This Wednesday at 7 on WQXR 105.9, I’ll be playing on the radio with other members of ICE–an exciting preview event for ICE’s Varèse concert at Lincoln Center on July 19. The program will include a New York premiere of the composer’s two-piano, eight-hand version of Amériques, his first grand orchestral score. Check out the ICE Varèse blog here.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this amazing composer, whose influence will prove incalculable. In 1937, after most of the works for which Varèse would be known were already written, he said in an interview, “My work is the future. I’ve barely begun.” For Varèse, imagining the future was everything—and not just the subject of his music. The composer believed that it was one’s artistic duty to constantly invent. In the words of Feruccio Busoni—a fellow musical futurist, whose dictums Varèse committed to memory—“The function of the creative artist consists in making laws, not in following laws already made.”
This is what moves me most about Varèse’s music. I love to think about Varèse’s great successes as a composer alongside those projects that obsessed him but which he ultimately failed to realize. I love them both equally—to imagine the cello theremins of Ecuatorial as they might have been used in his constantly-reworked, unfinished science fiction opera (alternately called The Astronomer, The All-One-Alone, or Espace). Or hearing the fascinating, charged texts by Anaïs Nin in Nocturnal merged with the haunting sounds of Poéme Electronique. All these pieces, completed or not, represent a romantic vision of the future which is particular to Varèse. The man who reinvented himself and his music upon his journey to New York City in 1915 realized that America was just one frontier of many—a feeling thrillingly captured in Amériques, which for me is the ultimate hymn to adventure. Americas, plural—which America? There are so many new roads to take. Again from Busoni: “Music was born free and to win freedom its destiny.” Varèse imagined, he heard—and moved music forward.