Edgard Varèse (1883-1965): the very name is a modernist shibboleth. No composer is more readily identifiable with the abolition of the syntax and vocabulary of past music; none more plausibly linked to the stereotype of “modern music” as noisy, unbridled, percussive dissonance, music as “organised sound” rather than melody and harmony. As if to emblematise his rupture with trad ition, he suffered (some say even contrived) the loss in a Berlin warehouse fire of nearly all his pre-1919 scores — music that is thought to relate (unsurprisingly enough) to that of the leading figures of the day, Debussy, for instance. Having by now left France to settle in New York, he was able to build on this tabula rasa an oeuvre that, though small, is like a monument to the uninhibitedness and pioneering spirit of the new world, to the human potential symbolised by both Americas.
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