Monday, July 19, 2010

Varese Tonight

Going tonight and tomorrow to hear the Varese (R)evolution pair of concerts at Lincoln Center, reviewing them together (I hope for the Asbury Park Press, although whether they'll be able to run it remains to be seen).

There was a nice tribute piece on Varese in the New York Times, singling out Ionisation as one of his most significant works.

Part 1 of the event, tonight, is at Alice Tully Hall featuring the International Contemporary Ensemble and So Percussion. Part 2 tomorrow night features the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall.

I'm in love with the modernism of the era that Varese represents, the 1920s in the U.S. There was an incredible inventiveness and richness to the ideas that were circulating in the "dissonant" school, including the work of Charles and Ruth Crawford Seeger, Dane Rudhyar, George Antheil, Henry Cowell and many others. Inspired by the groundbreaking work of Stravinsky and the improvisatory style of Leo Ornstein, this stuff had little or nothing to do with Schoenberg's 12-tone technique that later overwhelmed the cultural notion of atonality and the use of dissonance. Varese was a spiritual leader of this movement, refusing to compromise his aesthetic even when the conservativism fostered by the Great Depression eliminated the opportunity for performances.

As a side note, it is striking to me how American Varese is. An immigrant and an iconoclast, he inspired a generation of composers all over the world, but American composers in particular. Frank Zappa is among the most notable, corresponding with Varese about the time the older composer was writing Deserts. Zappa was himself an iconoclast and a loner, like Varese. And he was also the son of immigrant parents and strongly aware of that fact.

That notion of displacement expressed through dissonance and experimentation, and of a unity, a translatability between the cultures of the world, has something to do with the styles that emerged in American life in the 20th Century. It fits in with psychological and cultural displacement found in the music of Charles Ives, considered the founder of whatever an American style is.

But I'm rambling now. More on all that some other time, I suppose. I have work to do if I'm going to make the train to New York later.


1 comment:

  1. Edgard Varese continues to be an inspiration to the contemporary composer.