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Edgard Varèse (1883-1965)

Edgard Varese composerEdgard Varèse was born in Paris on December 22, 1883. While still a boy he witnessed the transition to a century dominated by technical innovation and the political turmoil of two world wars. For years he was considered an isolated maverick on the contemporary music scene. Only toward the end of his life did he achieve final recognition as such leading postwar avant-garde figures as Pierre Boulez and John Cage discovered his music and drew on his achievements. By the time of his death, on November 6, 1965, he was regaled with honors and awards. He left behind a small but impressive body of works that has challenged artists and scholars time and again in the forty years since his death to come to grips with his art.

The son of an engineer, Varèse developed a close affinity to the natural sciences from early childhood. Instead of taking up a technical profession, however, he soon turned entirely to music. At first he lived in the artistic capitals of Paris and Berlin, but in 1915 he emigrated to the United States. Thereafter he only returned to Europe for periods of work. A natural crossover figure, he drew inspiration from talking to leading physicists and acoustical engineers and befriending such artists and writers as Antonin Artaud, Alexander Calder, Marcel Duchamp, Le Corbusier, Henry Miller, Joan Miró, Francis Picabia, Man Ray, and Joseph Stella. Again and again he made ever-new attempts to probe the musical potential of scientific concepts and the visual and spatial perception of modern art.

"I need an entirely new medium of expression: a sound-producing machine, not a sound-reproducing one." Varèse's primary concern was not the reproduction of music. He saw himself as a revolutionary creator of new sounds, preferred the term "organized sound" to "music," and far transcended the bounds of conventional orchestral instruments in his quest for new timbres. He was particularly interested in the use of machines to generate music. Although the relevant technology had not yet been invented, he was already probing the possibilities of electronic sound production in the late 1920's.
- from exhibition project at the  Museum Tinguely

COMPOSITIONS                                                            Varèse Links
Un grand sommeil noir, soprano and piano (1906)
Offrandes, soprano and chamber orchestra (1921)
Ameriques, orchestra (1918-22; fp April 9, 1926)
Hyperprism, 9 winds and percussion (1922-23)
Octandre, flute, winds and brass (1923)
Integrales, 11 winds and 4 percussionists (1925)
Arcana, orchestra (1925-27)
Ionisation, 13 percussionists (1931)
Ecuatorial, bass voice (or unison male chorus), brass, piano, organ, perc. and 2 fingerboard theremins/ondes martenots (1932-34)
Density 21.5, solo flute (1936)
Music for Thomas Bouchard's film "Fernand Léger in America - His New Realism" (1946)
Tuning Up, orchestra (1947) - incomplete [for the Boris Moros movie "Carnegie Hall"; unused; reconstructed by Chou Wen-chung)
Etude pour Espace, chorus, 2 pianos and percussion (1947)
Dance for Burgess, chamber ensemble (1949) [written for Burgess Meredith for the failed production of "Happy as Larry"]
Deserts, 14 winds, piano, percussion and 2-track tape (1951-54)
La procession de Vergès, tape (1955) [for Thomas Burchard's film "Around and About Joan Mirò"]
Poem electronique, 4-track tape (1957-58)
Nocturnal, soprano, bass chorus and small orchestra (1961) -  incomplete [completed by Chou Wen-chung]

Unfinished projects                                                                                                                         ~ top of page ~
The One-All-Alone, stage work (1927)
L'astronome, stage work (1928-9)
Metal, soprano and orchesta (1932)
The Great Noon (1932)
Espace (The One All Alone; Le Miracle; L'astonome), chorus and orchestra (1929-c1947)
Trinum, orchestra and electronic sounds (1950-54)
Dans la nuit, chorus, brass, organ, 2 ondes martenot and percussion (1955-61)
Nocturnal II (Nuit), soprano and small ensemble (1961-65)

