TRANSCRIPTION | Edgard Varèse – Density 21.5

Edgard Varèse - Density 21.5

Edgard Varèse – Density 21.5

You know, I thought the Internet had simply everything—but I was wrong. So when my not very exhaustive search for a guitar tablature transcription of Edgard Varèse’ “Density 21.5” (a 1936 composition for solo flute) turned up nothing, I took matters into my own hands. And here we have just that, an arrangement of the piece in my own hand.

What about playing “Density 21.5?” Hell if I know—I’m no flautist. Actually, as a “guitar transcription of a classical piece,” there’s not that much here; the piece lacks the arpeggio fireworks of a Bach gavotte, for example, but instead takes character from ambiguous and slippery rhythmic and melodic phrasing—part of what makes it interesting. It’s kind of a bitch to count, really, with all of the tied notes and syncopated groupings. In the original sheet music, measures 24-28 feature indications for certain notes “to be played softly, hitting the keys at the same time to produce a percussive effect.” I’ve marked those notes to be played as hammer-ons.

Have I made any errors (other than taking on this project)? Since I made the transcription without the aid of a guitar in hand, the chances are good. I’m just going to leave them as “aspects of my arrangement.” Can you spot problems?

Like most of my friends, I became familiar with Varèse from his being quoted on Frank Zappa album covers (“The present day composer refuses to die.”). And once you absorb the angular swoops and turns of this piece it’s pretty easy to connect the dots (no pun intended) between FZ and his hero. This music, by the way, was written for the initiation of the platinum flute of one George Barrère, 21.5 being the density of that element, hence the title.

Would you like to hear it? Check out Jaques Zoon’s version as intended on flute or Justin R. Stolarik’s percussion reading. Or perhaps you’d like to make your version and share in the comments.

Click here to download a PDF of the arrangement.

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