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The Mystery of Varse The Music of Edgard Varse by Jonathan W.

Bernard Review by: Paul Griffiths The Musical Times, Vol. 128, No. 1735 (Sep., 1987), pp. 493-494 Published by: Musical Times Publications Ltd. Stable URL: . Accessed: 09/01/2013 14:52
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Paul Griffiths

The Music of Edgard Varese by JonathanW. Bernard Yale UP (New Havenand London, 1987); xxiv, 272pp.; ?32.50. ISBN 0 300 03515 2 A pattern is emerging among these Yale studies of 20th-centurycomposersunder the general editorship of Allen Forte: perhaps, when a few more have been published, it will be possible to analyse them in terms of set theory. But for the moment Jonathan Bernard's book on Varese can be placed lower on the scale of systematic comprehensiveness than Pieter van den Toorn's monumentum pro Stravinsky,even while it sharesthe same urge to explain the notes in terms of a

Chou has publishedonly four editions(of and NocAmeriques,Octandre,Integrales turnal) and an article on lonisation, this Of embargois scandalous. course,it might not handicapan authorwhoseconcernwas with how Varese's music is heard and understood;but Bernardnever statesthis to be his task, and it is hard to see how it could be accomplished without some recourse psychoacoustical to studieswhich he never attempts. Instead, from his to references 'methodology', aimwould his seem to be that of elucidatinghow Varese composed,and in that casehis workstands deeply imperilledby the Chou interdict: a single scrap of paper could support or undermine his whole thesis. But perhapsnot, for Bernard'sconcern
E; cl.

tonal functions is perhaps not to be countedagainstthe integrityof the system: indeed, Bernardshows quite persuasively that many brief passagesin Varesecan be analysedin termsof the 'infolding'and 'unfolding'of trichordsin this manner.It is a neat and beguiling performance,and of course totally divorced from any evidence that the music can be aurallyinterpretedin this way, or, necessarily,that it was composedwith such connectionsin mind. However, Bernard is unable to keep himself from pushing his theory too far, to with reference one as may be illustrated of his examplesfrom a 24-page 'analysis' of Hyperprism 1). Of this he remarks (ex.
that '[1] [9] and [1] [7] ... can be regard-

[31 17] 131 [10]

group of practicesmaintainedthroughout the oeuvre. And though that task might appearto be simpler in the case of a composer who left only a dozen completed works, the smallness of the sample is, as Bernardquickly points out, a hindrance to the deriving of generalities;and there is the furtherdifficulty, if difficulty it be, that analyticforaysinto Varesehave so far explored only the edges of his supreme deserts.More than any other centralcomposer of this century,Vareseis still virgin territory. There are, it must be said at once, practical reasons why this should be so. One of Bernard's most revealing sentences comes in his third footnote, where he pointsout that ChouWen-chung,executor of the Varese estate, 'has ruled out the possibility of anyone else's gaining access to this material [all of the sketches and until he has almostall of the manuscripts] finishedhis long-planned studyof Varese's music'. When one recallsthat Varesedied 22 years ago, and that during that period

is not with Varese's technique any more than it is with any sharedresponseto the fruitsof thattechnique: concernis with his how Varese's music may be 'analysed'. Though he departsfrom Perle and from his teacher Forte, he is similarly in pursuit of the golden key, the principleor set of principles that will 'account for' the notes. What he discovers is symmetry (identical or mirroringalignments of intervals)and the trichord,this latteran intriguingpersonalvariationon the Fortean set whereby interval is more sacred than interval class. For example, the rootposition triad C - E - G would be classed

as a [4] [3] trichord, and its nearest relations would be those in which one of the pitches was inverted about another: swivellingthe major3rd under the C produces the [4] [7] trichord A flat-C-G; one similarly canderivethe [7] [3] trichord C-G-B flat and the [1] [3] trichord
C-C sharp-E, or inversions of these

E-G-G sharp). (F-C-E, E-G-D, The havoc that these operationswreakon

ed as derivatives of a [1] [8] that is not literally present. Also present, in potential only, are derivative-related [7] and [3] [3] [10]. Finally, the last two pitched events of the passageare single intervals: [13] and [11]. Their explicit isolation in this contextsuggeststhat they areto some extent independententities'. Quite clearly this will not do. If significanceis to be found in things 'not literally present' or present 'in potential only' - significance that does not extendbeyondthese few bars - then why not in the very literally present G flat major triad? Conversely, it seems absurdto judge the minor 9th and major7th as 'independententities' when they are related in such an elementary mannerand when the major 7th, in particular, is such a dominantfeatureof this score. Bernard'sobservationhere can only be 'accountedfor' in termsof methodological blinkers that keep him from seeing anything but his own symmetries and trichordfoldings.Otherwise,and if it were 493

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not in particularfor his distaste for the principle of octaveequivalence,he might have made something of the strange uncommonness of the pitch class A flat in this work: there is none until that in the example above (in bar 22), and A flat is also excluded from the work's three massivechords,until it is addedin the piccolo's trill at the very end, whereit pushes the music's pitch space out a further semitone. For similar reasons Bernard makesno comment on the prominenceof F sharp:in the flute solo, at the top of the

pesante music for horns and trombones, and in the horn - trombonesolo towards the end. And surely the newness of this last sectionowes somethingto the factthat F the emphasized sharpand C herearepitches that have not been heard before in the piece: busying himself so much with relationships,Bernardunderplaysthe importancein Vareseof the unprecedented. But he may also underplayVarese'sallusions to what was very much precedented. in For instance,an analysisof Hyperprism which the word 'march' does not appear

must give some cause for concern, especiallyin view of the author'sclaim to
have found 'techniques . . . for dealing

which with this domain[rhythm/duration] dispersesome of the mystery - not to say mystique - surroundingit'. One might rather conclude that his techniques elegantly extend the mystery begin to be dispersed when Chou's material is made public, or when more sophisticated modes of analysis are essayed.
- not to say mystique - which may only

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The Choral Music of Christopher Le Fleming is the subject of a special issue of American Choral Review(xxviii/3) which includes a survey by David FrancisUrrows and a list of works. Details from the AmericanChoralFoundation,251 South 18th Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19103, USA.







Vocal scores, instrumental and choral music, songs, books on music and musicians, miniature scores etc. Cataloguesissued, free on request. Music and books bought.

The powerfully original music of Edgard Varese (1883-1965) has been widely recognised as a major influence upon musical composition since the end of World War II. This book by Jonathan Bernard is the first comprehensive study of Varese's oeuvre. "This book will figure as an essential contribution for students of Varese and twentieth-century music." - Pieter van den Toorn Composers of the Twentieth Century
304pp. 157 musical examples ?32.50


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