Saturday, April 21, 2018


I saw this just too late to include in my Friday Miscellanea, but it is worth mentioning. The Wall Street Journal has a piece on Edgard Varèse's Amériques, a piece for large orchestra that will be performed this month by the LA Philharmonic. I mainly mention this because it is an informed article about a piece of music that, whether you enjoy it or not, is certainly serious in its intent. Things like that are surpassingly rare in the mainstream media these days!
Early critics assumed that the siren, which became something of a signature device for Varèse, reflected his desire to depict the hustle and bustle of New York, like Gershwin’s use of French car horns in his 1928 “An American in Paris” to create a sonic image of the City of Lights. For Varèse, however, it was simply a way of utilizing microtones—pitches that would lie in the cracks between the piano’s keys. “Amériques” was not place-specific, but rather a reflection of the sense of exploration and discovery he found in the “vastness” of the New World. “I might as well have called ‘Amériques’ ‘The Himalayas,’” he quipped to his student, composer Chou Wen-chung.
He was driven by the idea of newness—unsurprising given his early associations with such artistic leading lights as Guillaume Apollinaire, Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia and Jean Cocteau, and cutting-edge musicians like Claude Debussy (to whom he introduced the music of Arnold Schoenberg ), Richard Strauss, and especially Ferruccio Busoni, who wrote the influential “Sketch of a New Esthetic of Music.” (“The role of the creative artist is to make new laws,” stated Busoni, “not to follow those already made.”)
The author, Stuart Isacoff, also mentions the influence of the Rite of Spring, particularly evident in the opening (and recurring) flute solo that echoes the beginning of the work by Stravinsky.

I have never been much of a fan of Varèse, but I have to admit that Amériques has a lot of interesting stuff in it. This is the Ensemble intercontemporain conducted by Matthias Pintscher:

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