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Futurism in the harmonies of Edgard Varèse and Iannis Xenakis

Jorge Rodriguez-Caballero


This paper will focus on the possible influences that futurism had in the works of, both, Edgard Varèse and Iannis Xenakis. More specifically how the radically new approaches to harmony evinced by these modernists composers may be seen, or may have been, a direct consequence of the esprit du temps in which they conceived their works: futurism being undoubtedly part of that milieu.

In a brief introduction I will discuss Varèse’s acquaintances with prominent futurists such as Emilio Marinetti (a personal friend), Umberto Boccioni, and Luigi Russolo, who overall may have had a significant influence in the composer’s subsequent views about music and the art world in general. Following this I will focus on Varèse’s innovative approach to harmony illustrating it with some examples: these musical examples will not require expert knowledge as they speak of Varèse’s preoccupations with space and symmetry, and not with any traditional notion of harmony or counterpoint, melody, or rhythm.

Once concepts such as “sound masses”, “sonorous space”, or “partial symmetry” become familiar the paper will go into further detail, this time slightly more specialized, into the work of Xenakis and specifically Nomos Alpha. This work elaborates in a characteristic Xenakis original manner the musical thought of his tutor and friend Edgard Varèse, and the continuation of possible, in my view apparent, futurist elements in their work.

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