Friday, November 7, 2008

More George Crumb

George Crumb looks not unlike a JCPenney's catalog model on these album covers.

Zeitgeist is a fluid exploit of a piano's resonance, or rather that of two amplified pianos. Notes leave their mark in the air as if pressed into silly putty, their traces slowly disappearing as the medium in which they are cast slowly regains its former formless form.
Music for a Summer Evening (Makrokosmos III)
is just the opposite - it is like the listener is CSI scanning a scene where a musical event took place, looking for traces of it having happened. This is one of the great pleasures of George Crumbs compositions, in that the dramatic elements of the music get projected onto the listener in a more direct way than with other composers who deal in sparse plink-plonk music like this. As the investigations get deeper, more of the "music" is revealed, crescendo-ing into a giant crash. But, as we know, every revelation is but a doorway to a new mysterious hall, and the process begins again at each movement.

Easter Dawning is piece for carillon, or bell choir. Bell choirs usually are things to be endured in Christmas pageants but Crumb puts his usual peculiar spin on this one, and keeps it short, making nice use of density, like the echoing of competing church bells in the distance.
Celestial Mechanics, "Makrokosmos IV", a set of piano pieces with movements named for distant star systems, has a nice shuddery feel to it, perhaps mimicking the incomprehensible distance of space. My daughter and I were talking about how big things are and how far away they are in space, and I couldn't believe it. Like Jupiter is really far out there, and the next planet Saturn is double that, and so on. All rotating around our puny little sun.

"Beta Cygni" is particulalry lovely- sweet, almost silent tones rolling in like static with occassional peaks in the transmission, notes bouncing like rubber balls on the atmosphere. In the program notes for it on his site, Crumbs says this about his use of piano four-hands
My sole departure from tradition occurs at two points in the score where I have enlarged the medium to six-hands; and so, in the whimsical manner of Ives, the page turner must contribute more substantively to the performance than is his wont.
which is exactly what I think Crumb does with the listener, invites them in to the process of the music.

Here is a rehearsal video of "Beta Cygni." I love how they circle the piano like puzzled mechanics trying to figure out why the damn car won't start.

A Haunted Landscape and Processional are easily some of the more Romantic pieces in Crumb's repertoire - full-bodied bellowing mystery of the universe stuff - but because of that they inversely pale in comparison to his more slight ambiguous pieces in terms of embracing the cosmic ambiguities so richly explored in the rest of his catalog. The presence of second closing rendition of Easter Dawning on the album only underscore this difference.

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