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Varse: A Sketch of the Man and His Music Author(s): Chou Wen-Chung Source: The Musical Quarterly, Vol.

52, No. 2 (Apr., 1966), pp. 151-170 Published by: Oxford University Press Stable URL: Accessed: 27/01/2010 11:49
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VOL. LII, No. 2

APRIL, 1966



Edgard Varese was born in Paris on December 22, 1883. He spent his childhood in Paris as well as in Villars, a village in Burgundy, where the Cortots, his mother's family, lived. When he was nine, his father, Henri Varese,1 an engineer, moved the family to Turin, Italy. Varese fought to study music against the wishes of his father, who was preparing him for an engineering career. So he studied music and composed on his own until he was seventeen, when Giovanni Bolzoni, director of the Turin Conservatory, took an interest in him and gave him private lessons. Through Bolzoni, Varese became a percussionist in the Turin Opera and had the opportunity of suddenly substituting for the conductor, who fell ill before a performance of Rigoletto. At nineteen, after the death of his mother, Varese decided to leave his family to pursue his musical studies without interference. He returned to Paris and studied first with Vincent d'Indy and Albert Roussel at the Schola Cantorum and then with Charles Widor at the Conservatoire. Having parted ways with his tyrannical father, he now
'Born in Pignerol (Pinerolo), a city near Turin, in the Piedmont, sometimes French. ?oCopyright, 1966, by G. Schirmer, Inc.


Copyright (

1966 by Thomas Bouchard

Edgard Varese, 1965


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resented the unyielding conservatism of d'Indy and Faure, then director of the Conservatoire, and fought against it. Again to pursue his own development without interference, he left both schools in quick succession. Although Varese received the "Premiere Bourse artistique de la ville de Paris" in 1907 at the recommendation of Massenet and Widor, during the four years as a student in Paris only his studies of the music of medieval, Renaissance, and early Baroque masters with Charles Bordes at the Schola made an impact on him. He founded and trained choruses for the performance of this music almost throughout his life. While still a student at the Conservatoire, he founded in 1906 the Choeur de l'Universite Populaire. Later in Berlin, in 1909, he founded the Symphonischer Chor, with which he took part in some of Max Reinhardt's productions. A young rebel in Paris, Varese struck Romain Rolland as a prototype of Jean-Christophe. Writing to a friend about Varese with great enthusiasm, he said: "But I have not yet told you the fact that is most amusing in my acquaintance with this Varese: he is writing a Gargantua (symphonic poem). And, at this very moment, Jean-Christophe is writing one! To say, then, that my book is a 'novel'! My book is not a novel. Jean-Christophe actually exists."2 Varese was befriended by poets, artists, and composers, particularly Debussy, who said to him: "You have a right to compose what you want to, in the way you want to, if the music comes out and is your own. Your music does come out and is yours."3 Disappointed with the musical climate in Paris, Varese left for Berlin in the winter of 1907. There he became a protege of Richard Strauss, Karl Muck, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and especially Ferruccio Busoni, whose stimulating mind helped to crystallize his own revolutionary ideas. Varese's first major performance came at Strauss's insistence when Josef Stransky conducted his Bourgogne with the Bliithner Orchestra in Berlin on December 15, 1910. His initial success as a conductor took place on January 4, 1914, when he gave the first performance in concert form of Le Martyre de Saint-Sebastien with the Czech Philharmonic in Prague. This program, consisting entirely of contemporary French music, was to be the first of a concert tour in the principal cities of Europe, introducing Varese as a conductor of new music. But the outbreak of World War I obliterated in one stroke his rising career in Europe.
2Letter to Sofia Bertholini,Jan. 24, 1909. 3Edgard Varese, TheDebussy IKnew, in FM Listener'sGuidc, November 1962.

