George Crumb

Heard on WQXR (in NYC) last night, a broadcast of a 11/7 Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center performance of selections from the American Songbooks for Baritone, Piano, and Percussion by George Crumb, with Thomas Hampson, baritone; Gilbert Kalish, piano; and Ayano Kataoka, David Cossin, Haruka Fujii, and Jeffrey Milarsky, percussion. The composer amidst the percussion:


About Crumb and the American Songbooks, from Wikipedia:

George Crumb (born October 24, 1929) is an American composer of avant-garde music. He is noted as an explorer of unusual timbres, alternative forms of notation, and extended instrumental and vocal techniques. Examples include seagull effect for the cello (e.g. Vox Balaenae), metallic vibrato for the piano (e.g. Five Pieces for Piano), and using a mallet to play the strings of a contrabass (e.g. Madrigals, Book I), among numerous others. He is not an electronic music composer; however, many works call for amplification of instruments, such as Black Angels (string quartet) or Ancient Voices of Children (mixed ensemble). Crumb defines music as “a system of proportions in the service of spiritual impulse.”

… During the 1990s Crumb’s musical output was less prolific, but since 2000 Crumb has written several works subtitled American Songbook. Each of these works is a set of arrangements of American hymns, spirituals and popular tunes: Crumb originally planned to produce four such volumes, but in fact he continued to produce additional sets after the fourth (The Winds of Destiny) was written, with the seventh volume of the series (Voices from the Heartland) being completed in 2010. Typically these settings preserve the familiar tunes more-or-less intact, but the accompaniments for amplified piano and percussionists use a very wide range of musical techniques and exotic sounds.

I have recordings of two of Crumb’s works, both from 1970: Black Angels (in a recording by the Kronos Quartet) and Ancient Voices of Children, based on Lorca’s poetry, in the famous Nonesuch recording made in 1970 and featuring mezzo-soprano Jan DeGaetani:


Here’s the whole album, side 1 and then side 2:

The amazing DeGaetani died way too young in 1989, at age 56, of leukemia. Crumb, now 86, is still working. And he has his own website.

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