Edgard Varèse: Ionisations
April 25, 2014 2 Comments
This is day 22 of the A-toZ Challenge in which I attempt to blog every day (excepting Sundays) during the month of April. During this month, I am curating a collection of “classical” music pieces, which are lesser known or by lesser known composers (to me at least). Today’s composer is Edgard Edgard Varèse (born 1883-1965).
Varèse was born in Paris, but his parents sent him to live with maternal relatives in Burgundy when he was just a few weeks old. When he was around 8 or 9, his parents reclaimed him and they moved to Turin, Italy. There he studied and excelled at music, writing an opera when he was just 12. His father discouraged him from music and forced him to study engineering and mathematics. However, he managed to make his way to Paris, where he studied at the with Cesar Franck and then at Conservatory with Albert Roussel. He moved to Berlin for a while, got married and divorced and returned to Paris before WWI. During these years he became friends with Debussy, Satie, Busoni and Richard Strauss. His compositions were very avant-garde and caused scandals when performed. In 1915 he moved to the United States where in New York, he became a conductor and developed a fascination with the nascent field of electronic music and especially the Theremin, invented by Léon Theremin. In New York, he contributed works to Dadaist magazines and palled around with Francis Picabia. He married Louise McCutcheon, who was the editor of another Dadaist magazine.
With others in 1921, he founded the International Composers Guild, which published a manifesto with this dictum:
“The present day composers refuse to die. They have realised the necessity of banding together and fighting for the right of each individual to secure a fair and free presentation of his work”.
I only know of Varèse because one of my rock heroes, Frank Zappa, was a life long devotee of the composer. Zappa became obsessed with Varèse’s music after hearing Ionisations and on his 15th birthday, convinced his parents to let him call Edgard Varèse in Paris. Zappa went on to pay tribute to Varèse throughout his life and in his works.
And I must confess, I didn’t ever listen to Varèse until writing this post. I shied away from avant-garde music I considered noise. The interesting thing is that Varèse was synesthetic, that is, he could see music as shaped and forms. He also said his great realization that the only difference between noise and music was that someone had organized the noise according to accepted rules of rhythm, meter, harmony, etc. And this piece shows admirably I think that noise, too, has a lot to offer if we expand our horizons.