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Edgard Varèse

Edgard Varèse was born in Paris on 22 December 1883. He studied composition and piano first with Vincent d’Indy at the Schola Cantorum (1903–1905), then with Charles Widor at the Paris Conservatoire (until 1907).

After having completed his studies Varèse moved to Berlin, where he established a close relationship with Richard Strauss and Feruccio Busoni. In 1913 he left Berlin, and after a stopover in Paris he came to New York two years later. Nearly all compositions he had written by that time were destroyed in a fire. The only two surviving pieces, one single song and the score of the orchestral work Bourgogne of 1908, were later burned by Varèse himself.

Therefore, the earliest work in Varèse’s known oeuvre is Amériques, a composition for large orchestra written in 1921. He developed a wholly new cosmos of sounds, characterized by a multitude of dissonant chords and a complex rhythmic polyphony.

Also in 1921, Varèse, together with Carlos Salzedo, founded the “International Composers’ Guild” (ICG), which enabled the premieres of several of his compositions, especially chamber music pieces. At the same time he wrote a number of other orchestral works in the style of Amériques, such as Hyperprism (1923), Intégrales (1925) and Arcana (1927). The years 1928 to 1933 found him on a lengthy sojourn in Paris, during which he wrote Ionisation, the first ever concert hall composition for percussion instruments alone.

The composer also followed the developments in the field of electronic music and the relevant sound generators with great interest. He was among the first to use instrumentslike the “ondes Martenot” (a monophonic electronic musical instrument) in his compositions. For a period of nearly twenty years, starting in 1936, Varèse occasionally worked as a teacher but wrote not a single piece of music. From the 1950s onwards he composed pieces strongly influenced by the current achievements in electronic music, e.g. Déserts (1954) for woodwinds, percussion and tape, or the Poème électronique (1957/58). Edgard Varèse died in New York on 6 November 1965.

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