Edgard Varèse

Intégrales, for 11 winds & 4 percussionists

    Description by John Keillor

    Edgard Varèse completed Intégrales in 1925. It is scored for woodwinds, brass, and 17 different percussion instruments played by four percussionists. Varèse's term "spatial music" was first applied to this work, which broadly denotes a concept that pertains to all of his surviving output. It was his way of depicting music as a collection of coexisting sound properties (melody, harmony, rhythm, etc.). Instruments are chosen for the specific aspect of music they do best (the composer preferred winds and percussion) and they appear in sonic groupings that occur in different temporal durations from one another. This was dubbed "spatial" music because it is easier to describe it in terms of physical and temporal space; the durations among the different blocks of sound drift closer and further apart while appearing and reappearing in variations of themselves. Tensions vary in accordance the proximity of the sound blocks.

    Intégrales is dedicated to Juliana Force, and its title is not meant to denote an association with anything extra-musical. One of Varèse's former students pointed out that this work was written in spite of the limitations of conventional instruments and notation, that the world of sound contained in this piece is not about the instruments, but the distinction of the timbres between them. Instruments are intended to either blend or contrast with other instruments depending on whether or not they are in the same sound "block." Many listeners feel that this ambivalence to instruments made Varèse better suited to music that excludes them, such as tape music, which he eventually turned to. He said that the future of sounds required composers and electrical engineers to find the solution to the outdated means of generating notes. This geometric and abstract approach to music came to him while listening to the scherzo of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, which inspired in him a sense of, in his own works, "projection in space." Intégrales lends itself to visual impressions of celestial bodies in motion. The composer said that mathematics and astronomy inspired him; the motion of planets revolving around a star is comparable to the blocks of sound heard in this piece.

    The premiere of Intégrales was peculiar because it was so well received by the general public. At the Aeolian Hall in New York, Leopold Stokowski conducted it on March 1, 1925 to an enthusiastic crowd. This was not a group of avant-garde enthusiasts, but a more or less traditional audience who enjoyed the work so much that Stokowski was obliged to perform it again that evening. However, other than a few admiring writers, the critics hated Intégrales and mocked the piece at length. It is possible that this work offended the sensibilities of a writing community that had spent years building a meaningful way of talking about new music. Varèse's output still eludes easy description and the vast majority of musical terms and ideas available to listeners and writers do not pertain to his style. His own descriptions of his works are often opaque. Listeners without an extended musical vocabulary have the advantage of not instinctually attempting to turn the experience of Intégrales into words.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Praga PRD 250416
    2017 Alpha 274
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon / Universal 4811510
    2011 Col Legno WWE1CD20295
    2009 Albany Music Distribution 1064/65
    2007 Él ACMEM 125CD
    2007 Wounded Bird WOU 1078
    2006 Universal Music
    2006 Accord 4769209
    2006 Erato
    2005 Elektra / Nonesuch
    2005 Apex 4620872
    2004 BIS 1268
    2004 Decca 4754872
    2001 Naxos 554820
    1999 Decca 448580
    1999 One Way Records 26791
    1999 Gasparo Records 1017
    1998 London 460208
    1996 Vox CDX5142
    1996 Elektra 14332
    1994 Disques Montaigne 780518
    1992 Nonesuch 71269
    1990 Sony Classical 45844
    Ades 20409
    Doberman-Yppan 135