Variese: A Sketch of the Man and His Music


On the eve of 1916, having served in the French Army and been discharged because of ill health, Varese arrived in America. The very word, America, had meant to him since childhood "all discoveries, all adventures. . .the Unknown." And in this symbolical sense, "new worlds on this planet, in outer space, and in the minds of man,"4 Varese gave the first work hewroteinthe New World the title Ameriques. In New York, at the Hippodrome, on the night of Palm Sunday, April 1, 1917, Varese conducted a performance of Berlioz's Requiem, "as a memorial for the fallen of all nations," with 300 voices of the Scranton Oratorio Society and an orchestra of 150. This event, which brought him immediate recognition as a conductor in this country, was sponsored by such names as the Guggenheims, the Lewisohns, the Morgenthaus, the Pulitzers, the Vanderbilts, the Whitneys, as well as prominent names from the musical establishment. He was then the lionized young maestro, who could have had continued success if he had only been willing to accede to the taste and whims of the time. But Varese had come to the New World to seek a new world of music. Instead of catering to old habits, he chose to champion new music. In the spring of 1919, the New Symphony Orchestra was founded especially for Varese. On the program for the opening concerts at Carnegie Hall, on April 11 and 12, only one familiar composer was represented-Bach.5 The rest of the program was devoted to first New York performances of Bart6k's Deux Images, Alfredo Casella's Votte di Maggio, Debussy's Gigue, and Gabriel Dupont's Le Chant de la of less than a decade's vintage, except the last, which Destinee-works was somewhat older. Though the orchestra was founded for the express purpose of introducing new music, this obviously was more than could be tolerated. The program, incomprehensible to most of the critics and the audience, brought Varese the first barrage of the ridicule and insult that were to become a constant accompaniment to his lifelong endeavor in behalf of new music. Refusing the request of the board to change his announced programs for the season, Varese resigned. Artur Bodanzky took over and finished the season with the accepted formula of the time: Berlioz, Brahms, and Wagner. The
4Notes on Am riques. 5The "sonata" from the cantata Der Himmel lac/zt, die Erde juhiliret. It was the orchestra's policy, as established by Varese, to present in each program an unfamiliar old score along with previously unheardnew works.


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orchestra soon died a natural death, being the third orchestra in New York presenting the same repertory. Two years later, on May 31, 1921, Varese founded the International Composers' Guild with a manifesto stating:
The composer is the only one of the creators of today who is denied direct contact with the public. When his work is done he is thrust aside, and the interpreterenters, not to try to understand the composition but impertinentlyto judge it. Not finding in it any trace of the conventions to which he is accustomed, he banishes it from his programs, denouncing it as incoherentand unintelligible...It is true that in response to public demand, our official organizations occasionally place on their programs a new work surroundedby establishednames. But such a work is carefully chosen from the most timid and anaemic of contemporaryproduction,leaving absolutely unheard the composers who representthe true spiritof our time . .The aim of the International Composers' Guild is to centralizethe works of the day, to group them in programs intelligently and organically constructed, and, with the disinterestedhelp of singers and instrumentalists,to present these works in such a way as to reveal their fundamentalspirit...

During the Guild's six years of existence, Varese, as its chairman, with the active assistance of Carlos Salzedo, was responsible for the world or American premieres of works by such composers as Bartok, Berg, Casella, Chavez, Cowell, Honegger, Hindemith, Kodaly, Krenek, Malipiero, Miaskovsky, Milhaud, McPhee, Ornstein, Poulenc, Ravel, Respighi, Rieti, Rudhyar, Ruggles, Satie, Florent Schmitt, Schoenberg, Still, Stravinsky, Szymanowski, Vaughan Williams, Webern, and Wellesz.6 Many of these also served on the Guild's advisory committee during various seasons. Performances were given by such conductors and performers as Claudio Arrau, Georges Enesco, Eva Gautier, Eugene Goossens, Arthur Hartmann, Otto Klemperer, Nina Koshetz, Fritz Reiner, Artur Rodzinski, E. Robert Schmitz, Leopold Stokowski, and the Letz Quartet. Not satisfied with a Guild in America alone, Varese formed with Busoni the Internationale Komponisten-Gilde in Berlin in 1922. An affiliation was also established with the Collective of Composers in Moscow in the same year through Arthur Lourie. The next year, Casella's Corporazione delle nuove Musiche was also affiliated with the Guild. Efforts were made to organize branches in other European countries as well. But such idealistic and far-sighted activities as the
6Among the world premiires were Ruggles's Angels, Men and Mountains, Portals, and Vox Clamans in Deserto; and Varese's own Offrandes,Hyperprism, Octandre,and Integrales. The American premieresincludedBart6k's StringQuartetNo. 2; Berg's Kammerkonzert,Hindemith's Kammermusik No. 3; Schoenberg's Pierrot lunaire and Serenade;Stravinsky's Les Noces and Renard;and Webern'sFMinf Satzefor string quartetand Fanf GeistlicheLieder.

