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Remembering the Future

Remembering the Future

Luciano Berio

ISBN 9780674021549

Publication date: 05/30/2006

In Remembering the Future Luciano Berio shares with us some musical experiences that “invite us to revise or suspend our relation with the past and to rediscover it as part of a future trajectory.” His scintillating meditation on music and the ways of experiencing it reflects the composer’s profound understanding of the history and contemporary practice of his art.

There is much in this short book that provides insight on Berio’s own compositions. Indeed, he comments that writing it “led me to formulate thoughts that might otherwise have remained concealed in the folds of my work.” He explores themes such as transcription and translation, poetics and analysis, “open work,” and music theater. The reader will also find here numerous insights on the work of other composers, past and present, and much more. A figure of formidable intellect, Berio ranges easily among topics such as Schenkerian analysis, the criticism of Carl Dahlhaus and Theodor Adorno, the works of his friends and sometime collaborators Italo Calvino and Umberto Eco. But Berio carries his learning lightly—his tone is conversational, often playful, punctuated by arresting aphorisms: “The best possible commentary on a symphony is another symphony.”

Remembering the Future is the text of Berio’s Charles Eliot Norton Lectures of 1993–94, now made available for the first time.


  • Music, in Berio’s view, is palpable and pliable, but also unstable, ready to be altered as more futures intervene in more pasts—just as he, in his own works, intervened in Schubert, in Monteverdi, and in Sicilian folk song. The six lectures nominally move from one topic to another: the nature of music as memory, of musicians as operator in ‘an immense library of musical knowledge’: the ways in which stretches of musical time can be re-traversed in copies, arrangements, and more distant adaptations; the impossibility of forgetting, and yet also the need for the new; the endless openness of the musical work, always remaining to be completed not only by further performances but also by further compositions that will excite sympathetic vibrations in it; opera as music made visible; and the interpenetrations of poetics and analysis. Yet these are by no means watertight compartments. Tidal swells wash through… Like any great artist, Berio speaks of himself when he speaks of others. A lot of his own music, as much as Stravinsky’s, has to do with collecting and copying precious objects—objects which become more precious in the process… Reading Remembering the Future is a valuable adjunct to listening to Berio’s music, the two experiences so much resembling each other in their richness of reference. Poignantly, the book even remembers the future of the composer’s own output. In an early passage he compares music to ‘a huge, protective building, designed by history and constructed over several millennia,’ where we may wander through ‘the Ars nova room, the Baroque room, the Schubert, Mahler, and Stravinsky rooms,’ and so on. Rooms—Stanze—was to be the title of Luciano Berio’s last completed composition before his death in 2003.

    —Paul Griffiths, Times Literary Supplement


  • Luciano Berio was one of the dominant composers of the second half of the twentieth century.

Book Details

  • 160 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 7 inches
  • Harvard University Press