Edgard Varèse

Density 21.5, for flute solo

    Description by Sean Hickey

    The only example of Edgard Varèse's mature music that doesn't require electronics or substantial performing forces, Density 21.5 is one of the very few true masterpieces among the limited repertory for unaccompanied flute. The work's title refers to the specific gravity of platinum; Varèse wrote Density 21.5 as an "inaugural" piece for French flutist Georges Barrère's new instrument, which was made of this precious metal.

    Density 21.5 immediately predated a period during which Varèse produced little music; it was, in fact, the last work of any consequence the composer wrote until after World War II. The composer's energies during this interval were directed primarily toward the development of his ideas regarding the spatialization of sound, which reached their culmination in the seminal electronic work Poème electronique (1957-1958).

    According to the composer, Density 21.5 is based on two melodic ideas -- one modal, one atonal -- and all of the subsequent material is generated from these two themes. Despite the inherent limitations of writing for an unaccompanied melodic instrument, Varèse expertly explores new areas of space and time, utilizing registral contrasts to effect polyphonic continuity. An important work whose principles proved highly influential, Density 21.5 aptly demonstrates both the singular creative powers of its creator and the expressive and technical possibilities of the instrument.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2015 DG Deutsche Grammophon / Universal Music France 4811510
    2014 Harmonia Mundi HMX 290853940
    2012 Ars Produktion ARS 38104
    2011 Nimbus NI 6157
    2008 Harmonia Mundi 1951710
    2008 Naxos 8557882
    2007 Él ACMEM 125CD
    2007 Crystal Records Dist. 716
    2007 Naïve 5128
    2007 Wounded Bird WOU 1078
    2006 Universal Music
    2006 Accord 4769209
    2006 Erato
    2005 Harmonia Mundi HMX290 8182
    2005 Apex 4620872
    2004 Decca 4754872
    2003 EMI Music Distribution 85264
    2002 Skarbo 4966
    2002 Naïve 4925
    2001 Harmonia Mundi 901710
    1999 One Way Records 26791
    1999 ATMA Classique 22175
    1999 Claves 508005
    1998 London 460208
    1997 Rivoalto 9508
    1996 Arts Music 47167
    1996 Delos 3184
    1996 Vox CDX5142
    1996 Elektra 14332
    1995 Neuma 45077
    1995 VAI Audio 1112
    1995 GM Recordings 2013
    1994 Sony Classical 66703
    1990 Sony Classical 45844
    Aeolus Music / Aeolus Recordings 02
    Cantilena Records
    Ades 20409
    Ermitage 130
    Sony Music Distribution 61990