Edgard Varèse

From Wind Repertory Project
Edgard Varèse


Edgard Varèse (22 December 1883, Paris – 6 November 1965, New York, N.Y.) was an innovative French-born composer who spent the greater part of his career in the United States. Varèse's music features an emphasis on timbre and rhythm. He was the inventor of the term "organized sound", a phrase meaning that certain timbres and rhythms can be grouped together, sublimating into a whole new definition of sound.

Edgard Victor Achille Charles Varèse was born in Paris, but after only a few weeks was sent to be raised by his great-uncle's family in the small town of Villars in Burgundy. In the late 1880s young Edgar was reunited with his parents. In 1893, he was forced to relocate with them to Turin, Italy. It was here that he had his first real musical lessons, with the long-time director of Turin's conservatory, Giovanni Bolzoni. In 1895, he wrote his first opera, Martin Pas, which is now lost. Never comfortable with Italy, and given his oppressive home-life, a physical altercation with his father forced the situation and Varèse left home for Paris in 1903.

From 1904, he was a student at the Schola Cantorum (founded by pupils of César Franck), where his teachers included Albert Roussel; afterwards he went to study composition with Charles Widor at the Paris Conservatoire. He moved to Berlin in 1907. During these years, Varèse became acquainted with Erik Satie, Richard Strauss, Claude Debussy and Ferruccio Busoni, the last two being particular influences on him at the time. After being invalided out of the French Army during World War I, he moved to the United States in 1915. In 1917 Varèse made his debut in America conducting the Grand Messe des morts by Berlioz. He took American citizenship in October 1927

In 1928, Varèse returned to Paris to alter one of the parts in Amériques to include the recently constructed ondes Martenot. Around 1930, he composed his most famous non-electronic piece entitled Ionisation, the first to feature solely percussion instruments. Although it was composed with pre-existing instruments, Ionisation was an exploration of new sounds and methods to create them.

In 1933, while Varèse was still in Paris, he wrote to the Guggenheim Foundation and Bell Laboratories in an attempt to receive a grant to develop an electronic music studio. His next composition, Ecuatorial, completed in 1934, contained parts for fingerboard theremin cellos, and Varèse, anticipating the successful receipt of one of his grants, eagerly returned to the United States to finally realize his electronic music.

Works for Winds


  • Anderson, John Davis. "The aesthetics of Varèse." CBDNA Journal vol. 2, Winter 1985, pp. 18-24. Reprinted in The Wind Band and Its Repertoire: Two Decades of Research as Published in the College Band Directors National Association Journal. Compiled and edited by Michael Votta Jr. Warner Bros. Publications, 2003, pp. 174–182.
  • Edgard Varese, Wikipedia. Accessed 15 May 2020.
  • Edgard Varèse Collection. Paul Sachter Stiftung.
  • Grimo, Steven. "A conductor’s guide to the performance of Edgard Varèse’s wind/percussion music." 1991. The Catholic University of America, DMA dissertation.