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1947 __ Étude pour Espace''', pour chœur mixte, 2 pianos et percussions
Edgard (Edgar) (1883-1965)
Comment : From the late 1920s to the end of the 1930s Varèse's principal creative energies went into two ambitious projects which were never realized, and much of whose material was destroyed, though some elements from them seem to have gone into smaller works. One was a large-scale stage work called different things at different times, but principally “The One-All-Alone” or “Astronomer” (L’Astronome). This was originally to be based on North American Indian legends; later it became a futuristic drama of world catastrophe and instantaneous communication with the star Sirius. Varèse worked in Paris in 1928–1932, had a libretto by Alejo Carpentier, Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes and Robert Desnos. According to Carpentier, a substantial amount of this work was written but Varèse abandoned it in favour of a new treatment in which he hoped to collaborate with Antonin Artaud. Artaud's libretto Il n’y a plus de firmament was written for Varèse's project and sent to him after he had returned to the U.S. but by this time Varèse had turned to a second huge project. This second project was to be a choral symphony entitled Espace. In its original conception the text for the chorus was to be written by André Malraux. Later Varèse settled on a multi-lingual text of hieratic phrases to be sung by choirs situated in Paris, Moscow, Peking and New York, synchronized to create a global radiophonic event. Varèse sought input on the text from Henry Miller, who suggests in “The Air-Conditioned Nightmare” that this grandiose conception -- also ultimately unrealized -- eventually metamorphosed into Déserts. With both these huge projects Varèse felt ultimately frustrated by the lack of electronic instruments to realize his aural visions. Nevertheless he used some of the material from Espace in his short Étude pour Espace, virtually the only work that had appeared from his pen for over ten years when it was premiered in 1947. According to Chou Wen-Chung, Varèse made various contradictory revisions to Étude pour Espace which made it impossible to perform again, but the 2009 Holland Festival, which offered a 'complete works' of Varèse over the weekend of 12-14 June 2009, persuaded Chou to make a new performing version (using similar brass and woodwind forces to Déserts and making use of spatialized sound projection). This was premiered at the Gashouder concert hall, Westergasfabriek, Amsterdam by Asko/Schönberg Ensemble and Cappella Amsterdam on Sunday 14 June, conducted by Peter Eötvös. (Compiled from various sources)“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 discussed 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. [...] Working on “Espace” (another project that was never completed although ideas of which found their way into all subsequent works), Varèse planned the use of all sorts of speech sounds as well as such vocal effects as yelling, grunting, moaning, puffing, and hissing. In the only extant material from “Espace”, “Etude pour Espace” of 1947, Varèse interspersed among the languages of the text extensive passages of syllables of his own invention, which he called “syllables of intensity”. Since by the term “intensity” Varèse often referred to timbre as well as loudness, it seems he clearly conceived the idea of using speech sounds according to their characteristics and dynamic values. (Chou Wen-chung)« Voices in the sky, as though magic, invisible hands were truning on and off the knobs of fantastic radios, filling all space, criss-crossing, overlapping, penetrating each other, splitting up, superimposing, repulsing each other, colliding, crashing. Phrases, slogans, utterances, chants, proclamations. China, Russian, Spain, the Fascist states and the opposing Democracies all breaking their paralyzing crusts. [...] I suggest using, here and there, snatches of phrases of American, French, Russian, Chinese, Spanish, German revolutions like shooting stars, also recurring words poundingly repeated like hammer blows or throbbing in an underground ostenato, stubborn and ritualistic. ». (Dorothy Norman, “Edgar Varèse: Ionization - Espace”, Twice a Year, Fall-Winter 1941, pp. 259-260)Varèse had imagined a performance of the work being broadcast simultaneously in and from all the capitals of the world. The choirs, each singing in its own language, would have their entries with mathematical precision. The work would have been divided up into seconds, with the greatest exactitude, so that the chorus in Paris - or Madrid, or Moscow, or Mexico City, or New York - would have come onto the air at exactly the right moment. (Fernand Ouellette, Edgard Varèse, 1973)Edgar Varèse aspired unsuccessfully to use the radiophonic space that Apollinaire could only imagine in his unrealized symphony “Espace”, initiated in Paris in 1929 and occupying him for over a decade. In an argument sketched out in 1941, he wrote : « The world awake. Humanity on the march. Nothing can stop it. A conscious humanity, neither exploitable nor pitiable. Marching! Going! They march! Millions of feet endlessly tramping, treading, pounding, striding, RHYTHMS change. Quick, SLOW, staccato, dragging, treading, pounding, striding. GO. The final crescendo giving the impression that confidently, pitilessly, the going will never stop... Projecting itself into space... Voices