Edgard Varèse: "Octandre"
Très vif et nerveux
Born: December 22, 1883, Paris, France
Died: November 6, 1965, New York, New York
Instrumentation: Flute, Oboe, B-flat Clarinet, Bassoon, Horn, Trumpet, Trombone, Double Bass
Duration: 8 minutes
The title, Octandre, refers both to the eight-member ensemble and to the word’s literal meaning, a flower with eight stamens. The premiere was given in New York on January 13, 1924, under the direction of E. Robert Schmitz, founder of the Pro Musica Society (dedicated to the presentation of works by living composers) and a renowned interpreter of the piano music of Debussy.
This is the only multi-movement work by Varèse. Each movement begins with a solo instrument and is in three parts with the last part being a tutti development of the opening. The pitch material of the work is based on the half-step, transformed through octave displacements into major 7ths and minor 9ths.
The first movement is launched by a chant-like oboe phrase (reminiscent of the bassoon melody that opens Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring), employing the minor second and its inversion, the major seventh. The clarinet responds with a chattering bundle of repeated notes, succeeded by “pumping” sounds in the brass. Varèse’s score notes that the movement ends “with the feeling of the beginning (a little anxious).”
The second movement begins as a wind-blown scherzo featuring the piccolo’s repeated notes, which are pushed aside by the brass. The final chord is a fierce crescendo, which winds dwindles to the solo double bass leading into the finale, which begins “grave” but blossoms into an energetic fugue with the successive entries of oboe, bassoon and clarinet. Octandre ends with what can be best described as a scream.
Edgard Varèse, Octandre
Ensemble Intercontemporain, Pierre Boulez, conductor