Camp in the Berberian’s Salon
Cathy Berberian’s A la Recherche de la Musique Perdue (first performance Berling 1971; Vila) deconstructs central tenets of the traditional (modern) concert practice (Goehr). The concert arena staged as a salon suggests not only a temporal but also ideological displacement by inserting a pre-modern musical space (in campish quotation marks) within a modern concert institution. The music consisted of works by Tchaikovsky, Rossini, Offenbach, Sibelius, Paisiello, Delibes etc. seldom featured in elsewhere in Berberian’s repertoire. One section featured arrangements of Beethoven’s instrumental music with voice (and text) inserted. By introducing semantic layer where it doesn’t belong (for instance in pure [sic] instrumental music of Beethoven) and by exaggerating it there and elsewhere in the program creates a new campish layer to the texts that are often in themselves banal and even ridiculous (Berberian; Vila).
The paper will examine in detail Berberian’s campish salon and concentrate particularly on vocal camp (Välimäki) in select songs on the basis of recordings: the excessive articulation, subversion of performance traditions, minute vocal means of ridicule and theatricalization (e.g. singing out of tune, appoggiaturas, portamenti) enhancing constant interplay between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ taste. Cathy Berberian sings outside the Barthesian genosong as well as its adversary, fenosong, exemplified by bourgeois vocal art, introducing a class of her own, that of “Berberianisque” which constantly queers the (romantic) vocal tradition of art music.