Varese: A Sketch of the Man and His Music


Guild's could not endure, certainly not in the twenties. The rising trend in the "official. organizations" towards focusing attention on works "carefully chosen from the most timid and anaemic of contemporary production" brought the Guild to a halt in 1927. Undaunted, the very next year Varese founded another organization, the Pan-American Association of Composers, to promote performances of works by composers of North, South, and Central America. With the collaboration of Carlos Chavez, Charles Ives, Colin McPhee, Wallingford Riegger, Carlos Salzedo, Adolph Weiss, and particularly Henry Cowell and Nicolas Slonimsky, the Association gave concerts not only in the United States and Latin America but also in Europe throughout the thirties. It should be noted here that Varese was not only vitally involved with new music of his own time but also actively interested in reviving "new music" of past eras. In 1937 Varese founded a Schola Cantorum in Santa Fe. In 1941 he founded the New Chorus in New York, later re-named the Greater New York Chorus. All were devoted to composers unfamiliar to the public at that time, such as Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Alessandro Grandi, Andreas Hammerschmidt, Monteverdi, Perotin, Pierre de la Rue, Heinrich Schiitz, and Lodovico Viadana. It was not until the early fifties, when he finally could devote himself to electronic music, that Varese stopped giving these choral performances. That Varese's beliefs transcended all boundaries, that he was a staunch champion for the individual, was further evinced by statements he made shortly after his arrival in the New World. Two years before he put his ideas into practice, he wrote the New York Times on March 20, 1919: I shouldliketo propose a League of Nationsin Art. It needsno covenants, no drafts, no machineryto causedebateamong politicians. no high court of arbitration, It of the world.. .Onlyby a freeexchangeof would exist solely in the mentalattitude to another...In art, art-music, literature, painting-can one peoplebe interpreted as well as in politics,we have beenjarredout of our traditional isolation.And the theemulation, the competition resultwill be good. Thecontact, will spur us to greater the freerminglingof nationalcharacteristics .What a combination accomplishment.. in artwouldgive!Whatbeautyand strength! And in the Guild's manifesto, he set forth a credo to which he remained faithful till the very end of his life, in declaring that it "disapproves of all 'isms'; denies the existence of schools; recognizes only the individual."


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Because of his interest in percussion and his acquaintance with Marinetti and Russolo, Varise was referred to on occasion as a Futurist; but his ideas on the use of sounds and noises in music are entirely opposed to those of the Futurists. He once said: "The Futurists believed in reproducing sounds literally; I believe in the metamorphosis of sounds into music." Again, because of his friendship with Duchamp, Picabia, and Tzara, Varese was regarded on other occasions as a Dadaist. His answer was: "I was not interested in tearing-down but in finding new means.. .Unlike the Dadaists I was not an iconoclast."7 He called neo-Classicism "one of the most deplorable trends of music today-the impotent return to the formulas of the past."8 As for the twelve-tone system, he once commented:
It is important in the same way that Cubism is important in the history of the fine arts. Both came at a moment when the need for a strict discipline was felt in the two if one disagrees with the premises of Schoenberg's new method, one arts...Even must admit that there was a pressing need for a discipline that would bring music back to its own domain, the domain of sound.. .But we must not forget that neither Cubism nor Schoenberg's liberating system is supposed to limit art or to replace one are media and not finalities.. .Good works academic formula with another...[They] are not the result of favorable circumstances, new devices, exploitation of new formulas; they are produced often in spite of them.9

On the other hand, in the application of the system by Webern-one composer of our time he truly admired-he found "remarkable possibilities of expansion, new points of departure."1' Speaking of electronic music, he said recently: "[We] must not expect our electronic devices to compose for us. Good music and bad music will be composed by electronic means, just as good and bad music have been composed for instruments. The computing machine is a marvelous invention and seems almost superhuman. But, in reality, it is as limited as the mind of the individual who feeds it material."" Asked about improvisation and aleatory music, he answered: "[It]is so accidental that I can't see the necessity for a composer!"12
7Letter to Thomas H. Greer,Aug. 14, 1965.
8 Lecture

given at University of SouthernCalifornia,Ios Angeles, 1939. Lecture given at Coluliibia University, 1948.

"Ibhid. Lecture given at Yale University, 1962. " GuntherSchuller, Conversation with Varcse, in Perspectivesol'New Music, Spring-Summer, 1965.

Varise: A Sketch of the Man and His Music


Throughout his career of over half a century, Varese was steadfast in recognizing only the individual and disapproving of all systems. While Varise never seemed to have hesitated to employ any known structural means - from a triad to serial technique - if they happened to serve his purpose, his music is essentially "not based on any fixed set of intervals such as a scale, a series, or any existing principle of musical measurement."13 His lifelong struggle for the "liberation of sound" and for the recognition of"sound as living matter" led him to call his music "organized sound" and himself "a worker in rhythms, frequencies, and intensities." In a lecture given in 1936, he predicted:
When new instruments will allow me to write music as I conceive it.. .the movement of sound-masses, of shifting planes, will be clearly perceived. When these soundmasses collide the phenomena of penetration or repulsion will seem to occur. Certain transmutations taking place on certain planes will seem to be projected onto other the moving masses planes, moving at different speeds and at different angles...In be of their when over will conscious transmutations different layers, you they pass when they penetrate certain opacities, or are dilated in certain rarefactions.14

These are not merely words of prophecy but could and should be used in discussing Varese's extant compositions for conventional instruments: Ameriques (1918-22), Offrandes (1921), Hyperprism (1922), Octandre (1923), Integrales (1924), Arcana (1925-27), lonisation (1930-31), Ecuatorial (1933-34), Density 21.5 (1936), and the instrumental sections of Deserts (1949-54

As for how these sound-masses emerge and are organized, Varese was fond of citing the phenomenon of crystallization16 as an analogy, explaining: "There is an idea, the basis of an internal structure, expanded and split into different shapes or groups of sound constantly changing in shape, direction, and speed, attracted and repulsed by various forces. The form of the work is the consequence of this inter13 Program notes for Deserts. '4Iecture given at Mary Austin House, Santa Fe, 1936. 5For the scores whose dates of completion are not known, only the year (or years) during which they were begun and most likely completedis assigned.

