SAT Writing and Language Practice Test: Edgard Varèse's Influence

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Edgard Varèse's Influence

Today's music, from rock to jazz, has many 1 influences. And perhaps none is as unique as the ideas from French composer Edgard Varèse. Called "the father of electronic music," he approached compositions from a different theoretical perspective than classical composers such as Bartók and Debussy. He called his 2 works "organized sound"; they did not 3 endear melodies but waged assaults of percussion, piano, and human voices. He thought of sounds as having intelligence and treated music spatially, as "sound objects floating in space."

His unique vision can be credited to his education in science. Born in 1883 in France, Varèse was raised by a great-uncle and grandfather in the Burgundy region. He was interested in classical music and composed his first opera as a teenager. While the family lived 4 in Italy he studied engineering in Turin, where he learned math and science and was inspired by the work of the artist Leonardo da Vinci.

In 1903, he returned to France to study music at the Paris Conservatory. There, he composed the radical percussion performance piece Ionisation, which featured cymbals, snares, bass drum, xylophone, and sirens wailing. Later compositions were scored for the theremin, a new electronic instrument controlled by 5 the player's hands waving over its antennae, which sense their position. No composer had ever scored any music for the theremin before.

In his thirties, Varèse moved to New York City, where he played piano in a café and conducted other composers' works until his own compositions gained success. His piece Amériques was performed in Philadelphia in 1926. Varèse went on to travel to the western United States, where he recorded, lectured, and collaborated with other musicians. By the 1950s, he was using tape recordings in 6 contention with symphonic performance. His piece Déserts was aired on a radio program amid selections by Mozart and Tchaikovsky but was received by listeners with hostility. 7

Varèse's ideas were more forward-thinking than could be realized. One of his most ambitious scores, called Espace, was a choral symphony with multilingual lyrics, which was to be sung simultaneously by choirs in Paris, Moscow, Peking, and New York. He wanted the timing to be orchestrated by radio, but radio technology did not support worldwide transmission. If only Varèse 8 had had the Internet!

Although many of 9 their written compositions were lost in a fire in 1918, many modern musicians and composers have been influenced by Varèse, including Frank Zappa, John Luther Adams, and John Cage, who wrote that Varèse is "more relevant to present musical necessity than even the Viennese masters."10 His impact is undeniable. 11

ComposerNumber of Surviving Works
Edgard Varèse14
Benjamin Britten84
Charles Ives106
Igor Stravinsky129
Arnold Schoenberg290
Dmitri Shostakovich320


  • B. influences, and perhaps none is as
  • C. influences, but perhaps none is as
  • D. influences. Or perhaps none is as


  • B. works organized sound: They
  • C. works "organized sound", they
  • D. works—organized sound— they


  • B. amplify
  • C. deprive
  • D. employ


  • B. in Italy, he studied engineering in Turin, where he
  • C. in Italy he studied engineering in Turin where he
  • D. in Italy, he studied engineering in Turin; where he


  • B. the players' hands
  • C. the players hands
  • D. the player's hands'


  • B. conjunction
  • C. appropriation
  • D. supplication

7. Which fact, if added to this paragraph, would best support the author's claims?

  • A. The critical response to his 1926 performance in Philadelphia
  • B. The selections by Mozart and Tchaikovsky that were played on the radio
  • C. Which specific states he traveled to in the western United States
  • D. The cities in which the radio program was aired


  • B. would have had
  • C. would have
  • D. have had


  • B. its
  • C. our
  • D. his

10. Which choice completes the sentence with accurate data based on the graphic?

  • A. Despite being less famous than Stravinsky or Shostakovich,
  • B. Despite there being fewer surviving works than his contemporaries,
  • C. Even though he wrote pieces using a wider range of instruments than other composers,
  • D. Even though far fewer of his works are now performed compared with those of his contemporaries,

11. Which sentence should be added to the end of the paragraph to summarize its central idea?

  • A. Varèse's love of science and mathematics is shown in his later compositions, but less so in his early works.
  • B. In contrast with his newfound popularity, Varèse's early works have long been ignored due to increasing critical hostility.
  • C. Varèse and his innovative compositions became an inspiration for artists seeking to challenge traditional musical beliefs.
  • D. Though Varèse's contemporary critics failed to call him a "Viennese master," this distinction is changing.