Composers of Today: A Comprehensive Biographical and Critical Guide to Modern Composers of All Nations

By David Ewen | Go to book overview
Henry Cowell analyzes Varèse's technique: "His music is acrid and telling, with a magnificent hardness of line. . . . Varèse does not ignore melody and harmony, but merely does away with them on occasion. He limits himself almost exclusively to harmonies containing strong dissonances. . . . One may, therefore, say that he has developed for himself a rule that such dissonant intervals are requisite for the harmonic fabric he desires. . . . Melody, when Varèse uses it, is often characterized by wide skips, broken sometimes by chromatic passages." Edgar Varèse lives in New York City, where he is chairman of the Pan- American Association of Composers, and where he devotes some time to the teaching of composition to talented pupils. He is an enormous admirer of Gregorian chants and Byzantine music; his favorite works are those produced by sixteenth-century composers. He also feels that the music world will some day realize that Beethoven is a far greater composer than Bach. Among the moderns, he prefers Malipiero, Webern, Schönberg and Béla Bartók."I refuse to take into consideration the ephemeral qualities in any work, its showy tricks intended for the diversion of idle snobs and esthetes, which win for it its epithet of modern," he informs us. "In art there is only that which has existed sooner or later. There are no modern or ancient works but only those which exist in the present. Ideas change and with them their medium of expression. In the works of today and in those which have preceded them the same elements and principles are common to all. The composer should not be held responsible if habit and mental laziness prevent some people from following the process of perpetual transformation of these elements and principles and make them wish to stop this pitiless movement and to substitute, for these elements and principles, stereotype formulas."He feels that he could be most happy tending to a vineyard and producing his own wine. Otherwise, he feels that more than anything else he would like to have a laboratory at his disposal where he could do research in acoustics and in the manufacture of new types of instruments.Principal works by Edgar Varse:
LARGE ORCHESTRA : Trois Pièces; Rhapsodie Romane; Bourgogne; Mehr Licht; Gargantua; Ameriques; Arcana; Espace.
CHAMBER ORCHESTRA OR INSTRUMENTAL ENSEMBLES: Offrandes (vocal); Hyperprism; Octandre; Intégrales; Ionisation; Equatorial.

About Edgar Varèse:

Cowell Henry. American Composers on American Music; Rosenfeld Paul. An Hour with American Music.

Important recordings of music by Edgar Varèse:

COLUMBIA: Ionisation (Slonimsky).


Ralph Vaughan-Williams 1872-

RALPH VAUGHAN-WILLIAMS, in the front rank of modern English composers, was born on October 12, 1872 in Down Ampney, Gloucestershire. His father, a clergyman, was financially independent, and so Vaughan-Williams was from the first placed in the enviable position of being under no necessity to learn a vocation. Endowed with unusual musical talent, he was permitted to follow an intensive course of study. Academic courses were followed at Trinity College, Cambridge, from 1892 to 1895. At the same time, the bulk of his music-study was pursued at the Royal College of Music under Parry and Stanford.

In 1896, Vaughan-Williams left the Royal College of Music, and that same year he visited Bayreuth and heard Wagner's music-dramas for the first time--a soul-stirring experience. Still under no necessity of earning a living, he returned to England and continued his study of music, holding at the same time unimportant positions as organist and lecturer of music at the University Extension. In 1901, he received his doctorate in music at Cambridge.

His interest in the folk music of England, a life-long passion with him, dates from his student years. Finding a particular fascination in these poignant folksongs, Vaughan-Williams became a member of the Folk-Song Society and, after some research in this field, made

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