Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name



Music History

Committee Chair

Christensen, Jean, 1940-

Author's Keywords

Communication and the arts


Varese, Edgard, 1883-1965. Deserts


Edgard Varese began composing "Deserts" in 1949 and completed it late in 1954. Scored for fifteen instruments, five percussionists and two tapes of organized sounds, "Deserts" comprises acoustic instrumental music and sections of electronically-organized sounds on magnetic tape meant to be inserted at three specific locations within the piece. The alternating sections create a continuous, seven-part form. For a piece of music that is viewed by many as one of Varese's greatest works, scholarly writing On "Deserts" has been sparse compared to studies of works by other prominent composers of the same time. Since Varese's death in 1961 there have been only a handful of detailed analyses published. Previous analysts like Andrew Blyth and Malcolm MacDonald have referred to the instrumental portion of this work as a four-part structure, which is delineated formally by the insertion points Varese selected for the interpolations of taped sounds. This analysis will concentrate on the geometric constructs at work in "Deserts." Initially, an analysis of the pitch structure will reveal distinct planes of sound comprised of adjacent pitches. A consideration of these geometric planes based on trichords identified early in the work provide insight into Varese's concept Of "music as spatial--as bodies of intelligent sounds moving freely in space, "since the elements of tension and release manifest themselves in figures as they collide (tension) and are repelled (release). Consequently, the collision and repulsion of pitch-planes together with the changing of the shapes (construction of new pitch planes) provide clear formal indicators in the instrumental portion of the work and reveal the acoustic portions of the work as a two-part structure.