Edgard Varese


Recommended recording

Curated by Maryna Boiko, Primephonic Curator

About this work

Written shortly after Varèse settled in the U.S. from Europe, Amériques is a work with no specific program, though it does depict the sounds (rather than the sights) of New York, particularly of its activities associated with the Hudson River. In Varèse's own words, it evoked for him "...all discoveries, all adventures. (America) meant the unknown. And in this symbolical sense -- new worlds on this planet, in outer space, and in the minds of men -- I gave the title signifying 'Americas' to the first work I wrote in America." Scored for a huge orchestra with a heavily augmented percussion section (ten performers playing 21 instruments!), the piece opens exotically with a flute in its lower ranges playing a lonely theme over a motoric but subdued rhythm by harp. Here the work more than vaguely resembles the opening of The Rite of Spring. Soon the orchestra lights up with percussion clacking and hissing and brass roaring. A recurring moaning effect depicts the ubiquitous river foghorns, but a high C sharp whistle represents a sound that haunted Varèse throughout his childhood. The music juxtaposes colorful, percussion-laden outbursts with passages of mysterious calm and sonorities generally dominated by brass, flutes, oboes, and other wind instruments. First-time listeners may hear the music as episodic and chaotic, with snatches of Bartókian menace and Debussyian darkness, but as the work progresses, tension imaginatively accrues, with each climax surpassing the last, the orchestration revealing ever more colorful textures, the river turning into a tidal wave awash in conflict, exoticism, and pure excitement. The frenzied ending is astonishing, leaving the listener breathless and drained.