His affection for his grandfather outshone anything he felt for his own parents. After being reclaimed by his parents in the late s, in young Edgard was forced to relocate with them to Turin, Italy, in part, to live amongst his paternal relatives, since his father was of Italian descent. In , he composed his first opera , Martin Pas, which has since been lost. One such work was his Rhapsodie romane, from about , which was inspired by the Romanesque architecture of the cathedral of St. Philibert in Tournus.
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In October Varese, visiting France for a few months, wrote to his wife back in New York: The two Fanfares I dreamed—I was on a boat that was turning around and around—in the middle of the ocean—spinning around in great circles.
In the distance I could see a lighthouse, a very high—and on the top an angel—and the angel was you—a trumpet in each hand. Alternating projections of different colors: red, green, yellow, blue—and you were playing Fanfare No. Then suddenly the sky became incandescent—blinding—you raised your left hand to your mouth and the Fanfare 2 blared. And the boat kept turning and spinning—and the alternation of projections and incandescence became more frequent—intensified—and the fanfares more nervous—impatient…and then—merde—I woke up.
But anyways they will be in Arcana. If the composition of Arcana had begun with the effortlessness of a dream—as the musical notation accompanying this account in his letter seems to show—to continue from these initial ideas proved anything but easy. Originally intended to be ready by early , so that Leopold Stokowski could consider including it in a program to be given at Carnegie Hall that spring, Arcana was not actually finished for another year after that, and during all this time Varese worked on nothing else.
For Varese, writing music was always difficult. Small wonder, then, that Varese in the midst of his labors would have thought of Paracelsus, the 16th-century physician whose lifelong efforts to introduce some measure of order into the chaos that then passed for pharmacology partook of both chemistry and alchemy. And capturing these powers in effective medicines was as much a task for magic as for experiment. Others in the arts of the 20th century had become fascinated too with magic, superstition, and alchemy, notably the surrealist, for whom imagination, as for Varese, reigned supreme.
Although it is unlikely that Varese felt much affinity with the surrealists as a group—he would have been put off by their distrust of music and their embrace of Freud, not to mention their leftist politics—it is true enough that their works and his bear many signs of their common interest.