Lost works
Martin Pas, opera,  boys' voices and mandolin (c1895)
Chansons avec orchestra (c1905)
Colloque au bord d'une fontaine (c1905)
Dans le parc (c1905)
Le fils des étoiles, opera (c1905)
Poèmes des brumes (c1905)
3 Pieces, orchestra (Souvenir?) (c1905)
Chanson des jeunes hommes, orchestra (c1905)
Prélude à la fin d'un jour, after L. Deubel, orchestra (c1905)
2 rhythmic prose pieces (Deubel) (c1905)
Rhapsodie romane, orchestra (1905-6; pf version, fp. Paris, 1906)
Apothéose de l'océan, sym. poem, large orchestra (1906)
La délire de Clytemnestre, tradegie symphonique (1907)
Bourgogne, large orchestra (1907-08) - score destroyed by Varese, c1962
Gargantua, sym. poem, large orchestra (1909) - incomplete
Mehr Licht, orchestra (1911; preworked as Les cycles du nord, orchestra, 1912)
Les cycles du nord, orchestra (1912) [see Mehr Licht]
Oedipus und die Sphinx, opera (1908-14)
Danse du robinet froid (1917-19)

VARÈSE  LINKS                                                                                                                                   ~ top of page ~
The Liberation of Sound (by Edgard Varèse)

Back to the Future, Unmade: Glittering, Playful Varèse (Anne Midgette, The New York Times)
A Bomb to Blow Up Music World (David Stevens, International Herarld Tribune)
Boulez Conducts Varèse (Daniel Felsenfeld,
Chou Wen-chung and the Varèse Story (Stanley Fefferman, also at Live Music Report
Composer Portraits: Edgard Varèse (Darcy James Argue's Secret Society)
The Composer's Eye (State University of New York at Buffalo Exhibition)
Composers Who Broke Their Reins (Bernard Holland, The New York Times)
Edgard Varèse and the New Music of America (Dane Rudhyar, Rudhyar Archival Project)
Edgard Varèse @ A42
Edgard Varèse @ Musem Tinguely (also press release)
Edgard Varèse: Collection of Scores and Other Materials (Stanford University Libraries)
Edgard Varèse: Complete Works (Bob Halliday, Mappi.mundi Magazine)
Edgard Varèse: Composer Portrait (John Hammel, Bella Cantare)
Edgard Varèse - Father of Electronic Music
Edgard Varèse: Offrandes (1921) (time4time)
Edgard Varèse: Orchestral Works 2 [Ameriques; Equatorial; Nocturnal; etc] (
Edgard Varèse: Orchestral Works 2 [Ameriques; Equatorial; Nocturnal; etc] (MusicWebInternational)
Engineer's Son (Time Magazine)
Frank Zappa on Edgard Varèse (John Diliberto and Kimberly Haas, Downbeat Magazine)
Isabelle Chapuis Starr on Varèse
Le Corbusier; Iannis Xenakis; Edgard Varèse «Poème électronique: Philips Pavilion» (Golo Föllmer, Media Art Net)
Masterpieces of 20th Century Multi-channel Tape: Varèse
No Apolgy (Time Magazine)
On Ameriques (1922) (Chou Wen-chung)
On Hyperprism (1923) (Renewable Music)
On Octandre (1923) (Chou Wen-chung)                                                                                  ~ top of page ~
Opus 20 Modern Masterworks: Edgard Varèse
Pierre Boulez on Edgard Varèse:  "Octandre", performance and analysis (Creative Arts Television)
Poem electronique by Varèse: Authenticity, Reproduction and Mediatization (Tim Stephenson, Intellect)
The Rebirth of the Theremin Cello (
Sound Space and Edgard Varèse's Poeme electronique (Densil Cabrera/Masters Thesis)
Struggles of an Electronic Pioneer (Bayan Northcott, The Independent @ bnet)
Varèse (Grant Chu Covell, La Folia)
Varèse: Ameriques (Los Angeles Philharmonic)
Varèse Hyperprism (Christopher Meister)
Varèse, Image, Science (Alain Montessi) [translated by google from the Frech original]
Varèse's Ionisation and Ecuatorial (Sarah Canice Funke,
VEP (Virtual Electronic Poem) Project Documentary (
VEP (Virtual Electronic Poem) website
With Varèse at the Equator (Brian Kane)

Books with Varese references
Beautiful Noise - Directions in Electronic Music (
Body and Soul: The Making of American Modernism (Robert Morse Crunden @
Classical Music in America: A History of Its Rise and Fall (Joseph Horowitz @
The Collected Essays of Milton Babbitt (Milton Babbitt @
Metropolis, 1890-1940 (Anthony Sutcliffe @
The Recording Angel: Music, Records and Culture from Aristotle to Zappa (Evan Eisenberg @
Time Space Texture: An Approach to Audio-Visual Composition (Andrew D. Lyons, thesis)

