Chou Wen-chung

Dance for Burgess (1949)

Dance for Burgess owes its existence to Étude pour Espace, a short study (‘étude hors d’oeuvre,’ as Varèse called it) for Espace, with which Varèse had been occupied, on and off, since 1932. After the performance of the Étude in 1947 with two pianos instead of the wind ensemble he had in mind, Varèse was displeased and became increasingly uncertain about Espace itself. Early in 1949 he came upon a new idea, Déserts, amd began transforming sketches for Espace into drafts for the new work. He disussed with Burgess Meredith the idea of doing a cinematic montage of sound and images based on Déserts. By March, the two agreed to collaborate on a film that never materialized. Meanwhile, Meredith was set to direct and act in a musical, Happy as Larry, with choregraphy by Ann Sokolow and mobiles by Alexander Calder. Meredith persuaded Varèse to participate in the creation of this unconventional musical by composing a short dance. Varèse, out of friendship, agreed and subsequently referred to the piece as Dance for Burgess. The play closed immediately after its New York opening on January 6, 1950, and Varèse, subsequently, never bothered to have the piece published or performed.

The manuscript is in my handwriting. I remember copying from Varèse’s draft in haste, leaving no time for him to edit and revise. The date given on the score, December 9, 1949, was the day the score was reproduced, barely in time for the preview in Boston on the 27th. Afterwards, Varèse made some revisions but left many questions unanswered. When editing the score in 1998, I had to begin with the instrumentation, since it was for a conventional Broadway ensemble and Varèse, pressed for time, did not use some of the instruments for more than a couple of notes — the string bass, for example, was assigned only one note!

Fortunately, there exist three black-and-white copies of the manuscript with corrections, additions, and revisions. Those in one copy are in Varèse’s own handwriting, while those of the other two are in mine, made according to his instruction. These are now incorporated in this edition.

In addition, the following revisions have been made in preparing this edition:

  1. The distribution of percussion instruments and stick specifications have been edited as close to Varèse’s intentions as is practical.
  2. There is a part for Tenor Saxophone - Bass Clarinet in the manuscript. The saxophone, however, is required for only four notes, in mm. 11-12, after which the part is exclusively for the Bass Clarinet. The part is now assigned to the Bass Clarinet only.
    With the elimination of the need for switching instruments at m. 12, it is now possible to fill out the sonority at mm. 13-14, as in mm. 11-12. This is accomplished by adding the Bass Clarinet part and filling two notes into the Horn part in m. 14, and assigning the B-flat Clarinet in m. 14 to double the E-flat clarinet as in m. 13. All of the above is accomplished through a redistribution of instruments without adding pitches or changing octave positions.
  3. In these same measures, phrasing for the Tuba, Piano, and Violoncello parts have also been provided.
  4. Throughout this tutti passage, the Contrabass is silent in the manuscript. It now participates in the doubling between the Tuba and Piano part, in the same manner as the Violoncello part, weaving between the Trombone and Piano parts. The two Violin and Viola parts are expanded, as originally suggested in mm. 13-14.
  5. In mm. 20-26, the distribution of the E-flat and B-flat Clarinets has been edited, assigning mm. 20-22 to the B-flat part, and adding a B-flat part at m. 25, where it doubles the trumpet. In mm. 35-37, the B-flat and Bass Clarinet parts are added, doubling the Piano, as do the Piccolo and E-flat Clarinet in the manuscript, at an octave higher. Similarly, in m. 43, these parts are added to double the lower octave of the Piano.
  6. In mm. 22-26, the string parts have been edited to more fully double the piano part, as intended in the manuscript. The Contrabass, silent in the manuscript, now doubles the piano as do the other strings.
  7. In m. 44, the strings are added to double the Piano chord. At m. 46, in the black-and-white copies of the manuscript, the two violins are in unison, as are the Viola and Violoncello. These parts are now revised to cover a wider range in the doublings of the sextuplet figure. In the final measure, the Violoncello part is converted to an octave double-stop, doubling the open C on the viola, while the Contrabass part is added to double the Violoncello’s open C.

Varèse was not a Broadway composer, and Dance for Burgess could never have been a number in a musical. Despite its milder sonorities and gentler rhythmic complexities, Dance for Burgess is genuine Varèse. Dashed off while he was immersed in conceiving Déserts, this whiff of a ‘dance’ is a wildflower swaying in the wake of a desert storm.

This corrected and revised edition was commissioned jointly by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Casa Ricordi, and the Decca Record Company, Ltd.