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The Italian composer Luciano Berio was born in Oneglia into a musical family. His father and grandfather were organists and composers and he studied music with them both. Although he developed an interest in the piano, the idea of any possible career as a pianist was ended by an injury to his hand sustained during military service in the army, for which he had enrolled in 1944. From 1946 to 1951 he was a student at the Milan Conservatory where he studied counterpoint with Giulio Cesare Paribeni, composition with Giorgio Ghedini, and conducting with Antonino Votto and Carlo Maria Giulini. In addition he worked as an accompanist and subsequently as a conductor in several provincial opera houses. In 1950 he met and married the singer Cathy Berberian, whose vocal virtuosity was to inspire several of his early works.

In 1952 Berio was awarded a Koussevitzky Foundation Scholarship that enabled him to study serialism with Dallapiccola at Tanglewood. While in the USA he also attended the first American concert of electronic music, given in New York by Otto Luening and Vladimir Ussachevsky. Between 1953 and 1960 Berio worked for the Italian Broadcasting Corporation (RAI) in Milan. Here in 1955 he established an electronic music studio with Bruno Maderna, acting as its director until 1959. In addition he and Maderna also founded a journal, Incontri Musicali, and a series of concerts devoted to contemporary music, both of which Berio directed between 1956 and 1959.

During the early 1960s Berio developed a career that saw him living in both Italy and the United States. He taught at Mills College in Oakland, California; Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts; and the Juilliard School in New York City. These posts were combined with periods at the Dartington Summer School in England, and at Darmstadt in Germany. In 1972 he returned to Europe and worked with the French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez in establishing IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique/Musique) in Paris, where he was head of its electro-acoustic section until 1980.

During this period he also took an active interest in conducting, serving as artistic director of the Israel Chamber Orchestra (1975), the Accademia Filarmonica Romana (1975–1976), the Orchestra Regionale Toscana (1982), and the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino (1984). In 1987 he founded the Tempo Reale, a centre for live electronics in Florence, of which he was artistic director. Here he worked with musicians and computer experts in developing new forms and techniques of musical composition. In 1993–1994, he was Charles Eliot Norton Professor at Harvard University, which was followed by a five-year appointment as Distinguished Composer-in-Residence at Harvard. In 1999 he took over as interim director of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, and was elected its President and Artistic Director in 2000. Berio was a pioneer in the use of electronics in composition and applied advances in digital processing to his creative explorations of the human voice, in combination with solo instruments and orchestra.

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