Electronic Music Pioneer Varese

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Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Varese was an electronic music pioneer who made significant contributions to the genre. He is best known for his work on the Theremin.

Varèse’s Life

Edgar Varèse was born in Paris in 1883. He moved to the United States in 1915 and became a naturalized citizen in 1923. Varèse was a major pioneer in the development of electronic music. He is also credited with creating the first truly integrated circuit.

Early life and musical training

Edgard Victor Achille Charles Varèse was born on December 15, 1883, in Paris to a French father and an Italian mother. He began piano lessons at an early age, and by his teens was already skilled in several instruments, including the violin, cello, and flute. He studied at the Paris Conservatory from 1900 to 1904, but was ultimately dissatisfied with the conservative approach to music education there. He left the Conservatory without completing his studies, and spent the next few years experimenting with new musical ideas and compositional techniques.

In 1907, he moved to New York City, where he would live for the rest of his life. There he continued to experiment with music, both as a performer and as a composer. His early works showed the influence of both European classical music and popular American styles such as ragtime and jazz. From the 1920s onward, however, he increasingly developed his own unique style of composition, which came to be known as “organicism.” This style emphasized organic growth and development in a piece of music, rather than following a pre-determined where each note is carefully planned in advance.

Varèse’s music was not always well-received by critics or audiences in his lifetime. His experimental approach often made it difficult for people to understand or appreciate his work. Nevertheless, he remained true to his own musical vision throughout his career, and today is widely recognized as one of the most important pioneers of electronic music.

First musical compositions

First musical compositions

Edgard Varèse’s first musical compositions date from 1916. He had recently moved to New York City from his native France, and he composed two short works for solo piano: “Density 21.5” and “Offrandes”. These pieces were greatly influenced by the music of Claude Debussy and Richard Strauss, both of whom were important musical figures in early 20th-century France.

“Density 21.5” is a particularly famous work; it is written for solo flute and is just over one minute in length. The piece is named for the density of its sound, which was created by Varèse using multiple layers of flutes playing at different speeds. “Offrandes” is a much more subdued work; it was written as a gift for Varèse’s wife, and it reflects the couple’s shared love of nature.

Both “Density 21.5” and “Offrandes” are examples of what would come to be known as “absolute music”; that is, music that exists for its own sake, without any reference to external factors (such as a story or a scene). This approach to composition would become increasingly important to Varèse as his career progressed.

Move to the United States

In 1915, Varèse emigrated to the United States, where he became a naturalized citizen in 1923. While in New York City he met Charles Ives, Edgar Varèse’s only real friend and collaborator during his years in America. Ives introduced Varèse to many American artists and composers, including Henry Cowell and George Antheil. In 1916, Varèse wrote his first major work for orchestra entitled “Density 21.5”. This work was inspired by Octave Méreux’s Eraserhead, which is the highest note on the violin.

Varèse’s Music

Edgard Varèse was a composer who was ahead of his time. His contemporaries didn’t understand his music, but that didn’t stop him from creating works that are now considered classics of 20th-century music. Varèse was a pioneer in the use of electronic instruments and he was the first composer to use them in a concert setting.

Use of new instruments and sounds

In the 1920s, Varèse began to explore the use of new instruments and sounds in his music. He was particularly interested in the potential of electronic music, and he worked with various composers and researchers to develop new ways of creating and manipulating sound. One of his most famous works, “Poème électronique,” was created using electronic instruments and recorded sounds.

Polyrhythmic and polymetric structures

Igor Stravinsky is said to have declared that “Varèse’s music is the most important music since Beethoven’s.” This is high praise, but not all that surprising when one considers the radical and innovative nature of Varèse’s work. He was a true pioneer in the field of electronic music, and his compositions often featured polyrhythmic and polymetric structures. These complex rhythmic structures were made possible by the use of new technologies such as the tape recorder and synthesizer.

Varèse was also one of the first composers to make use of environmental sounds in his work. He believed that all sounds could be used in music, regardless of their origin. This led him to incorporate a wide variety of sounds into his compositions, from the sounds of animals to the noise of city streets.

Despite his innovative style, Varèse was not always well-received by the public or the critics. His music was often seen as too complex and unintelligible. However, there is no doubt that he was a visionary composer who had a profound impact on the course of 20th-century music.

Tone clusters

Tone clusters are a type of musical note that consists of two or more notes played simultaneously. They are sometimes also referred to as “note clusters” or “chord clusters.”

Tone clusters were first used in a composition by French composer Claude Debussy, who included them in his piano work “Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune.” Since then, they have been employed by a number of other composers, including Edgar Varèse, Henry Cowell, and George Crumb.

Tone clusters can create a number of different effects, depending on how they are used. For example, they can add a sense of dissonance or tension to a composition, or they can create a feeling of atonality.

When used sparingly, tone clusters can be an effective way to add interest and variety to a piece of music. However, if they are used too frequently or for too long, they can become overwhelming and may start to sound chaotic.

Varèse’s Legacy

Edgar Varèse is one of the most important and influential composers of the twentieth century. He was a pioneer in the development of electronic music and was one of the first to use amplified instruments in his compositions. His music was characterized by its use of complex rhythms and timbres.

Influence on other composers

In the years since his death, Varèse’s music has had a profound influence on a number of other composers. His use of new and unusual timbres, his exploration of non-traditional musical forms, and his disregard for traditional harmonic conventions have all been taken up by later composers working in a variety of genres. In particular, his work has been cited as an important influence by a number of leading figures in the development of electronic music.

Critical reception

There has been a great deal of critical debate surrounding Varèse’s musical legacy. Some commentators have praised him as a visionary who was ahead of his time, while others have criticized his work as being difficult to listen to and understand.

Varèse’s music has been described as being “full of dynamism and energy” (The Guardian), as well as “austere and Spock-like” (The New York Times). His best-known work, Ionisation, has been praised for its “startling originality” (BBC Music Magazine), while others have criticized it for its “repetitive simplicity” (The Telegraph).

Whatever one’s opinion on Varèse’s music may be, there is no doubt that he was a pioneer in the world of electronic music, and his influence can still be felt today.

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