|Birth name||Edgard Victor Achille Charles Varèse|
|Born||December 22 1883|
|Died||November 6, 1965|
Varèse's music features an emphasis on timbre and rhythm. He was the inventor of the term "organized sound," a phrase meaning that certain timbres and rhythms can be grouped together, sublimating into a whole new definition of sound. His use of new instruments and electronic resources led to his being known as the "Father of Electronic Music" while Henry Miller described him as "The stratospheric Colossus of Sound." He is also known for having re-introduced the "Idee-fixe," a term first introduced by the French composer Hector Berlioz.
Edgard Victor Achille Charles Varèse was born on December 22, 1883, in Paris, but after only a few weeks was sent to be raised by his great-uncle's family in the small town of Villars, in Burgundy. There, he developed an intense attachment to his grandfather, Claude Cortot, something that would outshine anything he would ever feel for his own parents. In fact, from his earliest years his relationship with his father Henri was extremely antagonistic, developing into what could fairly be called a firm and life-long hatred. Reclaimed by his parents in the late 1880s, in 1893, young Edgard was forced to relocate with them to Turin, Italy. It was here that he had his first real musical lessons, with the long-time director of Turin's conservatory, Giovanni Bolzoni. Never comfortable with Italy, and given his oppressive home-life, a physical altercation with his father forced the situation and Varèse left home for Paris, in 1903.
From 1904, he was a student at the Schola Cantorum (founded by pupils of César Franck); afterwards he went to study composition with Charles Widor at the Paris Conservatoire. His first performed orchestral work was Rhapsodie romane, in the year of 1906, having been inspired by the Romanesque architecture of St. Philibert. He moved to Berlin, in 1907, and in the same year married the actress Suzanne Bing; they had one child. They divorced in 1913.
During these years, Varèse became acquainted with Satie, Debussy, and Busoni, the last two being particular influences on him at the time. The first performance of his Bourgogne in Berlin, in 1910, caused a scandal. After being invalided out of the French Army during World War I, he moved to the United States in 1915. In 1917, Varese made his debut in America, conducting a piece by Berlioz.
He spent the first few years in the United States meeting important contributors to American music, promoting his vision of new electronic art music instruments, conducting orchestras, and founding the New Symphony Orchestra. It was also about this time that Varèse began work on his first composition in the United States, Amériques, which was finished in 1921. It was at the completion of this work that Varèse, along with Carlos Salzedo, 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, during the first half of the 1920s, he composed Offrandes, Hyperprism, Octandre, and Intégrales.
He took American citizenship in 1926.
In 1928, Varèse returned to Paris to alter one of the parts in Amériques to include the recently constructed Ondes Martenot. Around 1930, he composed his most famous non-electronic piece, entitled, Ionisation, the first to feature solely percussion instruments. Although it was composed with pre-existing instruments, Ionisation was an exploration of new sounds and methods to create them.
In 1933, while Varèse 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 fingerboard theremin cellos, and Varèse, anticipating the successful receipt of one of his grants, eagerly returned to the United States to finally realize his electronic music.
Varèse 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 Varèse left New York City, where he had lived since 1915, and moved to Santa Fe, San Francisco and Los Angeles. In 1936 he wrote Density 21.5. By the time Varèse returned in late 1938, Leon Theremin had returned to Russia. This devastated Varèse, who had hoped to work with Theremin on a refinement of his instrument. Varèse 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, Varèse was approached by a publisher about making Ecuatorial available, there were very few theremins—let alone fingerboard theremins—to be found, so he rewrote/relabeled the part for Ondes Martenot. This new version was premiered in 1961.
Varèse gained international recognition by the early 1950s, when he came to dialogue with a new generation of composers, such as Boulez and Dallapiccola. He returned to France to finalize the tape sections of Déserts. Pierre Schaeffer helped him arrange for suitable facilities. The first performance of the combined orchestral and tape sound composition came as part of an ORTF broadcast concert, between pieces by Mozart and Tchaikovsky, and received a hostile reaction.
Le Corbusier was commissioned by Phillips to present a pavilion at the 1958 World Fair and insisted (against the sponsors' resistance) on working with Varèse, who developed his Poème électronique for the venue, where it was heard by an estimated two million people.
He composed "Poeme Electronique" for use at the 1958 Worlds Fair. Using 400 speakers separated throughout a series of rooms, Varese created a sound and space installation geared towards experiencing sound as one moves through space. Received with mixed reviews, this piece challenged audience expectations and traditional means of composing, breathing life into electronic synthesis and presentation. In 1962, he was asked to join the Royal Swedish Academy, and in 1963, he received the premier Koussevitzky International Recording Award.
Varese's forays into the realm of electronic music exhibited a strong advocacy of the connection between music and science, was a pioneer in this regard. Varese, like many avant-garde composers of the era, suggested that the tonal and rhythmic production of music should reflect and imitate scientific principles, and he had a vision of new electronic music instruments which would create more varied and broader sounds than traditional instruments.
Varese possessed a radical, "ultra-modern" approach to sound and music, once stating, "I became a sort of diabolic Parsifal, searching not for the Holy Grail but the bomb that would make the musical world explode and thereby let in all sounds, sounds which up to now—and even today—have been called noises." This concept is not unlike that of American composer George Antheil. It is a serious departure from the late Romantic ideal of music as an expression of one's innermost feelings and emotions. Rather than attempting to evoke emotions through music, Varese was more concerned with the evocation of sensations through his unique and visceral use of instrumentation.
Edgard Varese challenged the musical world to accept electronic music, not only for its new sounds but for musical philosophy in general. Varese advocated opening one's mind to a limitless media of sound through a synthesizer to be reproduced by a speaker. this was truly a liberation of sound and production. Varèse's best known student is the Chinese-born composer Chou Wen-chung (b. 1923), who met Varèse in 1949, and assisted him in his later years. He became the executor of Varèse's estate following the composer's death and edited and completed a number of Varèse's works. He is professor emeritus of composition at Columbia University.
Some of Edgard Varèse's later works make use of the "Idée Fixe," a fixed theme, repeated certain times in a work. The "Idée Fixe" is generally not transposed, differentiating it from the leitmotiv, used by Richard Wagner.
All links retrieved September 25, 2017.
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