I’m super excited to be going home for a week to do so many music things. Because of all the awesome music things happening, I’ve been doing a lot of prep work, mostly research and practicing.
The practicing is obviously necessary, but research? The same way you need to understand the context of a piece of literature, you need to understand the context of a piece of music to really get it. This may sound like it’s undermining the work -a lot of twentieth century composers tried to write music totally free from preconceived notions about sound- but that isn’t actually possible. They had a musical and artistic language that they learned from childhood which they were reacting to, they had artistic influences in adulthood that they tried to emulate, and they had their own idea of how to break from music loaded with outside meaning. To really understand where composers were coming from (especially composers that depart from the tradition of tonality and functional harmony) we need to know about them.
Edgar Varese was a relatively solitary composer, he didn’t like what the composers of his time (1910ish) were doing because he thought they were too restricted by musical institutions, (academia mostly), so he hung out with visual artists. He loved the visual art movements of the early 20th century, considered those artists truly creative (in that they were doing completely new things), and their work and ideas about art influenced his music a lot more than any of his contemporary composers. A lot was going on then, Cubism, Dadaism, Futurism, and Varese met a lot of these artists in New York after he left France. So to really understand Varese’s artistic ideals and his soundscape, you need to understand some of the movements in visual art. One of the big ideas was that art didn’t have to be representational. Previous to this time, most art depicted something else, seen through the painter’s/sculpture’s eyes and interpreted, made into art. At this time, one big idea (among the many) was that objects on a canvas were just that, objects defining the space of the canvas. Artistic works didn’t represent something obvious, they were just themselves. This was a big idea in Varese’s music, that it was not programmatic in any way, it only expressed itself.
This is super interesting to me as a performer, because while lots of music claims to only represent itself, it is often very easy to connect to outside influences (the write a story to give your solo meaning approach to interpretation). Varese’s music, in contrast, doesn’t to lend itself to that in my mind. I’ve never tried to give it outside meaning beyond it’s own events, which I guess is exactly what he intended.
For more things like this, come see me play 20th century flute music! I’ll be (briefly) introducing each work with some historical context, musical context, and just general info and cool facts. Or come see me teach new music techniques! It’s all going down on May 10th in Dearborn, MI!