Sounding Out Varèse Creating Music at Home (Instrumentalists) >

In this activity you will use the the first four notes of Octandre by Edgard Varèse to compose and improvise your own music. Your creative process will parallel the one taken by BCMG oboe player Melinda Maxwell in creating her own piece Sounding Out Varèse.

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Sounding Out Varèse

Here is the first movement of Octandre by Edgard Varèse:

Listen to the oboe solo at the beginning of Octandre. The first four notes of the oboe solo are Gb(F#), F, E, D#. Here they are on the piano:

piano

As you can see, these four notes (in green) are very close together but, Varèse puts them in different octaves so that, instead of the intervals being close together, they are far apart. This creates a very distinctive sound. Not only are the intervals distinctive, so is the rhythm. See and listen below:

oboe varese

Below is more of the oboe solo from Octandre. You don't need to be able to read music very well to be able to see what is happening. Circled in red is the 4 note melody. Next, Varèse repeats the melody (green) but with some grace notes in between the 3rd and 4th note.  Then he repeats the melody (yellow) again adding more notes as decoration. This extends and develops the melody.

Varese score page 1a

Another note that is important is the long A, circled in blue. This special note stands out and is important in the growing melody.

Your Turn!

On May 4th 2020, BCMG's oboe player Melinda Maxwell performed Sounding Out Varèse. Melinda was also the composer of the piece.  Her music was inspired by Octandre.  Listen to her playing Sounding Out Varèse below:

Here is Melinda's beautiful score:

m maxwell score

To compose and improvise her piece Sounding Out Varèse, Melinda used short melody ideas, rhythms and ways of extending a melody from the oboe solo at the beginning of Octandre. Some of the musical ideas she prepared in advance and others she improvised in the moment.

You are going to try a simple version of what Melinda did. Attached are different transpositions of the first four notes of Octandre. You will see that we have given both the melody with the rhythm and the notes as simple minims.  We have also given you your own 'special note' like the note A in the original. To chose the notes/melody for your instrument CLICK HERE.

  1. Play and play the notes as minims until you feel confident and comfortable with the notes.
  2. As you play the notes, experiment with your speed, dynamics, sound and articulation
  3. Play the notes with the original rhythm
  4. Play the notes with your own rhythms
  5. Start to add notes in between the notes - you can add your 'special note'. 
  6. Take note of the ideas that you create that you like - record them or write them down
  7. Keep doing all of this over and over again

Now plan your final piece by organising the ideas you like. It doesn't need to be a notated score just a route map through your ideas. Be imaginative how you present your ideas - Melinda's score is three circles with her ideas inside - what will yours be?

Please send any music you create to learning@bcmg.org.uk 

For a PRINTABLE VERSION of this resource CLICK HERE.