Edgard Varèse

Ionisation, for 13 percussionists

    Description by Rovi Staff

    In 1917, Varèse boldly announced that he longed "for instruments which are obedient to my thought and whim, with their contribution of a whole new world of unsuspected sounds, which will lend themselves to the exigencies of my inner rhythm." From 1918 to 1936, Varèse abandoned tradition almost completely. Hyperprism of 1923, for example, provoked a riot at its premiere. During his quest for new sonorities and effects, which climaxed in Ionisation, Varèse incorporated new musical instruments wherever possible. Ionisation, composed between 1929 and 1931, attracted the greatest interest and divergent critical opinions of all his works. The score introduced the electrical siren as a musical instrument for the very first time, and denoted the start of Varèse' increasing interest in electronic music. Nicolas Slonimsky conducted it at Carnegie Hall, on March 6, 1933, and the composer later dedicated the work to him. Carlos Salzedo, Henry Cowell, Paul Creston, and William Schuman performed as some of the 13 instrumentalists required. Its effect was likened by a critic at the time to receiving "a sock in the jaw." Varèse argued in his defence that "in music we composers are forced to use instruments that have not changed for two centuries....Composers like anyone else today are delighted to use the many gadgets continually put on the market for our daily comfort. But when they hear sounds that no violins, wind instruments, or percussion of the orchestra can produce, it does not occur to them to demand those sounds for science. Yet science is even now equipped to give them everything they may require."

    The title is derived from the ionization of molecules, as electrons are dispersed through the process of atomic change. In Ionisation, rhythmic cells are expanded, varied, and contrasted against one another. Their timbre keeps them identifiable as each cell becomes more involved and larger, and these cells grow in such a way that renders them independent of one another. The dramatic contour is in the degrees to which these rhythmic cells, which evolve into recognizable blocks of sound, seem to not be working together, continually growing and expanding the soundscape with the friction of their coexistence. Occasional relief is found in rhythmic unisons, that bind the separate blocks of sound into a single, propulsive rush, but there are not many. Varèse loved the unmanageable aspects of nature, the things that humans have no control over, and reveled in the way that, from our perspective, nature does not run smoothly.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2015 DG Deutsche Grammophon 002894794261
    2014 BR Klassik 900121
    2014 LTM LTMCD 2579
    2013 Decca
    2012 Dynamic CDS 720
    2012 DG Deutsche Grammophon 002894790340
    2012 Decca / DG Deutsche Grammophon / Universal Music Mexico S.a. De C.V. (Decca)
    2012 Albany Music Distribution TROY 1333
    2012 Accord / Universal 4806512
    2011 Col Legno WWE1CD20295
    2011 Decca
    2011 Decca 4783317
    2009 Él / Él ACMEM 172CD
    2008 Stradivarius 33816
    2008 Naxos 8557882
    2007 Él ACMEM 125CD
    2007 Wounded Bird WOU 1078
    2006 Nonesuch
    2006 Erato
    2006 Warp WARPCD 144
    2005 RCO Live 05001
    2005 Apex 4620872
    2004 Decca 4754872
    2004 Equilibrium 62
    2001 DG Deutsche Grammophon 471137
    2000 Montaigne 782096
    2000 Symposium SYMPCD1253
    2000 Nonesuch 79619
    1999 Decca 448580
    1999 One Way Records 26791
    1999 Col Legno 20041
    1998 London 460208
    1996 Vox CDX5142
    1996 Elektra 14332
    1994 Disques Montaigne 780518
    1993 Hungaroton HCD 12991
    1992 Nonesuch 79150
    1990 Sony Classical 45844
    Polygram 000
    Elektra / Nonesuch 79171
    Disques Montaigne 88518