The dizzy sixties
WILFRID MELLERS listens again to George Crumb
George Crumb is an American composer who made his considerable mark during
the dizzy sixties; and he still seems a sixties, and a quintessentially
American, phenomenon. Although he studied in Germany and received a Schönbergian
grounding under the American composer Ross Lee Finney, his early fame was
attributable to a radicalism that eschewed 'Europe' and most of its accredited
musical disciplines. Rejoicing in the polyethnicity of America, he became
a composer of renouvellement, inspired by primitive and exotic melodic
and rhythmic techniques, favouring percussion ensembles rather than harmonic
complexities, and revelling in ritualistic musics for solo voice, especially
soprano. Works such as Echoes of Time and the River and Ancient
Voices of Children, composed in the sixties and seventies, distil a
poetic aura appropriate to their titles.
here recorded, is Crumb's biggest piece in this ritualistic-magical category.
Although composed in 1977, it may count as a millenial piece since, using
Latin texts and references to sundry Christian, Jewish, and Oriental multiethnic
musics, it deals with a Rite of Passage from a world in spiritual, and perhaps
physical, declension to a world potentially new-born. As an Ives-like backcloth,
muted strings hum a Music of the Spheres derived from God's interval of
the perfect fifth; a fierce male speaking-chanting chorus represents negations
like the Dies Irae; solo soprano (the brilliant Susan Nurucki) soars
and swoops in thrillingly Crumbian arabesques to hint at rejuvenation; while
Joseph Alessi, on solo trombone, alarmingly suggests (perhaps) the brute
forces of Nature.
Copyright © 13 May 2000 Wilfrid Mellers,
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