Edgar Varese

Edgar (or Edgard) Varese (December 22, 1883 - November 6, 1965) was a French-born composer, who moved to the United States in 1915, and took American citizenship in 1926.

He spent the first few years in the United States meeting important contributors to American music, promoting his vision of new electronic music instruments, conducting orchestras, and founding the New Symphony Orchestra. It was also around this time that Varese began work on his first composition in the United States, Ameriques, which was finished in 1921. It was at the completion of this work that Varese founded the International Composers' Guild, dedicated to the performances of new compositions of both American and European composers, for which he composed many of his pieces for orchestral instruments and voices, specifically Offrandes in 1922, Hyperprism in 1923, Octandre in 1924, and Integrales in 1925.

In 1928, Varese returned to Paris to alter one of the parts in Ameriques to include the recently constructed Ondes Martenot. Varese followed Ameriques by composing his most famous non-electronic piece in 1930 entitled Ionisation, the first piece to feature solely percussion instruments. Although it was composed with pre-existing instruments, Ionisation was composed as an exploration of new sounds and methods to create them. In 1933, while Varese was still in Paris, he wrote to the Guggenheim Foundation and Bell Laboratories in an attempt to receive a grant to develop an electronic music studio. His next composition, Ecuatorial, completed in 1934, contained parts for theremins, and Varese, anticipating the successful receipt of one of his grants, eagerly returned to the United States to finally realize his electronic music.

Varese wrote his Ecuatorial for two fingerboard Theremins, bass singer, winds and percussion in the early 1930s. It was premiered on April 15, 1934, under the baton of Nicolas Slonimsky. Then Varese left New York City, where he had lived since 1915, and moved to Santa Fe, San Francisco and Los Angeles. By the time Varese returned in late 1938, Leon Theremin had returned to Russia. This devastated Varese, who had hoped to work with Theremin on a refinement of his instrument. Varese had also promoted the theremin in his Western travels, and demonstrated one at a lecture at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque on November 12, 1936. The University of New Mexico has an RCA theremin, which may be the same instrument.

When, in the late 1950s, Varese was approached by a publisher about making Ecuatorial available, there were very few theremins--let alone fingerboard theremins--to be found, so he rewrote/relabelled the part for Ondes Martenot. This new version was premiered in 1961.

Year / Artwork Title Importance Medium
1921 Amériques 4.50 stars LP
 

 Comments:

Utah Symphony Orchestra cond. Maurice Abravanel

 1922  Offrande  4.50 stars  LP
Varese

Comments:

Dona Pecht - Soprano

Columbia Symphony Orchestra cond. Robert Craft

1922-1923 Hyperprism 4.50 stars LP
Varese

Comments:

For small orchestra and percussion

Members of the Columbia Symphony Orchestra cond. Robert Craft

1923 Octandre 4.50 stars LP
Varese

Comments:

For flute, clarinet, oboe, basson, horn, trumpet and bass

Members of the Columbia Symphony Orchestra cond. Robert Craft

1923-1925 Intergrales 4.50 stars LP
Varese

Comments:

For small orchestra and percussion

Columbia Symphony Orchestra cond. Robert Craft

 1925-1927  Arcana  4.50 stars  LP
Varese

 Comments:

For very large orchestra

Columbia Symphony Orchestra cond. Robert Craft

1931 Ionisation 4.50 stars LP
Varese

Comments:

For 13 percussionists

Columbia Symphony Orchestra cond. Robert Craft

1936 Density 21.5 4.50 stars LP
Varese

Comments:

For solo flute

Member of the Columbia Symphony Orchestra

1954 Déserts 4.50 stars LP
Varese

Comments:

2 flute, 2 clarinets, 2 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, bass tuba, contra bass tuba, piano, percussion, 2 magnetic tapes of electronic organized sounds transmitted on two channels.

Members of the Columbia Symphony Orchestra cond. Robert Craft

1958 Poème Electronique 4.50 stars LP
Varese

Comments:

Groundbreaking electronic composition.

Written for the Philips pavillion at the Brussels world-expo in 1958.

This is probably the most expensive electronic composition ever made. Varese struggled on and on, but could not finish it. I think he worked at the "Nat Lab" laboratory in Eindhoven, and found new toys to tinker with all the time. Le Corbusier, who designed the Expo Pavillion, had demanded, that Varese should write the soundtrack for the exhibition. He had to intervene time and again, because Varese didn't stick to any time schedule or budget. In the end the composition costed $ 200,000, at the time around 700,000 Dutch guilders. No, not a small, but a LARGE fortune.

1958 Poème Electronique 4.50 stars CD
Varese

 Comments:

Electronic composition, realised at the Philips Nat. Lab.

Compilation Complete Works 4.50 stars 2 CD
Varese

Comments:

(Tuning Up)

Un Grand Sommeil Noir (Original Version) (1906)

Amériques (Original Version) (1921)

Offrandes: Chanson de là-haut n(1921)
Offrandes: La Croix du Sud

Hyperprism (1923)

Octandre: Assez lent (1923)
Octandre: Très vif et nerveux
Octandre: Grave - Animé et jubilatoire

Intégrales (1925)

Arcana (1927)

Ionisation (1931)

Ecuatorial (1934)

Density 21.5 (1936)

Dance for Burgess For a Broadway Musical! (1950) (posth.)

Déserts: 1st Episode (1954)
Déserts: 1st interpolation of organized sound
Déserts: 2nd episode
Déserts: 2nd interpolation
Déserts: 3rd episode
Déserts: 3rd interpolation
Déserts: 4th episode

Poème Électronique (1958)

Nocturnal (1961( (posth.)

Un Grand Sommeil Noir (Orchestral Version, by Anthony Beaumont) (1980's?)

This could have been 5 stars, but there is a little bit too much Chailly.

Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam
ASKO Ensemble
Conductor Ricardo Chailly

Compilation Orchestral Works 4.50 stars 2 CD
Varese

Comments:

Amériques (Original Version) (1921)

Offrandes: Chanson de là-haut n(1921)
Offrandes: La Croix du Sud

Hyperprism (1923)

Octandre: Assez lent (1923)
Octandre: Très vif et nerveux
Octandre: Grave - Animé et jubilatoire

Intégrales (1925)

Arcana (1927)

Ionisation (1931)

Ecuatorial (1934)

Density 21.5 (1936)

Déserts: 1st Episode (1954)
Déserts: 1st interpolation of organized sound
Déserts: 2nd episode
Déserts: 2nd interpolation
Déserts: 3rd episode
Déserts: 3rd interpolation
Déserts: 4th episode

Nocturnal (1961( (posth.)

Orchestre de France cond. Kent Nagano