The work that made Edgar Varèse known internationally was Amériques. He finished it in 1921, by which time he was thirty-eight years old. What happened to all the music he wrote before it?

In 1913 Varèse and his wife were living in Berlin, and, after six years of marriage, decided to separate. She left for a theater career in Paris, leaving him to tie up some loose ends before heading to Paris and on to Prague to conduct a concert before returning to Berlin in the autumn. He put his furniture and all but two of his scores and part of his opera Oedipus in a warehouse.

As it turned out, he didn’t get back to Berlin until 1922, by which time the Sparticist Revolution of 1919 had pitted Bolshevist workers against more moderate Socialists in violence that had included the burning down of the warehouse.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

A day or so before the outbreak of World War I, Varèse had sent one of his two remaining scores to Béla Bartók, who never received it. He sent the fragment of Oedipus to a friend in Switzerland in 1915 on the eve of his departure for America.

The only remaining complete specimen of his early works was a piece called Bourgogne, which Varèse brought with him to New York.

He destroyed that one himself.

Why? The answer lies in America or, more specifically, Amériques.

Varèse said later that with Amériques he had broken through to a new style, a new idiom toward which his earlier pieces had merely hinted. “I have always been an experimenter,” he said, “but my experiments always end up in the wastebasket.”

In telling the story, Edgar Varèse’s second wife added that the “infanticide” had taken place during a sleepless night when the composer had been depressed, and she wondered if, in more objective moments, he didn’t regret destroying the last of his early efforts.