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Edgard Varèse: "Integrales"


Edgard Varèse

Born: December 22, 1883, Paris, France

Died: November 6, 1965, New York, New York

Instrumentation: Eleven winds, four percussionists

Composed: 1924-1925

Duration: 11 minutes

University of Maryland Wind Orchestra

Friday, March 3, 2017, 8 pm

Elsie & Marvin Dekelboum Concert Hall

Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

The University of Maryland at College Park

Intégrales was an important work for Varèse and was composed in 1924-25 — his most creative period. Scored for woodwinds, brass and 17 different percussion instruments played by four percussionists, Intégrales provides insight into the ideas of sound-mass, spatial projection and zones of intensity that pervade all of Varèse’s works. These terms are his way of describing music as a collection of coexisting sound properties (melody, harmony, rhythm, etc.).

Varèse stated:

... Intégrales was conceived for a spatial projection. I constructed the work to employ certain acoustical means which did not yet exist, but which I knew could be realized ... In order to make myself better understood — for the eye is quicker and more disciplined than the ear — let us transfer this conception into the visual sphere and consider the changing projection of a geometrical figure onto a plane surface, with both geometrical figure and plane surface moving in space, but each at its own changing and varying speeds of lateral movement and rotation.

Jerry Junkin, at the University of Texas, has stated:

One of Varèse’s former students pointed out that this work was written in spite of the limitations of conventional instruments and notation, that the world of sound contained in this piece is not about the instruments, but the distinction of the timbres between them. Instruments are intended to either blend or contrast with other instruments depending on whether or not they are in the same sound ‘block.’

Many listeners feel that this ambivalence to instruments made Varèse better suited to music that excludes them, such as tape music, which he eventually turned to as the technology become available. The composer said that mathematics and astronomy inspired him, and Intégrales lends itself to visual impressions of celestial bodies in motion — the motion of planets revolving around a star is comparable to the blocks of sound heard in this piece.

The premiere of Intégrales was peculiar because it was so well received by the general public. At the Aeolian Hall in New York, Leopold Stokowski conducted it on March 1, 1925 to an enthusiastic crowd that enjoyed the work so much Stokowski was obliged to perform it again that evening. However, other than a few admiring writers, critics disliked Intégrales and mocked the piece at length. It is possible that this work offended the sensibilities of a writing community that had spent years building a meaningful way of talking about new music, and that the work simply eluded that vocabulary.

Edgard Varèse, Integrales

Ensemble Intercontemporain, Susanna Mälkki, conductor

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