in the sky, as though magic, invisible hands were turning on and off the knobs of fantastic radios, filling all space, criss-crossing, overlapping, penetrating each other, splitting up, superimposing, repulsing each other, colliding, crashing. Phrases, slogans, utterances, chants, proclamations. China, Russian, Spain, the Fascist states and the opposing Democracies all breaking their paralyzing crusts. [...] What should to be avoided: tones of propaganda, as well as any journalistic speculation on timely events and doctrines. I want the epic impact of our epoch, stripped of its mannerisms and snoberisms. I suggest using here and there snatches of phrases of American, French, Russian, Chinese, Spanish, German revolutions: shooting stars, also recurring words poundingly repeated like hammer blows [or throbbing in an underground ostenato, stubborn and ritualistic]. I should like an exultant, even prophetic tone -- incantatory, the writing, however, bare, stripped for action, as it were. Also some phrases out of folk-lore -- for the sake of their human, near-the-earth quality. I want to encompass everything that is human, from the most primitive to the farthest reaches of science ». (Douglas Kahn; also cited by Arthur Miller)“The situation with regard to Varèse is all the more incomprehensible because his music is definitively the music of the future. And the future is already here, since Varèse heimself is here and has made his music known to a few. Certainly it is not music that will make an instant appeal to the mob. Some men, and Varèse is one of them, are like dynamite. That alone, I suppose, is sufficient to explain why they are handled with such caution and shyness. As yet we have had no censorship of music, though I remember Huneker writing somewhere that it was surprising we hadn’t censored certain masterpieces. As for Varèse, I honestly believe that if he were given a clear field he would not only be censored but stoned. Why? For the very simple resaon that his music is “different”. [...]”. (Arthur Miller)One of [Varèse’s]imagined and unfinished projects was to be the large-scale work “Espac”e, which would be simultaneously broadcast from various points in space combining acoustic and electronic sound. The “Etude for Chorus, Percussion, and Piano” is thought to have been intended as a fragment of this work, and has sometimes been referred to as “Etude pour Espace”. In fact, Varèse conducted the premiere of a work with the same title used tonight at a concert at the New School on February 23, 1947. It featured the Greater New York Chorus, a chamber chorus he founded in 1943 to perform renaissance and baroque music. The text for the “Etude” is nonsense syllables, a meta-language of sorts which Varèse derived from Artaud and which he employed in several works. According to colleagues, Varèse was unhappy with the piece and felt the vocal lines needed more solistic presentation. In the ensuing months, he made revisions to the work, including re-ordering some of its sections. It is this revised version presented tonight, in what may be its first performance. The “Etude” is in any case an unfinished, fragmentary work, which reveals some of the direction Varèse hoped to take with “Espace”. (John Kennedy and Charles Wood, Program notes of “Varèse, Bowles, Garland”, Essential Music, SYMPHONY SPACE, NYC, Friday, December 1, 1995)
French comment : En février 1947, Varèse termina, non point “Espace”, mais “Étude pour Espace”, qui fut exécutée le 23 février de la même année, à la New School for Social Research, et qui fut enregistrée sur trois faces 78 tours. Il dirigeait lui-même le chœur mixte de vingt-deux voix de la New Music Society, et un ensemble de percussions auquel s’adjoignaient deux pianos. Le texte est composé de différentes phrases en différentes langues; Fernand Ouellette nous dit, au sujet de cette œuvre qu’il a pu écouter: “Le chœur parle, déclame, devient par la sonorité de ses mots une sorte d’ensemble de sons de percussion. De plus, dans “Étude”, le chœur a également une fonction mélodique, puisque Varèse l’utilise, dans certaines parties, dans toute son ampleur polyphonique... La percussion y est très solide, avec des trouvailles uniques... Par la suite, Varèse se servit de deux ou trois extraits d’Étude pour son “Poème Électronique”, qu’il transposa, filtra, si bien qu’ils sont devenus méconnaissables”. L’œuvre ne fut pas rejouée du vivant de Varèse. Peut-être la considérait-il comme inachevée ?. (Odile Vivier)
Source : Norman, Dorothy (1941), “Edgar Varèse : Ionisation -- Espace”, In “Twice a Year”, Fall-Winter 1941, pp. 259-260.
Source : Ouellette, Fernand (1960), “Visages d’Edgard Varèse”, essais, sous la direction de F. Ouellette, Montral, L’Hexagone, 1960.
Source : ''Ouellette, Fernand (1966), “Edgard Varèse, biographie”, Paris, Seghers, 1966; and also, Paris, Christian Bourgois, 1989.
Source : Kahn, Douglas (2004), “Art and Sound”, In “Hearing History: a reader”, Edited by Mark Michael Smith, Athens, University of Georgia Press, pp. 36-48; Abridged from "Introduction: Histories of Sound Once Removed", in Douglas Kahn and Gregory Whitehead (Eds), "Wireless Imagination : Sound, Radio, and the Avant-Garde", Cambridge, Mass : The MIT Press, 1992, pp. 1-29.
Source : Miller, Henry (1945), “With Edgar Varèse in the Gobi desert”, In “The Air-Conditioned Nightmare”, New Directions Publishing, Vol. 1, 1970, pp. 163-178.

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