American Mavericks

Edgard Varèse

(b. Paris, France, December 22, 1883; d. New York City, November 6, 1965)

Edgard Varèse studied with Albert Roussel and Vincent d’Indy, but his music sounds nothing like theirs. Early in his career he had to sell pianos to support himself, and once he played a minor role in a John Barrymore silent film.

In 1915, when he arrived in the United States, he poured his energies into the cause of new music, founding the International Composers Guild and organizing performances of works by such composers as Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Ruggles, and Cowell.

For him, sound itself was an organizing principle, and his works are like sonic sculptures. Sirens scream, huge blocks of noise collide, rhythms cross and crisscross. He anticipated the creative possibilities of electric-instrument research, even ceasing composition for a time because the technical means were not yet available to realize his aesthetic vision.