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Varèse: Amériques / Arcana / Déserts / Ionisation (Boulez, 1995, 1996)

An album that contains four compositions by Edgard Varèse, a French-born American composer of contemporary music. The re-recordings of them by Pierre Boulez conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Recorded in 1995–1996. Released in 2001 by Deutsche Grammophon.

“Amériques” (1918–1921, revised in 1927) is an orchestral composition for a large orchestra with additional percussion (for eleven performers) including police sirens. It is characterized by its primitive dynamism, like Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre du printemps/The Rite of Spring” (1913), discordance, and complex polyphonies. It is reminiscent of the bustle and noise of big cities like New York.

“Arcana” (1925–1927) is a symphonic poem for a large orchestra of 120 musicians, including 40 percussionists. It has uniformity as an “organized sound” (Edgard Varèse) by incorporating the motifs of the music in the classical period with futuristic sounds.

“Déserts” (1950–1954) is a piece for an ensemble of 14 winds (brass and woodwinds), 5 percussion players, 1 piano, and two-track electronic tape.

“Ionisation” (1929–1931) is a percussion ensemble for thirteen percussionists, which was composed under the influence of Italian Futurist artists Luigi Russolo and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. It is performed with 37 percussion instruments, including chimes, piano, bells, and two (high and low) sirens for fire engines. It was among the first concert hall compositions in the Western music history to be composed for percussion ensemble alone.

Varèse: Amériques