Ionisation, one of the first pieces for percussion ensemble written for the concert hall, treats rhythm using a method inspired by the ionization of molecules, and continues Varèse’s exploration of the sounds of city life.
Composed in the early 1930s, Equatorial was the first piece to realise Varèse’s dream of combining instrumental and electronic sound. It features a bass voice or chorus, brass, organ, percussion and theremins, which the composer had built to his own specification (the piece was later revised for ondes-martenots). The text is from the sacred book of the Native American Quiché, who traced their heritage to the ancient Mayans.
The name Octandre refers to the eight stamens of a flower, in this work represented by an unusual combination of instruments which together produce extraordinary textures.
Varèse’s Deserts is written for wind, piano, percussion and tape, the result of the gift of an Ampex tape recorder, received by the composer from an anonymous donor.
The result is a breathtaking exploration into the nature of sound, through a focus on sustained chords and single pitches, captivating and unearthly.
It was originally imagined as the soundtrack to a film which would show the deserts on the surface of the earth, in the depths of the sea, between the stars and, most resonantly of all, in the human mind, in the form of the atrocities presented by the two world wars, such as concentration camps and the detonation of atomic bombs.
Density 21.5 opens the programme, distilling Varèse’s futuristic vision of sound into four minutes of unaccompanied flute.
Poème Électronique, composed when he was 75, was conceived for a pavilion designed by Le Corbusier at the 1958 Brussels’ World Fair, as part of an extravaganza of film, light and sound.
It makes use of technological possibilities that Varèse had long imagined, and its original performances relied on 400 loudspeakers.
Still an extraordinary listening experience, it is a masterpiece that was indubitably ahead of its time.
PerformersBirmingham Contemporary Music Group
RepertoireVarèse: Intégrales; Hyperprism; Ionisation; Ecuatorial; Octandre