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Music / Edgard Varèse

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"Dying is the privilege of the weary. 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".
Edgard Varèse, July 1921.

Edgard Victor Achille Charles Varèse (December 22, 1883 – November 6, 1965) was a French composer, considered one of the pioneers and frontrunners of Avant-Garde Music. He saw music as a series of organized sounds, even noises, because as he said "what is music but organized noises?".

Varèse is also well known as a pioneer in Electronic Music, using electronic mediums for sound production, though not to actually generate sounds — his work of this type is more correctly considered musique concrète. He was naturalized as an American citizen in 1927. His existing oeuvre is short, consisting of approximately three hours worth of music in total, though almost all of his earlier work was destroyed in a fire. A complete list follows:

Due to Pop-Cultural Osmosis, Varèse is perhaps best known as one of Frank Zappa's major inspirations.

Varèse's work provides examples of...

Edgard Varèse in popular culture

  • Frank Zappa discovered Varèse through a bad review in a magazine and out of Bile Fascination went out to look for it. It took him a year to track it down, but he bought it immediately. When he finally listened to it the record literally changed his teenage life and inspired him to become a composer himself. According to The Real Frank Zappa Book an 18-year-old Zappa asked for a phone call with Varèse for his birthday in 1958, but only got Varèse's wife on the phone. It turned out her husband was in Brussels, for the World's Fair, where he was commissioned to write Poème Electronique, but she promised he would phone back. Varèse did indeed call Zappa up and they talked on the phone. Unfortunately the two men would never meet in person, but Zappa did receive a personal letter by Varèse, which he had framed. A segment of "The Return Of The Son Of Monster Magnet" on Freak Out is nicknamed "In Memoriam Edgar Varèse." On the same album Zappa names Varèse as one of his influences in a list printed in the sleevenotes, where he also reproduced a Varèse quote he would reprint on a lot of his albums: "The present day composer refuses to die." In the early 1980s Zappa also recorded an album of Varèse's music with a small ensemble, but never released it, preferring to keep it to himself.
  • The opening track of Chicago's Chicago V (1972) album is called "A Hit by Varèse".
  • "Cycles du Nord" on John Zorn and Music Romance's Music for Children (1998), is a 20 minute long wind machine composition dedicated to Edgard Varèse. The album Moonchild: Songs Without Words also takes inspiration from Varèse.
  • The record label Varèse Sarabande. Its forerunner label Varèse International was founded in 1972 (several years after his death) and specialized in avant-garde and classical music, so he was an obvious choice as a Shout-Out for the label name. After Varèse International merged with Sarabande in 1977, they went with a much broader artistic lineup and the name became an Artifact Title.