'6Varise quoted Nathaniel Arbiter, professor of minerology at Columbia University, as saying: "The internal structureis based on the unit of crystal which is the smallest grouping of the atoms that has the order and composition of the substance. The extension of the unit into space forms the whole crystal. ..Crystal form is the consequence of the interactionof attractive and repulsiveforces and the orderedpacking of the atom."


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action.""7 Skepticism usually followed such remarks by Varese. But let us briefly examine his music in the light of his In Integrales, for example, the idea, stated in its entirety for the first time by the C trumpet in measure 10 (Ex. la), represents the expanding plane throughout the first section marked Andantino. This idea is first split into two groups of intervallic content (Ex. lb: I, II) which
Ex. la.

( J = 72)
10 avec sourd.


b. Idea


(Cf. measure


(In each group the intervallic content as defined by the pitches given is statable in any vertical permutation or linear ordering.)

form the two distinct layers of sound-masses- not counting the independent but coordinated sound-masses of the percussion instruments heard repeatedly throughout this section. These two sound-masses (Ex. 2), at a distance of two octaves and a major second and with
Ex. 2 (J = 72)
JPicc. 5P Cl.


t~~~~ f



sc f

s Sf

(avec sourd.),g-

f morendo


(Percussion parts omitted)

7 Lecture given at Princeton University, 1959. "8The following paragraphs are only intended to demonstrate the meaning of Varese's terminology as applied to the specific examples cited. They do not purport to be an exposition of his compositional procedure. The examples from Integrales are ? 1926, those from Deserts ? 1959, by Franco Colombo, Inc., New York, and are reprinted by permission of the publisher.

Varese: A Sketch of the Man and His Music


independent dynamic organizations, are stated by the two piccolos and the Bb clarinet (A-B-Eb), and by the three trombones (C-Ct-E). At measure 25, a transmutation (an inversion in this case) of the second group, stated by the Eb clarinetand the two trumpets(Db-E-F), suddenly activates three versions of a thirdgroup (Ex. lb: III), which emerge and collide with each other in quick succession, in mm. 26-29, encompassing almost the entire available instrumentalrange (Ex. 3).
Ex. 3 (J= 72)
Picc. 25 . P1ccj^O. 26 III Pic

8va - ->

---Sf PicC 27



b s COb. III I

(avec so.l








(avec sourd.) f

The middle one, stated by the Eb clarinet, the oboe, and the horn (Db-D-Eb), emerges out of the transmuted second group and is then interlockedwith it (Db being the pivot), while the two outer layers, represented as before by the two piccolos and the Bb clarinet (F$-G-G~) and by the three trombones (A-Bb-B), expand upwards and downwards respectively. Sound-masses shaped out of a fourth and a fifth group19 (Ex. lb: IV, V) as well as the third group then collide repeatedly throughout the next section, marked Moderato, creatingconstant phenomena of penetrationand repulsion with a varying degree in tension. This sensation of changing tension is caused by the fact that the same pitches emerge from the collisions each time with a differentspeed, thus forming a different angle in the time-spacerelationship (Ex. 4).
Each of these new groups also represents a semitonal expansion or contraction of a previous group. As Ex. lb shows, the th in IV is an expansion of the major 3rd in I; the major 2nd in V is a contraction of the minor 3rd in II and an expansion of the minor 2nd in III.

Ex. 4 (J = 60)

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1 . A?

? V



381 {' r

I--- -

S Ofif



u(avec' ou'
(,ouvert (avec sour)..'.'.

" ' 4' ' - 't

. r

?f"^^Ptsr4 .4
B.Trb 'e-.

7 SOUrd?)JC~jf~te~t~f~ -^, ^^^j'^^ k



Cb.Trb. f) omV (sans sourd.)


4 _


parts omitted)

Again, at the opening of Deserts the major ninths (F-G, D-E), separated by a minor ninth, represent the contours of the two layers of sound-masses. At measure 7 both ninths are split open by the insertion of the middle pitches (C, A), causing each to form a pair of superimposed fifths (Ex. 5). Then, by expanding the cycles of fifths towards
Ex. 5 FIs. >,



Variese:A Sketch of the Man and His Music


each other, penetration occurs for the first time in m. 14. By exchanging the two new pitches (Bb, B), a transmuted organization of the sound-masses gradually emerges as the superimposition of a fifth and a tritone, becoming manifest by m. 21 (Ex. 6). This new organization
Ex. 6 ( J = 92)
F1. 3-

Picc. >



Trbs. (sord.)


