Edgard Victor Achille Charles Varèse (French: [ɛdɡaːʁ viktɔːʁ aʃil ʃaʁl vaʁɛːz]; also spelled Edgar Varèse; December 22, 1883 – November 6, 1965) was a French-born composer who spent the greater part of his career in the United States.




Edgard Victor Achille Charles Varèse (French: [ɛdɡaːʁ viktɔːʁ aʃil ʃaʁl vaʁɛːz]; also spelled Edgar Varèse; December 22, 1883 – November 6, 1965) was a French-born composer who spent the greater part of his career in the United States.

Varèse's music emphasizes timbre and rhythm and he coined the term "organized sound" in reference to his own musical aesthetic. Varèse's conception of music reflected his vision of "sound as living matter" and of "musical space as open rather than bounded". He conceived the elements of his music in terms of "sound-masses", likening their organization to the natural phenomenon of crystallization. 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?"

Although his complete surviving works only last about three hours, he has been recognised as an influence by several major composers of the late 20th century. Varèse saw potential in using electronic media for sound production, and his use of new instruments and electronic resources led to his being known as the "Father of Electronic Music" while Henry Miller described him as "The stratospheric Colossus of Sound".

Varèse actively promoted performances of works by other 20th-century composers and founded the International Composers’ Guild in 1921 and the Pan-American Association of Composers in 1926.

Musical influences

In his formative years, Varèse was greatly impressed by Medieval and Renaissance Music (in his career he founded and conducted several choirs devoted to this repertoire) and the music of Alexander Scriabin, Erik Satie, Claude Debussy, Hector Berlioz and Richard Strauss. There are also clear influences or reminiscences of Stravinsky's early works, specifically Petrushka and The Rite of Spring, on Arcana.

He claimed to have been inspired by the writings on music of Józef Maria Hoene-Wroński, and especially the Polish savant's statement that the object of music is "the corporealization of the intelligence that is in sound". He was also impressed by the ideas of Busoni, who christened him L'illustro futuro.

Students and influence

According to George Perle "his partitioning of the octave in the first ten bars, places Varèse along with Scriabin and the Schoenberg circle, among the revolutionary composers whose work initiates the beginning of a new mainstream tradition in the music of our century."


Varèse's best known student was the Chinese-born composer Chou Wen-chung (b. 1923), who moved to the United States, met Varèse in 1949 and assisted him in his later years. He became the executor of Varèse's estate following the composer's death. He edited and completed a number of Varèse's works. For other pupils of Varèse, See: List of music students by teacher: T to Z#Edgard Varèse.

Influence on classical music

Composers who have claimed, or can be demonstrated to have been influenced by Varèse, include Milton Babbitt, Harrison Birtwistle, Pierre Boulez, John Cage, Morton Feldman, Brian Ferneyhough, Roberto Gerhard, Olivier Messiaen, Luigi Nono, John Palmer, Krzysztof Penderecki, Silvestre Revueltas, Wolfgang Rihm, Leon Schidlowsky, Alfred Schnittke, William Grant Still, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Iannis Xenakis, Frank Zappa and John Zorn.

The eminent champion and conductor of modern music, Robert Craft, recorded two LP volumes of Varèse music in 1958 and 1960 with percussion, brass, and wind sections from the Columbia Symphony Orchestra for Columbia Records (Columbia LP catalog Nos.MS6146 and MS6362). These recordings brought Varèse wide attention among musicians and musical aficionados beyond his immediate sphere. Much of the percussion music of George Crumb is particularly owing to such Varèse works as "Ionisation" and "Intégrales". Additional to the instrumental music on the first Craft recording is "Poème électronique" - a wellspring of ideas drawn upon by electronic musicians to this day.

On July 19 and 20, 2010, Lincoln Center in New York City dedicated two evenings to a nearly complete retrospective of his music, involving leading contemporary musicians directed by Steven Schick in the music for ensembles and the New York Philharmonic directed by Alan Gilbert in the orchestral works.[relevant? – discuss]

Influence on popular music

Varèse's emphasis on timbre, rhythm, and new technologies inspired a generation of musicians who came of age during the 1960s and 1970s. One of Varèse's greatest fans was the American guitarist and composer Frank Zappa, who, upon hearing a copy of The Complete Works of Edgard Varèse, Vol. 1 became obsessed with the composer's music. The first album Zappa heard was released on LP by EMS Recordings in 1950, and included Intégrales, Density 21.5, Ionisation, and Octandre.

