To those who are familiar with the unique historical context in which he was growing up, it comes as little surprise that Edgard Varèse was a composer at the forefront of the twentieth-century electronic music movement. As Malcolm MacDonald claims in his treatise on the artist, Varèse grew up during a time when a stream of cultural and technological innovations were changing Western man's idea of the world, and his relation to it (xii). He was born in the same year that synthetic fiber was invented, and before he even reached the age of ten, the world would witness the invention of the first steam turbine, the first electric motor, the pneumatic tire, and the box camera. Not long thereafter, the gramophone record and cinematograph would come into being, Sigmund Freud would publish his thoughts on the concepts of the unconscious self, the Wright brothers conduct their first powered flight, and Albert Einstein formulate his Special Theory of Relativity. Varèse was literally a child of the modern age, very likely leading to his interest in the use of electronic media to explore sound and music in a highly innovative way (MacDonald xi-xv).
[...] “Like a many-faceted crystal, the surface of Poème Électronique can be understood from many perspectives, but primarily through sound” (Cabrera 92). Appendix *all images from this section were found on the “Varese Poeme Electronique” site: http://ccrma.stanford.edu/CCRMA/Courses/154/Varese%20images.html Figure 1. Completed Philips Pavilion Figure 2. Image from inside of Pavilion during performace of Poème Électronique Figure 3. A closer look at the that appears below Figure 4. A page of the of Poème Électronique Figure 5. Large-scale form of Poème Électronique Start of subsection Characteristic Significance main sounds section (time into the piece) and other electronic contrast between sounds old-world feel and new B Mechanical, industrial Relation (just noises and the like all of the three-note motive, which ‘b' subsections) precludes the sirens to the final climax of piece synthesized tones timbral transition organ noises between bell tolls and synthesized tones B No sirens, but first More obscure (than introduction of a human other ‘b' element: male voice that subsections) echoes God relation to the final ascent. [...]
[...] Today, as mentioned above, there does not exist an intact, conventional score for Poème Électronique, and for this reason formal analysis of the work usually involves references to specific moments of time. As the entire piece was recorded for magnetic tape, the temporal dimension—the tape's unalterable, ever-consistent progression—provides a time framework that is as fixed and precise as the numbering of bars. Therefore, as is the case with the organization of large-scale form in Figure 5 of the Appendix, it is easiest to refer to the time lapsed from the beginning of the work to refer to any particular sonic moment(s). [...]
[...] These synthesized/electronically warped noises suddenly convey a sense of a much more expansive space of sonority. This juxtaposition of highly contrasting (bell tolling vs. buzzes and sirens) sounds might embody not only the contrast between a closed and a very open space but also the widening disparity between the pre-industrialized and a post-industrialized societies that Varèse had experienced. Interestingly enough, when the material from sections 1a, 2a, 3a, and 4a are compared, the similarities truly suggest a degree of formal coherence. [...]
[...] Having been quoted from an interview in which he exclaimed that “anyone who does make his own rules is an (MacDonald Varèse was a staunch advocate of novelty in art, of mixing different elements to create unexpected and never-before-experienced sensations. Influenced by certain aesthetic aims of cubism but turned off by the work of the futurist movement, he spoke of music spatially, thoroughly intrigued by the growing possibilities of ways to create a “sound space.” Of interest to this particular essay is the fully electronic piece that Varèse composed late in life for the opening of the Philips Pavilion (see Appendix Fig. [...]
[...] As an example, one might consider the differing views of Lawrence Ferrara and Robert Cogan. In 1984 Ferrara published an article invoking the insight of phenomenology to draw conclusions about the way the piece speaks about its historical time period. He claims that the work raises issues concerning technology, human existence, religion, time, and primitivism in the context of the Modernist movement of the mid-20th century. These themes are juxtaposed through sonic representation (sirens-technology, chanting- primitivism, moaning voice-human existence) in a non-discursive format, giving one an idea of “what it is to be a modern man.” In contrast, Cogan's analysis, published in 1991, offered a view that emphasized “oppositional character” in Varèse's music. [...]
Online readingwith our online reader
Content validatedby our reading committee