Density 21.5 (1936)

Edgard Varèse (1883-1965)

Program note written by Jacob Farmer

One Movement

Approximate Performance Time:
4 minutes

Intermediate Advanced – appropriate for college undergraduates

Buyse, Leone Karena., Georges Barrère, Martin Amlin, Paula Page, Edgard Varèse. Leone Buyse, Flute. Crystal Records, 2007. MP3.
Dick, Robert, Eric Dolphy, Robert Dick, Edgard Varèse, and Nicolò Paganini. The Other Flute. GM Recordings, 1998. MP3.

Source Article:
Dannenbring, Mark Steven. “Varese’s “Density 21.5″: Interpretation and Synthesis of Existing Analyses.” Order No. 9126369 The University of Iowa, 1990. Ann Arbor: ProQuest. Web. 1 Oct. 2016. Fabbriciani, Robert. “Varèse’s Density 21.5.” Rev. of Density 21.5Contemporary Music Review 23.1 (2004): n. pag. Print.

Edgard Varèse was born in Paris but spent most of his adult life in the United States. Varèse has a degree in composition from the Paris Conservatory, studying under Charles-Marie Widor. He has been a pioneer in modern music, especially electronic music. Some of his most popular compositions include Poème èlectronique for electronics, Ionisation for percussion ensemble, and Density 21.5 for solo flute. 

Piece Information:
Density 21.5 directly refers to the density of platinum, which is 21.5 g/cm3. The piece was composed in 1936 to commemorate Georges Barrère and his new platinum flute. Varèse’s work covers the full range of the flute and contains dramatic dynamic changes and extended techniques such as percussive key clicks. This piece contains one of the highest notes on the flute (D4) and it is repeated nine times during this short four-minute work. Varèse utilizes defined and deliberate rhythms throughout the piece. This work tests flutists’ capabilities of rhythmic precision, dynamic contrast, and the extremes of the flute range and tone colors.