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Edgard Varèse: "Deserts"

Today will be the final post on Edgard Varèse. We have explored all of Varèse's wind works (and one percussion work) in depth and we will end with a piece that encapsulates what Varèse is probably most remembered for--works with magnetic tape.

When Varèse received a tape recorder from an anonymous donor in the 1950's, his compositional dreams had been realized. He had waited in vain for technology to evolve to a point where it could express his musical ideas and that had arrived. Varèse's Deserts, written 1950-1954, is his first for magnetic tape and precedes his masterpiece for tape Poeme electronique by three years. The piece is organized as alternating "episodes" for winds and percussion and "interpolations" for magnetic tape. The layout of the piece is given below.

1st Episode

1st Interpolation of Organized Sound

2nd Episode

2nd Interpolation

3rd Episode

3rd Interpolation

4th Episode

Edgard Varèse, Deserts

Members of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Cristopher Lyndon-Gee, conductor

More detailed information about the piece can be found below. This has been taken from the All Music Guide.

This powerfully moving work, created between 1950 and 1954, was the first piece for magnetic tape—two-tracks of "organized sound"—and orchestra. Possibly first conceived when Varèse lived in the deserts of New Mexico in the mid-1930s, it was imagined to be a score to which a film would have been subsequently made—a film consisting of images of the deserts of Earth, of the sea (vast distances under the water), of outer space (galaxies, etc.), but above all, the deserts in the mind of humankind—especially a memory of the terrors and agonies from the world wars of the first half of the twentieth century, including concentration camps, atomic warfare, and their continuing resonances. The taped music (originally planned for an unrealized work called Trinum) primarily presents those images in three interpolations that separate the music for the acoustic orchestra—winds, brass, a resonant piano, and five groups of percussion. This orchestra part expresses the gradual advance of mankind toward spiritual sunlight. The orchestra music is built from intense aggregates of sound, rather than scales for melody, and rhythm is treated not as a continuous pulse, but as a support for the sound-form, rhythm as a vibration of intensity. Of course, this highly dramatic work, in touch with the deeper, repressed emotions of world society at the time it was created (and powerful still), caused protest and violent reactions in many concert halls. It is now recognized as an exceptional example of truly humanistic music.

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