On Zappa's 15th birthday, December 21, 1955, his mother allowed him an expensive long-distance call to Varèse's home in New York City. At the time Varèse was away in Brussels, Belgium, so Zappa spoke to Varèse's wife Louise instead. Eventually Zappa and Varèse spoke on the phone, and they discussed the possibility of meeting each other. Although this meeting never took place, Zappa received a letter from Varèse. Varèse's spirit of experimentation with which he redefined the bounds of what was possible in music lived on in Zappa's long and prolific career. Zappa's final project was The Rage and the Fury, a recording of the works of Varèse. In the linernotes of his early albums, he often subtly misquoted the ICG manifesto, "The present day composer refuses to die."


  • The record label Varèse Sarabande Records is named after him.
  • The rock band Chicago recorded the track A Hit By Varèse on their album Chicago V (1972).
  • Composer John Zorn has released six CDs dedicated to Varèse and Antonin Artaud: "Astronome", "Moonchild", "Six Litanies for Heliogabalus", "The Crucible", "Ipsissimus" and "Templars: In Sacred Blood".
  • Alan Clayson included an arrangement of "Un grand sommeil noir" on his album One Dover Soul (2012)

Musical philosophy and composition


On several occasions, Varèse speculated on the specific ways in which technology would change music in the future. In 1936, he predicted musical machines that would be able to perform music as soon as a composer inputs his score. These machines would be able to play "any number of frequencies," and therefore the score of the future would need to be "seismographic" in order to illustrate their full potential. In 1939, he expanded on this concept, declaring that with this machine "anyone will be able to press a button to release music exactly as the composer wrote it—exactly like opening up a book." Varèse would not realize these predictions until his tape experiments in the 1950s and 60s.

Idée fixe

Some of Edgard Varèse's works, particularly Arcana make use of the 'idée fixe', a fixed theme, repeated certain times in a work. The 'idée fixe' was most famously used by Hector Berlioz in his Symphonie fantastique; it is generally not transposed, differentiating it from the leitmotiv, used by Richard Wagner.


  • Un grand sommeil noir, song to a text by Paul Verlaine for voice and piano (1906)
  • Amériques for large orchestra (1918–1921; revised 1927)
  • Offrandes for soprano and chamber orchestra (poems by Vicente Huidobro and José Juan Tablada)(1921)
  • Hyperprism for wind and percussion (1922–1923)
  • Octandre for seven wind instruments and double bass (1923)
  • Intégrales for wind and percussion (1924–1925)
  • Arcana for large orchestra (1925–1927)
  • Ionisation for 13 percussion players (1929–1931)
  • Ecuatorial for bass voice (or unison male chorus), brass, organ, percussion and theremins (revised for ondes-martenots in 1961) (text by Francisco Ximénez) (1932–1934)
  • Density 21.5 for solo flute (1936)
  • Tuning Up for orchestra (sketched 1946; completed by Chou Wen-chung, 1998)
  • Étude pour espace for soprano solo, chorus, 2 pianos and percussion (1947; orchestrated and arranged by Chou Wen-chung for wind instruments and percussion for spatialized live performance, 2009) (texts by Kenneth Patchen, José Juan Tablada and St. John of the Cross)
  • Dance for Burgess for chamber ensemble (1949)
  • Déserts for wind, percussion and electronic tape (1950–1954)
  • La procession de verges for electronic tape (soundtrack for Around and About Joan Mirò, directed by Thomas Bouchard) (1955)
  • Poème électronique for electronic tape (1957–1958)
  • Nocturnal for soprano, male chorus and orchestra, text adapted from The House of Incest by Anaïs Nin (1961), revised and completed posthumously by Chou Wen-chung (1968)
Info: French-born composer
Index: 8.5
Type: Person Male
Period: 1883.12.22 - 1965.11.6
Age: aged 81
Area :France
Occupation :Composer
Periods :Modernist Music
Sect :Experimental Music


Update Time:2021-08-29 15:02 / 2 years, 9 months ago.