Tb .

continues to expand, bringing about new pitches and new permutations of itself through m. 40. The same process takes place again in the next two measures, when two pairs of superimposed fourths interact with each other, causing another transmutation20 to emerge as tlle superimposition of a fourth and a minor sixth. Further interaction then brings about a merging of the two sound-masses through symmetrical expansion bexpand,and tritones (Ex. 7). This continual process of expansion, penetration, interaction, and transmutation accounts for the immense sense of growing organism in the entire score, and illustrates Varese's concept of "sound as living matter." Of course, this growth of sound in space is by no means the result of pitch organization alone, the only aspect discussed here, but the consequence of interaction among all properties of sound, as Varese stated. A close examination of both scores with particular attention to timbre, spacing, dynamics, attack and release will bear out this point. In this light, we should realize that Ionisation is a classic not for the commonly held reason-the first serious work for percussion only -but because it demonstrates that Varese's concept is successfully
20As in the case of Integrales, these transmutations again possess the quality of being a semitonal expansion or contraction of each other: 5th + 5th, tritone + 5th, 4th + minor 6th, and later major 3rd + major 6th (see m. 54).

Ex. 7 J= 92 Piccs. C-

Copyright '( 19bb by 'lhomas Bouchard

Varese's studio as he left it

Iouise and Edgard Varese. 1965

Copyright ? 1966 by Diane Bouchard

Varese's diagram for Poeme electroniqule

Varese: A Sketch of the Man and His Music


applicable even when no definite pitches are present, the supreme test for his goal of liberating sound. In the same light, we should also realize that sound-masses, projection, and interaction occur in Density 21.5 for flute alone, even though it may appear to be linear on the printed page. Clearly then, Varese opened up new horizons not in the fifties with his electronic works but in the twenties with his works for conventional instruments, anticipating today's new developments by over a quarter of a century. These instrumental works of his are not merely "electronic" in sound, as has been pointed out, but more significantly, "electronic" in concept. Yet, until it became fashionable to "discover" him again in recent years, this feat won for him only abuse and ridicule, culminating in almost total neglect for over ten years. Ironically, it was the death of a critic that brought back his music to the attention of the public, when Hyperprism was performed at a concert in memory of Paul Rosenfeld, an early admirer, on January 23, 1949. Still today Varese is accorded such dubious honors as being called "pioneer" and "precursor," to which he used to retort that "while giving a man credit for a past, they minimize his present and deny him a future." To the many critics who branded his works "experiments" he said:
Of course, like all composers who have something new to say, I experiment,and have always experimented.But when I finally presenta work it is not an experiment - it is a finished product. My experimentsgo into the wastepaper basket. People are too apt to forget that in the long chain of tradition each link has been forged by a of a previous period.21 revolutionary,a pioneer, an experimenter

A glaring example of the fact that a lack of comprehension still persists can be found in the Sunday article on Varese, shortly after his death on November 6, 1965, by the New York Times's music critic, summing him up as "a sort of latter-day Satie."22 Varese's output is said to be small and seemingly out of proportion to his importance. But should we not pause to ponder the reasons: loss of all his early works; his uncompromising commitment to quality; the quest for new media? When World War I broke out, he had practically completed his opera, Oedipus und die Sphynx, in collabora21Letter to JohnEdmunds, May3, 1957.
22Harold C. Schonberg,Maverick, Revolutionary, and Father to a Generation,in New York Times, Nov. 14, 1965.


