Chou Wen-chung

Excerpts from “A Half-Century of Varèse”

Published in Musical Heritage Review, Vol. 1, No. XVIII, January 1978.

“Music, which should pulsate with life, needs new means of expression.”
“Our musical alphabet must be enriched …We are awaiting for a new notation.”
“I dream of instruments obedient to my thought and which with their contribution of a whole new world of unsuspected sounds, will lend themselves to the exigencies of inner rhythm.”
“We must now ask where Varèse’s music and his contributions stand in the light of developments since his death. What is his influence today?”
“Varèse was advocating and demonstrating in his music a totally new and yet fundamental concept in music. He was then already talking about music as being ‘spatial,’ as ‘sound set free’ yet ‘organized.’ He spoke of the entire composition as ‘a melodic totality,’ flowing ‘as a river flows.’ Instead of such compartmentalized considerations as melody, counterpoint, harmony and orchestration, there would be a continual process of transformation and interaction of layers of sound, each with its own sonic attributes but derived out of the same nuclear idea. Thus, he compared form to the phenomenon of crystallization: ‘the result of a process’ rather than ‘a mold to be filled.’”
“In Density 21.5 (1936) (MHS 3072) for flute alone, it is particularly easy for the listener to perceive the emergence of various ‘shapes of sound’ — to quote Varèse — evolved out of a basic idea. Projected into different registers of the instrument, they are conceptually unified but sonically diverse. Succinct and shaped out of a purely musical impetus, they are nonetheless highly evocative explorations of the intrinsic values of the sonorous resources of the flute.”
“[In] Varèse’s two orchestral works, Amériques (1918-22) and Arcana (1925-27) (MHS 3726)… there is a massive kaleidoscopic display of sonorities variegated and magnified. To paraphrase one of the titles, they are a labyrinth of sonic phenomena that can be conjured up with a huge post-Straussian orchestra.”