Episode 84. Cathy Berberian, Part I: MagnifiCathy

Episode 84. Cathy Berberian, Part I: MagnifiCathy



This episode is the first part of a tribute I have been wanting to create for quite some time. It honors the extraordinary artist and musician Cathy Berberian (1925-1983), the cosmopolitan Armenian-American vocalist who made an indelible mark on contemporary classical music and the public recital. Possessed of an extraordinarily flexible intelligence and sensibility, she influenced an entire generation of composers, including John Cage, Sylvano Bussotti, Henri Pousseur, and, in particular, her one-time husband Luciano Berio. Each of these composers wrote music with Berberian specifically in mind, and Berberian’s input strongly influenced the shape and form that these works assumed. Divorcing Berio in 1964 freed her to pursue her own musical interests, which included her own compositions, a musical friendship with Igor Stravinsky, a burgeoning interest in folk music, and the music of the Beatles. Her 1967 recording of so-called Beatles Arias (titled Revolution in its US release) is a unique document, which both explores the hidden depths of this material, at the same time poking fun at the entire crossover genre. Her daring theatricality and vibrant personality continue to exert an indelible influence that extends far beyond the avant garde. In two weeks I will explore the directions that she pursued in her later career.


John Lennon, Paul McCartney, arr. Louis Andriessen: Ticket to Ride. Cathy Berberian; Bruno Canino [Lugano 21 January 1969]

Cathy Berberian and Bruno Canino

Henry Purcell, Thomas Shadwell: Nymphs and Shepherds (The Libertine). Cathy Berberian; Bruno Canino [live Edinburgh 1973]

Philipp zu Eulenburg: Seerose (Rosenlieder, No. 4). Cathy Berberian; Bruno Canino [1976]

William Walton, Edith Sitwell: Water Party (Façade 2). Cathy Berberian; Steuart Bedford, Richard Adeney, Thea King, Jack Brymer, David Mason, Charles Tunnell, James Blades [1980]

Traditional Spanish, arr. Fernando Obradors: El Vito. Cathy Berberian; Harold Lester [Stuttgart June 1978]

Arnold Schoenberg, Ernest Guiraud; Ingolf Dahl and Carl Beier (English translation): Red Mass (Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21/11). Cathy Berberian; Marius Constant, Ensemble Ars Nova [Paris 17 April 1972]

Victor Herbert, Rida Johnson Young: Italian Street Song (Naughty Marietta). Cathy Berberian, Candace Smith; Massimiliano Damenini [Lugano 09 February 1981]

John Cage: Aria (with Fontana Mix) [excerpt]. Cathy Berberian; John Cage [1958]

Steely Dan: Your Gold Teeth [1973]

Komitas Vardapet [né Soghomon Soghomonian]: Chem gma khagha (I Can’t Dance). Cathy Berberian; Maro Ajemian [1970]

Komitas Vardipet (ne Soghomon Soghomonian) [1869 – 1935]

Komitas Vardapet [né Soghomon Soghomonian]: Karoun (It’s Spring). Cathy Berberian; Maro Ajemian [1970]

With Luciano Berio on their wedding day, 1950.

Luciano Berio, Jacopo da Lentini: Avendo gran disio (Quattro canzoni populari, No. 3). Cathy Berberian; Bruno Canino [live Ascona 9 October 1975]

Luciano Berio, James Joyce: Winds of May (Chamber Music). Cathy Berberian; Luciano Berio, Members of the Juilliard Ensemble [Fred Sherry, Virgil Blackwell, Kathleen Bride] [1969]

Luciano Berio, Cathy Berberian: Summer Night Blues. Cathy Berberian; Luciano Berio [1956]

Luciano Berio, Italo Calvino: Ora mi alzo (Allez-Hop!). Cathy Berberian; Bruno Maderna, Orchestra degli Incontri Musicali [1959]

James Joyce: Sirens (Ulysses) [excerpt]. Cathy Berberian [1958]

Luciano Berio: Thema (Omaggio a Joyce). Luciano Berio; the voice of Cathy Berberian [1958]

Roman Haubenstock-Ramati (1919 – 1994)

Roman Haubenstock-Ramati, Samuel Beckett: Credentials, or Think, Think Lucky [excerpt]. Cathy Berberian; Hans Rosbaud, Mitglieder des SWF Sinfonieorchesters Baden Baden [1961]

Henri Pousseur (1929 – 2009)

Henri Pousseur: Phonèmes pour Cathy. Cathy Berberian [live Venezia 11 September 1967]

Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht, Cathy Berberian [English lyrics]: Song of Sexual Slavery (The Threepenny Opera). Cathy Berberian; Bruno Canino [Lugano 21 January 1969]

A fashion shoot for Italian Vogue with Berberian and Bussotti

Sylvano Bussotti: O, Atti vocali (Le passion selon Sade) [excerpt]. Cathy Berberian [1970]

Igor Stravinsky, Alexander Afanasyev: The Colonel (Pribaoutki, No. 3). Cathy Berberian, George Pieterson; Luciano Berio, Members of the Rotterdam Philharmonic [live Holland Festival 28 June 1974]

Igor Stravinsky, W.H. Auden: Elegy for JFK. Cathy Berberian; Pierre Boulez, Members of the Orchestra Filarmonica Roma [live Roma 4 March 1965]


Cathy Berberian: Stripsody. Cathy Berberian [live performance from the Norwegian television program Musikk utenfor allfarvei (Music off the Beaten Track) 13 March 1970]

John Cage: Song Books [excerpt]. Cathy Berberian [live Holland Festival 1972]

John Cage (1912 – 1992)

Paul McCartney, John Lennon, arr. Guy Boyer: Yesterday. Cathy Berberian; Instrumental Ensemble [1967]

William and Susana Walton (standing) with Edith Sitwell (seated)

William Walton, Edith Sitwell: Tarantella (Façade). Cathy Berberian; Steuart Bedford, Richard Adeney, Thea King, Jack Brymer, David Mason, Charles Tunnell, James Blades [1980]

Erik Satie, M. God [Mimi Godebska]: Daphénéo (Trois mélodies). Cathy Berberian; Dario Müller [live Lugano 27 Februarry 1981]

Jacques Offenbach, Henri Meilhac, Ludovic Halévy: Ah! quel diner (La Périchole). Cathy Berberian; Bruno Canino [live Ascona 07 October 1975]

Claude Debussy, Pierre Louÿs: Le tombeau des naïades (Chansons de Bilitis, L97/3). Cathy Berberian; Bruno Canino [1970]

Reynaldo Hahn, Paul Verlaine: L’heure exquise (Chansons grises, No. 5). Cathy Berberian; Bruno Canino [1976]

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