CRUMB: Vox Balaenae / Federico's Little Songs for Children / 11 Echoes of Autumn
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George Crumb (b. 1929)
Vox Balaenae • Federico's Little Songs for Children
An Idyll for the Misbegotten • Eleven Echoes of Autumn
George Crumb's reputation as a composer of hauntingly beautiful scores has made him one of the most frequently performed composers in today's musical world. From Los Angeles to Moscow, and from Scandinavia to South America, festivals devoted to the music of George Crumb have sprung up like wildflowers. Now approaching his 75th birthday year, Crumb, the winner of a 2001 Grammy Award and the 1968 Pulitzer Prize in Music, continues to compose new scores that enrich the musical lives of those who come in contact with his profoundly humanistic art.
George Henry Crumb was born in Charleston, West Virginia on 24 October 1929. He studied at the Mason College of Music in Charleston and received the Bachelor's degree in 1950. Thereafter he studied for the Master's degree at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana under Eugene Weigel. He continued his studies under Boris Blacher at the Hochschule für Musik, Berlin from 1954-1955. He received the D.M.A. in 1959 from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, after studying with Ross Lee Finney.
George Crumb's early compositions include Three Early Songs (1947), for voice and piano, Sonata (1955) for solo violoncello, and Variazioni (1959) for orchestra, the composer's doctoral thesis. In the 1960s and 1970s, George Crumb produced a series of highly influential pieces that were immediately taken up by soloists and ensembles throughout the world. Many of these were vocal works based on the poetry of Federico García Lorca, including Ancient Voices of Children (1970), Madrigals, Books 1-4 (1965-69), Night of the Four Moons (1969), and Songs, Drones and Refrains of Death (1968). Other major works from this period include Black Angels (1970), for electric string quartet, Vox Balaenae (1971), for electric flute, electric cello and amplified piano, Makrokosmos, Volumes 1 and 2 (1972, 73) for amplified piano, Music for a Summer Evening (1974) for two amplified pianos and percussion, and Crumb's largest score, Star-Child (1977), for soprano, solo trombone, antiphonal children's voices, male speaking choir, bell ringers and large orchestra. George Crumb's most recent works include Eine Kleine Mitternachtmusik for solo piano (2001), Otherworldly Resonances for two pianos (2002) and a four-part song cycle, American Songbook (The River of Life, A Journey Beyond Time, Unto the Hills, The Winds of Destiny) (2001-2004).
George Crumb's music often juxtaposes contrasting musical styles. The references range from music of the western art-music tradition, to hymns and folk music, to non-Western musics. Many of Crumb's works include programmatic, symbolic, mystical and theatrical elements, which are often reflected in his beautiful and meticulously notated scores. A shy, yet warmly eloquent personality, Crumb retired from his teaching position at the University of Pennsylvania after more than thirty years of service. Awarded honorary doctorates by numerous universities and the recipient of dozens of awards and prizes, he makes his home in Pennsylvania, in the same house where he and his wife of more than fifty years raised their three children. His music is published by C.F. Peters.
George Crumb's many awards include the Elizabeth Croft fellowship for study, Berkshire Music Centre (1955), Fulbright Scholarship (1955-6), BMI student award (1956), Rockefeller grant (1964), National Institute of Arts and Letters grant (1967), Guggenheim grant (1967, 1973), Pulitzer Prize for Echoes of Time and the River (1968), UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers Award (1971), Koussevitzky Recording Award (1971), Fromm grant (1973), Member, National Institute of Arts and Letters (1975), Ford grant (1976), Prince Pierre de Monaco Gold Medal (1989), Brandeis University Creative Arts Award, Honorary member, Deutsche Akademie der Kunste, Honorary member, International Cultural Society of Korea, six honorary degrees, 1998 Cannes Classical Award: Best CD of a Living Composer (Bridge 9069), 2001 Grammy for Best Contemporary Composition (Star-Child), 2004 Musical American "Composer of the Year".
Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale) for Three Masked Players (1971)
Each of the three players should wear a black half-mask (vizor-mask) throughout the performance of the work. The masks, by effacing a sense of human projection, will symbolize the powerful impersonal forces of nature (nature dehumanized). Vox Balaenae can be performed under a deep-blue stage lighting, if desired, in which case the theatrical effect would be further enhanced.
Voice of the Whale, composed in 1971, is scored for flute, cello and piano which are amplified in concert performance. The work was inspired by the singing of the humpback whale, a tape recording of which I had heard two or three years previously. The masks, by effacing the sense of human projection, are intended to represent, symbolically, the powerful impersonal forces of nature (i.e. nature dehumanized). The form of Voice of the Whale is a simple three-part design, consisting of a prologue, a set of variations named after geological eras, and an epilogue.
Federico's Little Songs for Children (1986)
Federico's Little Songs for Children, written for the Jubal Trio, was completed during the summer of 1986. In 1970, after the composition of Ancient Voices of Children (the eighth work of a Lorca cycle initiated in 1963 with Night Music I), I felt that I had exhausted the potential of Lorca's poetry as a catalytic agent for my own music. I therefore turned my attention towards traditional Latin texts (in Lux Aeterna and Star-Child); and then followed settings of Walt Whitman (in Apparition) and Edgar Allan Poe (in The Sleeper). However, there remained a number of Lorca's poems which I eventually hoped to treat musically, should inspiration return. Among these, the Canciones para Niños (Songs for Children) especially intrigued me, perhaps because the light-hearted and whimsical character of these little poems contrasted so sharply with the more somber poetry I had chosen for my earlier settings. And thus, after a hiatus of sixteen years, I found myself once again immersed in Lorca's magical imagery.
The seven little poems constituting the Canciones para Niños reflect many different aspects of a child's fantasy world. The mood can be reflective, playful, mock-serious, gently ironic, or simply joyous. At an early stage in the sketching process I decided to include all four instruments of the flute family so that I might associate an appropriate timbre with the innate character of each poem. Of course the varied treatment of voice and harp, together with purely compositional choices likewise help delineate the desired mood.
The opening song, Señorita of the Fan (Vivace, giocosamente; scored with piccolo), is set for the most part in a quintuple measure. The reference to "crickets" is illustrated by a chirping piccolo motif. Afternoon (Andantino quasi barcarola; with flute