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Megan Swick, MUS303: Music History 2
Faculty Mentor(s): Professor Carolyn Guzski, Music
This project explores Edgard Varèse’s (1883-1965) musical composition Density 21.5, which was written for virtuoso flautist Georges Barrère, who had recently acquired a new platinum flute. The density of platinum is approximately 21.5, which explains how this piece acquired its unusual title. This piece is atonal, meaning that it isn't written in any specific key or mode and lacks a tonal center, situating the work as contemporary. In Density 21.5, Varèse explores the concept of instrumental pitch. In addition, he uses interval cycles--creating repeating patterns that begin and end on the same pitch--and the extensive use of the tritone, which is typically avoided in compositions due to its highly dissonant sound. My project goals are to dig deeper into the history of this piece and to analyze the score itself for its musical features. A significant prior example in music history was Debussy's Syrinx (1913), also for solo flute. I hope to achieve a better understanding both of Varèse’s compositional style and aesthetic inspirations for the piece.
Swick, Megan, "The Price of Platinum: Density 21.5" (2021). Arts. 21.