Edgard Varese: The Complete Works
101. Tuning up
103. Poème Electronique
106. Un grand sommeil noir
201. Un grand sommeil noir - Version for voice & piano
202. Offrandes - 1. Chanson de Là-haut (poem by Vincente Huidobro)
203. Offrandes - 2. La croix du sud (poem by José Juan Tablada)
204. Hyperprism - Revised Richard Sarks 1986
205. Octandre - Rev. & Ed. Chou Wen-Chung 1980 - 1. Assez lent
206. Octandre - Rev. & Ed. Chou Wen-Chung 1980 - 2. Très vif et nerveux
207. Octandre - Rev. & Ed. Chou Wen-Chung 1980 - 3. Grave/Animé et jubilatoire
208. Intégrales - Revised & Ed. Chou Wen-Chung 1980
210. Déserts - 1st Interpolation Of Organised Sound
211. Déserts - Part 2
212. Déserts - 2nd Interpolation Of Organised Sound
213. Déserts - Part 32
214. Déserts - 3rd Interpolation Of Organised Sound
215. Déserts - Part 4
216. Dance for Burgess
Varèse spent his boyhood in Paris, Burgundy, and Turin, Italy. After composing without formal instruction as a youth, he later studied under Vincent d’Indy, Albert Roussel, and Charles Widor and was strongly encouraged by Romain Rolland and Claude Debussy. In 1907 he went to Berlin, where he was influenced by Richard Strauss and Ferruccio Busoni. In 1915 he immigrated to the United States.
Varèse’s music is dissonant, nonthematic, and rhythmically asymmetric; he conceived of it as bodies of sound in space. After the early 1950s, when he finally gained access to the electronic sound equipment he desired, he concentrated on electronic music.
Varèse actively promoted performances of works by other 20th-century performers and founded the International Composers’ Guild in 1921 and the Pan-American Association of Composers in 1926; these organizations were responsible for performances and premieres of works by Béla Bartók, Alban Berg, Carlos Chávez, Henry Cowell, Charles Ives, Maurice Ravel, Wallingford Riegger, Francis Poulenc, Anton von Webern, and others. Varèse also founded the Schola Cantorum of Santa Fe, N.M., in 1937, and the New Chorus (later, Greater New York Chorus) in 1941 to perform music of past eras, including works of Pérotin, Heinrich Schütz, Claudio Monteverdi, and Marc-Antoine Charpentier.
Varèse’s works include Hyperprism for wind instruments and percussion (1923); Ionisation for percussion, piano, and two sirens (1931); and Density 21.5 for unaccompanied flute (1936). His Déserts (1954) employs tape-recorded sound. In the Poème électronique (1958), written for the Philips Pavilion at the Brussels World’s Fair, the sound was intended to be distributed by 425 loudspeakers.
Wonderfully performed by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Asko Ensemble, dir. Riccardo Chailly. At long last, the complete work of this brilliant composer, including the original version of "Amériques," as well as several previously unpublished works. The entire project was assembled with the assistance of composer Chou Wen-Chung, who had worked directly with Varèse. This massive undertaking includes the following works: "Tuning Up," "Amériques," "Arcana," "Poème Électronique," "Nocturnal," "Un Grand Sommeil Noir" (in both the original and orchestral versions),"Offrandes," "Hyperprism," "Octandre," "Intégrales," "Ecuatorial," "Ionisation," "Density 21.5," "Déserts," and "Dance for Burgess."
Varese was Frank Zappa's favorite composer. His admirers also include the great jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker and the hardest of hardcore avant-gardists, Iannis Xenakis. This suggests something of both the appeal of Varese's music, and the continuing potential of his influence. He was an original who re-thought music from the ground up, and a perfectionist who signed his name to only a handful of monumental, uncompromising works.
I was inspired to buy this set after hearing Chailly conduct "Arcana" in concert. The performance laid down here is as tremendous as the one I heard live, and the rest of the set is generally at the same high level. Chailly has the great Concertgebouw Orchestra and the virtuosic ASKO Ensemble at his disposal, and the Decca engineers provide stunning sound. Chailly's approach is more impulsive and passionate than that of, for example, Boulez, who presents an equally valid but somewhat more clinical take on the music, in effect dissecting it. True Varese-heads will probably want to hear both.
Despite the question of whether certain pieces really belong among "the complete works," there are multiple pleasures and surprises in every corner of this set. The volcano-like sonic assaults of "Arcana" and "Ameriques", the weird electronics of "Ecuatorial" and "Poeme Electronique", the frenzied percussive radicalism of "Ionisation", the humor of "Tuning Up": sit back and be blown away. If you believe there's a place in music for police sirens, anvils and sleigh bells, this is for you.