harvard University.


He became Presidente and Sovrintendente at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome.


Luciano Berio passed away on May 27, 2003, in Rome.

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