Edgard Varèse was a French composer who spent the majority of his career in the United States.

Varèse is regarded as a huge influence on some of the major composers of the 20th century. His interest in the potential of electronic media for sound production, and his use of new instruments and electronic resources led to him being known as the Father of Electronic Music.

Varèse’s own father was an engineer and encouraged the young Edgard to study maths and science. Through this love of science he began to study sound and in his twenties he embarked on a path to thinking of music as spatial, and composition as moving bodies of sound in space.

Well known works include Hyperprism for wind instruments and percussion (1923); Ionisation for percussion, piano, and two sirens (1931); and Density 21.5 for unaccompanied flute (1936). His Déserts (1954), which employs tape-recorded sound, was premiered in Paris in a concert broadcast live in stereo, the first stereo music ever broadcast in France. Poème électronique, an electronic piece created specially for for the architect Le Corbusier’s Philips Pavilion at the Brussels World Fair in 1958, was heard through over 400 speakers by an estimated 2 million people.

Varèse understood sound as living matter and created open music that emphasises timbre and rhythm. His music has been described as dissonant, nonthematic, and rhythmically asymmetric. After the early 1950s, when he had access to electronic sound equipment, he concentrated on electronic music. He was constantly on the lookout for new sound sources (working throughout his life with engineers, scientists and instrument builders), and was one of the first to extensively explore percussion, electronics, and taped sounds.

Fun Fact

Varèse thought that “to stubbornly conditioned ears, anything new in music has always been called noise”, and he posed the question, “what is music but organized noises?”

About this Contributor

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Edgard Victor Achille Charles
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Minutes created
Collection 2 #8

Minutes by Edgar Varèse