Visionary soundscapes

The composer Edgard Varèse

“At the age of 20, I began to perceive sound as a living material that can be formed without arbitrary restriction.” His courage to rethink sound, to push the boundaries of the traditional concept of sound and to open up new sound sources makes Edgard Varèse one of the most revolutionary and exciting composers of the 20th century. His aim was not to break with the traditional music traditions, but to develop and transform them. Always on the lookout for contemporary musical forms of expression, he not only became an important voice of Modernism, but also a pioneer in electronic music. For this reason, the Berliner Philharmoniker are dedicating a programmatic strand to the French-born composer who emigrated to the United States in 1915. After performing Amériques at Musikfest Berlin under the baton of Peter Eötvös – a work in which Varèse musically processed his first impressions of New York –, the Philharmoniker now present Arcana, another key orchestral composition by this visionary of sound. For this piece, the composer was inspired by the teachings of Paracelsus, the sixteenth-century physician, alchemist and mystic, who sought a universal remedy capable of healing, transforming and renewing mankind.

Monumental sounds and witty miniatures

The conductor of the evening, François-Xavier Roth, also presents several ensemble pieces by Varèse in a Late Night concert, including his Intègrales, whose music evokes the later electro-acoustic music. The concert also includes Hyperprism composed for nine brass and eighteen percussion instruments, in which Varèse translated the surrounding sounds of New York (including the Hudson ship sirens) into abstract form with the help of hyperprismatic refraction. One of Varèse’s last compositions can also be heard: the famous Poème électronique, created for the Le Corbusier-designed Philips Pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair: an electronic-spatial environment that, at its premiere, combined architecture, film, light and music to create a total work of art that fused space and time.