Varèse – Amériques

When listening to this piece I must continually remind myself that it was completed in 1923 and as such was at the very forefront of the modern movement in classical music. As such it can be forgiven for being at times a little crude.

Varèse was breaking new ground with moving away from strict tonality while keeping within the confines of the classical orchestra, by which I mean that he didn’t feel the need to include vacuous noises or bursts of tone in attempt to be “avant-garde”. The music stays musical, recognisably so, using traditional harmonic constructs and melodies. Interspersing this with forays into atonality allows the composer to experiment without alienating the audience. A worthy goal well achieved.

The work is still eminently listenable and works well in evoking the aura and emotions of pre-war New York. In my opinion, the addition of the siren is the only facet that leaves the piece feeling dated and possibly clumsy, lending a note of the overly dramatic to the music and leaving one feeling that it might be trying a little too hard.

I don’t believe that exposure to Amériques has left me needing to amend or develop my definition of music, “noise deliberately created to generate pleasure for either the composer, performer or listener, or any combination of these”. It has generated emotion and pleasure and as such does exactly what we want music to do.

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