Books on Varese (abstracts only)
Form and Expression in the Vocal Works of Edgard Varèse (F. Mitchell) - abstract
Interaction between the generative cell and symmetrical operations in Varèse's Octandre (Eli-Eri Moura) -abstract
Varè Astronomer in Sound (Malcolm MacDonald, W.H. Smith) - descripton only
Vestiges of an Early Style? On the First Version of Varèse's Ameriques (Dieter Nanz) - abstract

                                                                                                 Varèse Links                ~ top of page ~
Varèse @ Wikipedia
Varèse @ 20th Century Arts and Humanities (Dr. Michael Delahoyde, Washington State University)
Varèse @ Art of the States
Varèse @ aworks
Varèse @ Biographybase
Varèse @ Boston Modern Orchestra Project
Varèse @ Brain-Juice
Varèse @ Center for New Music & Audio Technologies, University of California at Berkeley
Varèse @ Centrebombe
Varèse @ Classical Music Pages
Varèse @ Classical Net
Varèse @ dbpedia
Varèse @ (french website)
Varèse @ Electro-acoustic Music
Varèse @ enotes [Varèse's name misspelled as "Vareoe"]
Varèse @ IRCAM (translated by google from the French original)
Varèse @ Karadar Classical Music
Varèse @ Kunstbus (translated by google from the Dutch original)
Varèse @ Musical
Varèse @ MusicWeb International
Varèse @ My Space Music (1)
Varèse @ My Space Music (2)
Varèse @ The New York Times
Varèse @ Sapientiam Autem Non Vincit Malitia (translated by google from the Portuguese original)
Varèse @
Varèse @ Theremin Vox  Bio and Links
Varèse @ Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary Composers Biographies
Varèse @ Zappa Wiki Jawaka

Streaming Audio                                                                                                                              ~ top of page ~
Varèse @ Art of the States
Varèse @ Classical Masterpieces
Varèse @ Connexions: Listening Gallery
Varèse @
Varèse @ Media Art Net
Varèse @ My Space Music (1)
Varèse @ My Space Music (2)
Varèse @ Rhapsody
Varèse @
Varèse @ UBUWEB
Varèse @ USC Music of the 20th Century

Varèse @ ArkivMusic
Varèse@ ClassicsOnline

Varèse @ YouTube

Texts and Translations

Offrandes (1921)
Chanson de la-haut (by Vicente Huidobro, 1893-1948)
La Seine dort sous l'ombre de ses ponts. [The Seine sleeps under the shadow of its bridges.]
Je vois tourner la terre [I see the world go round]
Et je sonne mon clairon [And I blow my trumpet]
Vers toutes les mers. [Towards all the seas.]

Sur le chemin de ton parfum [On the pathway to your perfume]
Toutes les abeilles et les paroles s'en vont. [All the bees and the words depart.]
Reine de l'Aube des Pôles, [Queen of the Polar Dawn,]
Rose des Vents que fane l'Automne! [Rose of the Wind wilts Autumn!]
Dans ma tête un oiseau chante toute l'année. [In my head, a bird sings all year.]

La Croix du Sud (by José Juan Tablada, 1871-1945)
Les femmes aux gestes de madrépore [Women of  madrepore ** gestures]
Ont des poils et des lèvres rouges d'orchidée. [Have hair and lips red as orchids.]
Les singes du Pôle sont albinos, [The monkeys at the pole are albino,]
Ambre et neige et sautent [Amber and snow and jump]
Vêtus d'aurore boréale. [Wearing the Aurora borealis.]
Dans le ciel il y a une affiche [In the sky there was a poster]
D'Oléo margarine. [Of Oleo margarine.]
Voici l'arbre de la quinine [Here is the Quinine tree]
Et la Vierge des douleurs. [And Our Lady of Sorrows.]
Le Zodiaque tourne dans la nuit de fièvre jaune. [The Zodiac revolves in the night of yellow fever.]
La pluie enferme tout le Tropique [The rain shuts the whole Tropic]
Dans une cage de cristal. [In a crystal cage.]
C'est l'heure d'enjamber [It's time to cross]
Le crépuscule [Twilight]
Comme un zèbre vers l'Île de jadis [Like a zebra towards the Island of yore]
Où se réveillent les femmes assassinées. [Where awakes the murdered women.]

**Madrepore ("mother of pores") is a coral of the genus Madrepora, found often forming reefs or islands in tropical locations.


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