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tion with Hugo von Hofmannsthal. By that time, he had already composed eight works for orchestra: Trois pieces, La Chanson des jeunes hormmes, Prelude a la fin d'un jour, Rhapsodie romane,23 Bourgogne, Gargantua (incomplete), Mehr Lic/t,24 and Les Cycles du Nord.25 All but two were lost in a warehouse fire in Berlin shortly after the war. The manuscript of the Prelude it la fin d'un jour was in the hands of Leon Deubel, whose poem inspired the composition, and was lost after Deubel's suicide. The manuscript of Bourgogne was destroyed not too many years ago by Varese himself in a fit of rage and depression. He said: "With Ameriques I began to write my own music, and I wish to live (or die) by my later works."26 Varese was said to have stopped composing for over ten years after Density 21.5 of 1936. On the contrary, he continued to work, but so preoccupied was he with the need for new media that could keep up with his musical ideas that he never completed any of the projects he worked on. Such compositions as Espace, for orchestra and chorus, and Astronomer, a stage work, reflected Varese's prophetic mind and fertile imagination in their conception, and required yet unknown electronic means for their realization. When his dream of half a century finally became a reality, he triumphantly brought forth Deserts, Verges, and Poeme electronique, fruits of those eloquent years of silence. But what cruelly tortured times Varese endured! It is to his wife, Louise Varese,27 in every way a magnificent partner, without whom Varese would not have had the strength to survive those years, that we owe the existence of these works. Varese's need for new media was first aroused when he was hardly fifteen. Having learned about the great Zambezi River, he imagined its turbulent crosscurrents, drifting debris, and pulsating life, and dreamed of transplanting such interpenetrating movements into the realm of sound. Later he was stimulated by Hoene Wronsky's28 definition of
2 Varese wanted to projectin this work the concept of Inspired by Romanesquearchitecture; controlledgravitation and the use of opposing but mutually stabilizing stresses. 24The sonority in this work grows more and more luminous as it progresses. 25 Inspiredby the phenomenonof the aurora borealis. Notes on Ameriques. 26 27Adistinguishedtranslatorof Frenchpoetry. 28Hoene Wronsky (1778-1853), also known as Joseph Marie Wronsky, was a Polish philosopher and mathematician, known for his system of Messianism. Camille Durutte (1803-81), in his Technie Harmonique (1876), a treatise on "musical mathematics,"quoted extensively from the writingsof Wronsky.

Varese: A Sketch of the Man and His Music


music as "the corporealization of the intelligence that is in sounds." He studied Helmholtz's Lehre von den Tonenmpfindungen, and experimented with sirens and whistles. He began to think of music "as spatial -as bodies of intelligent sounds moving freely in space," and "the idea of liberating music from the tempered system, from the limitations of musical instruments and from years of bad habits."29 Another milestone was Busoni's remarkable book, Entwurf einer neuen Asthetik der Tonkunst. Varese was struck with the statement, "Music is born free; and to win freedom is its destiny," which to him was like an echo of his own thought. In the late spring of 1913, Varese met Rene Bertrand, inventor of the Dynaphone, with whom he later learned about the possibilities of electronics as a musical medium. As early as 1916, Varese was quoted in the New York Morning Telegraph as saying: "Our musical alphabet must be enriched. We also need new instruments very badly...In my own works I have always felttheneed of new mediums of expression... which can lend themselves to every expression of thought and can keep up with thought." And in the Christian Science Monitor, in 1922: "The composer and the electrician will have to labor together to get it." In 1927, Varese began seriously discussing with Harvey Fletcher, then Acoustical Research Director of the Bell Telephone Laboratories, the possibilities of developing an electronic instrument for composing. From 1932 through 1936, with Fletcher's recommendation Varese repeatedly applied for a Guggenheim Fellowship for the following proposed studies:
With Rene Bertrand, to pursue work on an instrumentfor the producing of new sounds. To inspect other new inventions in certain laboratories in order to discover if any of them could serve my new sound conceptions. To submit to the technicians of differentorganizations my ideas in regard to the contributionwhich music- mine at least-looks for from science, and to prove to them the necessity of closer collaboration betweencomposer and scientist.

He was rejected each time. He then tried in vain to work at the sound studios in Hollywood. But a deaf ear was turned to him everywhere. He could only make some very modest experiments with phonograph turntables by using motors of different speeds that could be operated simultaneously, as well as by running the records backward. And Theremin built two instruments to his specifications for Ecuatorial3?
Lecture 29 given at Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, 1959. 30Inthe publishedscore, two Martinotsare specifiedinstead of the Theremins.


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with fingerboard control and an upward range to an octave and a fifth above the highest C of the piano. In spite of the apathy shown him during those years, Varese took another step towards the future by working, on and off, on what may be called a sound montage in space, Espace, to be simultaneously broadcast from various points of the world-"Voices in the sky, filling all each other, splitting up, space, crisscrossing, overlapping, penetrating superimposing, repulsing each other, colliding, crashing together"and then re-synthesized for the audience. Some of his ideas for Espace finally found their way into Deserts and Poeme electronique. When at last Varese was given a chance to compose electronically, it came from friends. Through the good offices of the painter Alcopley, an Ampex model 401A tape recorder and accessories were presented anonymously to Varese, making it possible for him to start on the three interpolations of "electronically organized sound" that alternate with the instrumental sections of Deserts. The idea was broached in the fall of 1952, and the equipment was installed on March 22, 1953. It was not until a year later that an institution approached him, when Pierre Schaeffer invited him to complete his work at the Studio d'Essai of the Radiodiffusion Franqaise. Again, it was solely due to the insistence of an admirer, Le Corbusier, that Varese was able to compose Poeme electronique at the Philips Laboratories in Eindhoven, Holland. Poeme electronique (1957-58) is the musical part of a "spectacle of sound and light," presented during the Brussels World's Fair of 1958 in the pavilion designed for Philips by Le Corbusier. The third Varese electronic work is still generally unknown. Again it owes its existence to an old friend, Thomas Bouchard, for whose film, Around and About Joan Mird, Varese composed this music in 1956, to accompany the sequence on the Good Friday procession in Verges. After Deserts and Poeme electronique, tributes and awards came his way. While it was gratifying for a septuagenarian to know that time had finally caught up with him, such honors were meaningless-too little and too late. By then, Varese was more than ever in need of a laboratory, to be equipped to his own specifications, in order to realize his still-unexplored ideas. His renown notwithstanding, Varese again had to turn from one institution to another. No laboratory or equipment ever materialized.31 This writer remembers vividly the words
31Atthe invitation of Vladimir Ussachevsky, Varise revisedthe first and the last of the interElectronicMusic Centerin 1961, with the techpolations for Deserts at the Columbia-Princeton nical assistanceof BiilentArel.

