Saturday, 10 April 2010

Varèse - the First Wild Man of music

Coming up soon, Edgard Varèse 360 weekend at the South Bank Queen Elizabeth Hall. Varèse was the first Wild Man of modern music. He was a huge, ferocious man, so the "untamed" image fits his life, too. LOTS ON VARESE on this site including clips and FULL download of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Modern art was a rebellion against the overstufffed sofa respectability of the 19th century. Instead, artists (of all types) became interested in things that weren't bourgeois. Gauguin quits France for Tahiti and paints dusky (non Christian) maidens in lurid colours. Picasso discovers the "primitivism" of African art. Cezanne looks at French landscapes, deconstructing them tio their essentials and reforms them in craggy, non-literal forms.

So much nonsense is written about modern music being "unemotional" and rule bound. The whole point of modernism was to react against the monolith of convention. So Debussy gets into Japanese art, Baudelaire into forbidden lusts, and the Jugendstil movement generates rebellion. The Second Viennese School is no more than a product of that loosening of restrictiveness, and a search for new forms.

So Varèse is a good symbol of modernism because his music's readily accessible, especially to people who don't necessarily have a grounding in classical form. People who've grown up with rock, jazz and progressive music can relate to Varèse. Frank Zappa was one of his biggest fans.

Some of Varèse's music like Ecuatorial and Amériques is immediate and graphic, kind of Braque in sound. He loves "unknown" territories, jungles in dark continents and concrete urban jungles, complete with car sirens.  He has rough edges, but that's part of his appeal.  Connect to Varèse, and the rest of modernity falls into perspective.

Elliott Carter lived round the block, for example. Carter's work is much more complex and intellectual, but at heart, he too imbibes from that same wild, unrepressed source of creativity.  Nowadays it's fashionable to knock Pierre Boulez because he has no time for being "popular" and dumbing down. But his reserve masks intensely passionate innovation. Boulez was one of Varèse's champions, before most anyone else.  There are two completish box sets of Varèse, Boulez and Chailly, both essential. I find, though, that I keep going back to Boulez becxause he hears the fundamental intelligence in Varèse, beneath the wild man surface, which to some extent was carefully cultivated. There's plenty on this site on Varèse and composers (and architects) connected to him, so please use labels at right and search.

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