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Edgard Varèse’s Octandre (1923) is arguably not trademark Varèse: missing are the menacing batteries of percussion that punctuate most of his important works. While the challenging idée fixe rhythmic unisons of works such as Ionisation are in evidence, in Octandre, melody is also to the fore.
The work is, to my ears, both clinical and expressive, and, after umpteen listenings, it remains modern and fresh. It is the one work above all others that I go to when seeking inspiration. So, as a means of perhaps peeling back a few layers of mystery surrounding Octandre and also as a way of demonstrating my gratitude to it, I have written this homage, using Varèse’s same instrumentation and three movement structure.
First Movement - a solo flute incites an angry mob.
Second Movement - ugly harmonies mingle with fairground-esque diversions and a sinking feeling.
Third Movement - whereas the first and the second movement used isolated, haphazardly-chosen fragments from Octandre to propel the discourse, this movement is anchored by motifs borrowed directly from the work, including the oboe, piccolo and bassoon openings of each of the first, second and third movements respectively and the brutal tutti rhythmic unisons of Varèse’s third.
As if to underline the composer’s reverence for Octandre, the final oboe note, taken from the stunning ending to Varèse’s first movement, is a semitone below that used by the Frenchman.
Commissioned by gateseven
02 Nov 2007: Performed by gateseven - Amanda Slater (flute/piccolo), Louise Cox (oboe), Janina Paulo (clarinet), Lucy O’Neill (bassoon), Abbey Edlin (horn), Barrett Hocking (trumpet), Grant Sinclair (trombone) and Simon Eastwood (double bass) - conducted by Justus Rozemond at St. Matthew's Collegiate School, Masterton
14 Nov 2007: GateSeven concert
11 Mar 2011: Performed by the Oberlin Wind Ensemble, conductor Timothy Weiss, at the Warner Concert Hall, Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Oberlin, Ohio
Performed by gateseven, conducted by Justus Rozemond
02 Jul 2020: CSO Studio Series | The Art of the Serenade