Varese: A Sketch of the Man and His Music


Varese said often in the last few years: "I don't want to die without a laboratory!" Once during a lecture given towards the end of the last war, in speaking about the effects of the Thirty Years'War on German music of that time, Varese said: "I only hope that out of a similar inferno now raging in Europe will come a spiritual and esthetic Renaissance so much needed today. I dare believe it will. I look forward to a complete revision of values and a restoration of the things of quality to the now usurped high place that is rightfully theirs."32 This has come to pass. And one of the "things of quality" restored to their rightful place is Varese himself. His own "renaissance" came after the end of World War II. The 1949 performance of Hyperprism, with Frederic Waldman conducting, was followed immediately by a rising number of performances here and abroad. A year later, Jack Skurnick33made an EMS recording of Octandre, Integrales, Ionisation, and Density 21.5, again with Waldman conducting. This was the first record to focus attention on Varese. In the summer of 1948 Otto Luening had invited him to give a seminar in composition at Columbia University during its summer session. This brief tenure at an academic institution, Varese's only one, was followed by an increasing contact with new generations of composers. Two summers later, in 1950, Wolfgang Steinecke invited him to lecture at the Kranichsteiner Musikinstitut's Internationale Ferienkurse fiir Neue Alusik in Darmstadt. This brought about a profound influence of Varese on the post-war generation of European composers. In the spring of 1949 this writer, soon after his arrival in New York, became a pupil of Varese.34 Thereafter more and more young composers from all over the world sought him and paid homage to him. Ever true to his credo, Varese never formulated an "ism" or founded a school. But more than anyone else in our time, his influence on
32Lecture given at Piux X School of LiturgicalMusic, Manhattanville College, Purchase, N.Y., 1944( ?). 33Skurnickbecame an admirer of Varese's music through Arthur Szathmary, professor of philosophy at PrincetonUniversity and a friendof Thomas Bouchard. 34From 1949 to 1953. In addition to waiving tuition, he offered friendship and hospitality, saying that he was only passing on a tradition from which he himself benefitedas a young man. Other composers who studied with him at any length are: Andre Jolivet, Colin McPhee, Ernst Schoen, William Grant Still, Marc Wilkinson. In the past decade and a half, of course, numerous young composers showed their scores to Varese and received his ever warm and understandingencouragement.


The Musical Quarterly

the younger generations of composers is a fundamental one. It is so vast that many of us are not even conscious of it while others still refuse to admit or are reluctant to acknowledge it. The true impact of his influence is yet to be felt. Varese loved the young, and generously gave of his enthusiasm and encouragement. Practically to the very last day of his life, even while worrying about not having enough time to compose, he was going to performances of one fledgling composer after another, serving on the advisory board of one new group after another. Remembering his own fight for the "right to make music with any sound and all sounds,"35 he lent his name and gave his time to nearly all who came to him. But this by no means implied indiscriminate approval for all. He was only helping the young to gain the same "right" that he himself fought for all his life. It was perhaps not without significance that when discussing Debussy and Schoenberg as "the two great revolutionaries of the beginning of our century, breaking away from the peremptory formulas of the 19th century and producing works which have fundamentally influenced Western music," Varese said: "Debussy even deplored his influence and, irritated by his fanatical copyists, once said to me: 'The Debussyists disgust me with my own music.' Schoenberg on the other hand, being a born pedagogue, enjoyed his mission as teacher and chef d'ecole."36 A chef d'ecole Varese was not. At the age of eighty-one, in one of his last interviews he was still saying: "To me, working with electronic music is composing with living sounds.. .I think of musical space as open rather than bounded."37 To think of sound as "living" and musical space as "open" was all that he taught. It was half a century ago that Varese wrote:
Music which should pulsate with life, needs new means of expression, and science alone can infuse it withyouthful vigor. I dream of instrumentsobedient to my thought and which with their contribution of a whole new world of unsuspectedsounds, will lend themselves to the exigencies of my inner rhythm.38

His dream is now our reality.

