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Janet K. Halfyard
Senior Lecturer in Music at the Birmingham Conservatoire

Text and authority: Issues of gender and ownership in the work of Cathy Berberian

In his 1984 essay on Sequenza III, published in Alternative Voices, Istvan Anhalt mentions Berberian only once, paradoxically describing her as “the close collaborator (one is tempted to say co-creater) with Berio” in the context of a piece that he otherwise discusses entirely as Berio’s creation. This is, in many respects, typical of the way that Berberian appears in much of the literature surrounding her repertoire, and the way in which performers can be rendered invisible in relation to repertoire that they have helped to create.

This paper examines the issue of authorship in relation to Berberian’s repertoire, looking in particular at her collaborations with Berio on Thema and Visage; the evidence of Berberian’s contribution to Sequenza III; and her composition, Stripsody. The idea of the voice as “material” with which a composer works more than as the instrument with which the performer creates is looked at in relation to the way that composers such as Berio discuss Berberian’s voice in relation to their work. I also examine the way that, conversely, just as Berberian’s contribution (as opposed to performance) sometimes seems to be written out of the history of her repertoire, so the artist Eugenio Carmi has effectively been excised from the history of Berberian’s own composition, Stripsody.

Janet K Halfyard is a senior lecturer at Birmingham Conservatoire, a faculty of the University of Central England, where she teaches courses in film music as well as twentieth century and contemporary music and performance practice. She studied at City University, London before going on to complete a PhD thesis on Music Theatre at the University of Birmingham. She is also a performer specializing in extended vocal technique, and has worked with a number of electroacoustic composers, including Simon Emmerson, Joseph Hyde, Simon Hall and Paul Wilson. Her publications and conference presentations include papers on extended vocal technique and on film and television music. She is currently editing a collection of essays on Berio’s Sequenzas, to be published by Ashgate.

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