Length: c. 14 minutes
Orchestration: solo trumpet and pianoFirst Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: November 19, 1984, by Los Angeles Philharmonic principal trumpet Thomas Stevens (world premiere – Los Angeles Philharmonic commission)
Luciano Berio’s passion for music has often been described as “omnivorous” in its appetite. He continually probed the convergences between musical experience and the rest of human culture, from literature, theatricality, and even circus performances to linguistics and anthropology. The career-spanning project of Sequenzas was a recognizably Berio-esque preoccupation. The Sequenzas – stretching back to 1958 and continuing as a “work-in-progress” which totaled 14 by the composer’s death – are solo compositions, each for a different instrument (including one for female voice).
Each Sequenza is deceptively brief, for the density of musical imagery within gives these pieces an epic or even labyrinthine quality. Their overall title refers to Berio’s process of constructing most of these pieces from “a sequence of harmonic fields.” The earlier Sequenzas in particular show Berio working out issues of compositional language, but he ultimately came to explore each instrument as a phenomenon in itself, bringing the cultural history and even the physical makeup of the instrument into play in a highly sophisticated brand of performance art and self-referential commentary.
The Sequenza X for trumpet is the second brass Sequenza Berio wrote. However, it stands apart from the others in its relatively conventional use of the instrument. Berio explains that here he considered the trumpet “in a direct and natural way” with no “cosmetic adjustments.” The unusual feature called for is the piano resonance created when, as a pianist quietly depresses specified chords on the keyboard – the trumpet blows against the piano strings.
Berio builds up densities from the trumpet line through a process of accumulation and widely varying dynamics. The virtuoso aspects called for are more standard manipulations, such as rapid-fire flutter and “doodle” tongue (used in jazz), but the unrelenting barrage of expressive effects demand an exhaustive display of musicianship and endurance from the soloist.