Lecture 35 given at PrincetonUniversity, 1959. Lecture given at StedelijkMuseum,Amsterdam,1957.


3'Gunther Schuller,loc. cit.

3391, No. 5, June 1917, New York;translatedfrom the French by Louise Varese.

Varese: A Sketch of the Man and His Music CHRONOLOGICAL LIST OF WORKS LostWorks


Troispieces for orchestra, 1905(?). La Chanson des jeunes hommes for orchestra, 1905. Le Prlude a la fin d'unjour for orchestra, 1905. Rhapsodie romane for orchestra, 1906. A piano version was performedat a Renovation esthetiqueconcertin Paris in 1906( ?). Bourgogne for orchestra, 1907-08. First performanceDec. 15, 1910, Berlin; Bliithner Orchestra,cond. Josef Stransky. Gargantuafor orchestra(incomplete), 1909. Mehr Lichtfor orchestra, 1911(?). Les Cycles du Nord for orchestra, 1912(?). Oedipus und die Sphynx, opera (incomplete), text by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, 1908-14. PublishedWorks Ameriques for orchestra, 1918-22. First performance April 9, 1926, Philadelphia; PhiladelphiaOrchestra,cond. Leopold Stokowski. Offrandesfor soprano voice, piccolo, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, strings, harp, and percussion; text: Chanson de La-haut by Vincente Huidobro and La Croix du sud by Jose Juan Tablada; 1921. First performance April 23, 1922, New York; International Composers' Guild, Nina Koshetz, soprano, cond. Carlos Salzedo. Hyperprism for flute (piccolo), Eb clarinet, 3 horns, 2 trumpets, tenor trombone, bass trombone, and percussion, 1922. First performance March 4, 1923, New York; InternationalComposers' Guild, cond. the composer. Octandrefor flute (piccolo), clarinet(Eb clarinet), oboe, bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, double bass, 1923. First performance Jan. 13, 1924, New York; International Composers' Guild, cond. E. Robert Schmitz. Integrales for 2 piccolos, oboe, Eb clarinet,clarinet,horn, 2 trumpets, tenor trombone, bass trombone, contrabass trombone, and percussion (4 players), 1924. First performance March 1, 1925, New York; International Composers' Guild, cond. LeopoldStokowski. Arcana for orchestra, 1925-27. First performanceApril 8, 1927, Philadelphia;Philadelphia Orchestra,cond. Leopold Stokowski. Ionisation for percussion ensembleof 13 players, 1930-31. FirstperformanceMarch 6, Associationof Composers,cond. Nicolas Slonimsky. 1933, New York;Pan-American Ecuatorial for bass voice (chorus of bass voices in revised version), 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, piano, organ, 2 Theremins (2 Martinots in revised version), percussion (6 players); text from the sacred book of the Maya Quiche, the Popul Vuh (Spanish transl. by Father Jimines); 1933-34. First performanceApril 15, 1934, New York; Pan-AmericanAssociation of Composers, Chase Baromeo, bass, cond. Nicolas Slonimsky. Density 21.5 for flute alone, 1936. First performance Feb. 16, 1936, New York; Georges Barrere.


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Etudepour Espace for chorus, 2 pianos, and percussion (6 players); text chosen from poems in various languages by the composer; 1947. First performanceApril 20, 1947, New York; The New Music Society, cond. the composer. Deserts for 2 flutes (piccolos), 2 clarinets (Eb clarinet and bass clarinet), 2 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, bass tuba, contrabass tuba, piano, percussion (5 players), and 3 interpolations of electronically organized sound, 1949-54. First performance Dec. 2, 1954, Paris; Orchestre National, cond. Hermann Scherchen. Good Friday Procession in Verges, electronically organized sound composed in 1956 for Thomas Bouchard's film, Around and About Joan Mirb. Poeme lectronique, recorded on 3 magnetic tapes, distributedby 425 loudspeakers with 20 amplifier combinations, 1957-58. FirstperformancePhilips Pavilion, Brussels World's Fair, May-October,1958. Nocturnal for soprano, chorus of bass voices, piccolo, flute (piccolo), oboe, Eb clarinet, clarinet, bassoon, horn, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, strings, piano, and percussion (5 players); text from House of Incest by Anais Nin; 1960-61 (unfinished). First performanceMay 1, 1961, New York; Composers' Showcase, Donna Precht, soprano, cond. RobertCraft. Works Projected Afterthe Completionof Deserts Dans la nuit, poem by Henri Michaux. Nuit (Nocturnal II), words by Anais Nin.