George Crumb

Composer(s): George Crumb
Album Title: An Idyll for the Misbegotten/ Vox Balaenae/ Madrigals/ Books I- IV 
Cat. No.: 80357
Genre: Classical
Description: Zizi Mueller, flute; Jan DeGaetani, mezzo-soprano; University of Pennsylvania Chamber Players, Richard Wernick

George Crumb's (b 1929) 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 beautiful and meticulously notated scores.

Crumb's expressive content is heard to good effect in the works on this recording, which reflect several obsessions: the four books of Madrigals (the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca), Vox Balaenae (nature), and An Idyll for the Misbegotten (quotation; mood painting).

The Madrigals were composed between 1965 and 1969. Like many of Crumb's most significant works, including Songs, Drones and Refrains of Death (1968) and Ancient Voices of Children (1970), they are constructed from fragments of poetry by Federico Garcia Lorca. In a sense, his many Lorca pieces constitute, as the composer has pointed out, "an extended cycle." Still, each work stands firmly on its own merits. The four books, which last about thirty-two minutes in performance, are scored for soprano and a variety of instruments: vibraphone and double bass in Book One, alto flute (doubling flute and piccolo) and percussion in Book Two, harp and percussion in Book Three, and flute, harp, bass and percussion in Book Four.

Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale), is a kind of oceanic equivalent of Olivier Messiaen's birdcalls, based on the songs of the humpback whale. Crumb first heard the eerie submarine singing of the huge mammals on tape in 1969; the twenty-minute Vox Balaenae for electric flute, electric cello, crotales and electric piano was finished two years later.

A somewhat more human-centered view of nature is evident in the nine-minute An Idyll for the Misbegotten for amplified flute and percussion, composed in 1985. Once again, the theatrical element is paramount. Crumb suggests, "impractically," that the music be "heard from afar, over a lake, on a moonlit evening in August." The scoring, employing two of man's oldest instruments, conjures up a primitive, timeless aura; there is a brief quotation from Debussy's Syrinx, interpolated into a passage for the flute that also calls for the performer to speak a few lines by the eighth-century Chinese poet Su-K'ung Shu, while still playing the instrument ("The moon goes down. There are shivering birds and withering grasses."). 
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