Edgard Varèse

EDGARD VARÈSE (1883, Paris – 1965, New York) was probably the only genuinely modern composer. The biological notion of growth and shrinking doesn't apply to his music, because Varèse's art doesn't reflect life in its molecular substance: it depicts the metallic reality, in which man is exposed to the high-tech environment he himseíf ereated but cannot control. Varèse didn't write music about machines, as Honegger did, he rather attempted to write with the help of machines, in times, when feasible means of electronic treatment of sound were not yet known. His mission was to capture the “mechanic" age by pre-eleetronic means. According to Joseph Häusler, this utopia was followed by reality that enabled it by “emancipating the noise". Varèse em-braced wailing sirens and the Morse code where others would reject them, too scared by comparable attempts... What is striking about Varése is that he knew how to make moise, and he could organize it too. His consistency points to the visionary originality of a master: it represented not only a radical reduction of instrumental options, but also their expansion. Varése reinvented rythm, timbre, harmony and form, he did-n't care much for tradition and he didn't repeat himself. This explains the small size of his output...

Varèse studied mathematics and natural sciences at Ecole polytechnique in Paris. When he decided to become a musician, he broke relations with his parents. He became a pupil of d'Indy, Roussel, and Widor at the Schola cantorum and the Conservatoire in Paris. Until 1915 he served in the military, then he moved to America, where he obtained citizenship in 1927. In 1919 he co-founded the International Composer's Guild, and in 1926 he founded the Pan American Society that cultivated the music of North and South Americas. By then he experimented with electronic in-sturments, which became available only in the 1950s.

(after Knut Franke)

Works (selection): Un grand sommeil noir (after Verlaine) for voice and piano (1906), Amériques, for orchestra (1918 – 1921), Offrandes for soprano and small orchestra (1921)), Hyperprism for 9 wind instruments and 7 percussion players (1922 – 1923), Octandre for wind instrument ensemble (1923), Intégrales for 11 wind instrumemts and 4 percussion players (1924 – 1925), Arcana for orchestra (1925–1927), Ionisation for percussion (1929 – 1931), Ecuatorial for bass and ensemble (1932 – 1934), Density 21.5 for solo flute (1936), Etude pour Espace for choir, 2 pianos and percussion (1947), Déserts for wind instruments, percussion and tape (1950 – 1954), La procession de Vergès, tape to the film on J. Miró (1955), Poème électronique for 3-track tape (1957 – 1958), Nocturnal for solo voices, choir and small orchestra (1961).