As planned, I listened to the music of Edgard Varèse during the month of February. I have no great insights to report about the music. On the other hand, I now realize that I like to listen to his music but I'm not sure I actually like the music. I'm still intriguted by it, though. After I discovered John Adams had channeled Edgard Varèse in preparation for the opera Doctor Atomic, closer listening led me to the following comparison which still stands:
Having listened to the works of Varese for the last several weeks, in comparison, Doctor Atomic isn't dour, confrontational, confusing, overwhelming etc. It still has its challenges, though.
I've also been thinking through what work I would recommend to someone who hasn't heard this music before. Un Grand Sommeil Noir is beautiful but not representative. Maybe Ionisation since people expect percussion music to be strange in any case? Richard Friedman suggests Octandre as a great short piece.
Several recent Varèse comments in the blogosphere:
- Calimac thinks John Adams' The Flowering Tree has hints of Varèse in the choral parts.
- The Sequenza21 thread about Starbucks asks if Varèse should be considered accessible. Maybe this concert was well-received but I'm dubious about this music being "accessible" although I'd be interested in hearing other data one way or the other.
- Finally, Roger Bourland blogs about his, presumably mythical, discovery of a conversation between Edgard and his aspiring acolyte Frank Zappa, after the latter's recent death. Despite the connection between the two artists, what I don't understand is why is there no significant Varèse-ian school of music? Because of the radical nature of the musical ideas? The (possibly) abrasive personality? The professional and political climate of the time? Maybe American composers only accept French influence via Nadia Boulanger?
(If you are reading this from a feed reader, click here to see the "What's your favorite Varèse work" poll).