This week we are looking at Futurism and how it plays out in visual art and music. Last time we looked at Joseph Stella’s Brooklyn Bridge. Today, let’s look at how Edgard Varese (1983–1965) used Futurism in his music.
Varese was born in Paris and at a young age, attracted the attention of several pillars in both art and music including Claude Debussy, Richard Strauss, and Pablo Picasso. Like Stella, Varese spent much of his adult life in New York City, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the crowds and growing commerce. Varese was interested in re-creating unique sounds that are not made by conventional orchestral instruments. His ideas were a precursor to what would become electronic music later on in the century. He did his best to create certain sounds by using the percussion section of the orchestra.
His work on Ameriques began in Europe in 1915 and was not finished until long after his arrival to New York. The work is in one movement for a large orchestra and an offstage “banda.” As you listen below, note the ship and fire engine bells, sirens, boat whistles, and other interesting sounds that he used percussion to imitate.