Edgard Varèse

Arcana, for orchestra

    Description by Donato Mancini

    Varèse's passionate views concerning composition and the physicality of sound are expressed coherently in Arcana. In this work, a kind of a freely extended passacaglia, a basic 11-note musical idea is subjected to all kinds of permutations and variations, eventually returning in an echo of its original shape just before a coda. The musical continuity provided by this scheme allowed Varèse great freedom in orchestration, enabling him to frequently change instrumental combinations without much fear of confusing the listener behind. The works repetetiveness, revealing certain obvious patterns, also allows the listeners to better appreciate the painstakingly chosen and constructed timbres. The orchestra required for Arcana is enormous: 120 players on a greater number of instruments, including 40 different percussions that are a constant presence in the overall sound. Disliking the lack of pitch-precision in the strings, Varèse uses the string section quite idiosyncratically. While Varèse described Arcana as a symphonic poem, his critics, perhaps more astutely, have relied on visual analogies to describe the work, evoking such objects as paintings and frescoes. The harmonic stasis of the piece and its emphasis on color -- it is a kind of visualized music -- do invite such analogies. In their efforts to describe the music vividness, writers have reached for extreme images. describig, for example, describing Arcana as Mount Etna blazing in the night. Not quite volcanic, however, Arcana is nevertheless something like a series of orchestral eruptions, as a result of melodic continuity, exciting rhythmic displacements, and novel coloristic choices. This is easily one of Varèse's most approachanble pieces. The title points to to the arcane writings of Paracelsus (1493 -1541). While Paracelsus didn't inspire Arcana, Varèse has compared his dream world to the mystical insights found in the works of Paracelsus. Thus, the symphonic poem is named Arcana not after Paracelsus, but in homage to him, of whom Varèse once remarked: "You can count Paracelsus among my friends."

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Praga PRD 250416
    2018 SWR Music SWR 19061CD
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 002894794261
    2012 Decca / Deutsche Grammophon / Universal
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon 002894790340
    2010 Decca
    2009 Él / Él ACMEM 172CD
    2007 Wounded Bird WOU 1078
    2006 Erato
    2005 Apex 4620872
    2004 Decca 4754872
    2001 Deutsche Grammophon 471137
    2001 Naxos 554820
    1999 RCA 63315
    1999 Decca 448580
    1998 London 460208
    1993 Erato 92137
    1990 Sony Classical 45844
    New York Philharmonic NYP2003
    RCA 902668819