Berio’s Sinfonia was my first encounter with quotation in music. Certainly my first experience of music where the appropriation of another’s music was used to achieve a particular effect. I was convinced that the third movement of Sinfonia represented an attempt to reinvigorate the idea of the ‘masterwork’ in an age of such musical diversity. The interaction of so many ‘masterpieces’ came at a time of much quotation and appropriation of not only music from the past but music of other cultures. It never ceases to inspire me – particularly the juxtaposition of diverse musical styles – such as what I heard in Weinberg’s ‘The Passenger’. Jazz could be heard in the dance moments, in addition to ‘authentic’ and faux-folk music. The most powerful quotation, for me, came in the second half where the on stage violinist ignores the request to play the commandant’s ‘favourite waltz’ and instead plays the Bach Chaconne in D Minor. I was surprised and moved by such a choice – it’s a work that has intense personal feelings attached to it. I was in awe of the delicate way Weinberg gradually introduced the rest of the orchestra, exaggerating the solo line and intensifying the dream-like quality of the moment. The bi-tonality created by the brass pedal note further added to the impression this was a memory and not a moment in the present.
Such a striking moment of quotation seems fresh and unique yet in the context of the time when this opera was written, quotation was an integral part of much of the ‘new’ music of the time. Use of Bach at that particular point in the opera, however surprising, seems utterly right. Something I won’t forget for a long time, if ever.