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Night of the Four Moons

"This dark work also represents the development of Crumb's mystical style, which was refreshingly original for the time in its allusiveness and eclectic approach."

Blair Sanderson, AllMusic Review

Night of the Four Moons, commissioned by the Philadelphia Chamber Players, was composed in 1969 during the Apollo 11 flight (July 16–24).


The work is scored for alto (or mezzo-soprano), alto flute (doubling piccolo) banjo, electric cello, and percussion. The percussion includes Tibetan prayer stones, Japanese Kabuki blocks, alto African thumb piano (mbira), and Chinese temple gong m addition to the more usual vibraphone, crotales, tambourine, bongo drums, suspended cymbal, and tam-tam. The singer is also required to play finger cymbals, castanets, glockenspiel and tam-tam.

Notes from the composer

I suppose that Night of the Four Moons is really an “occasional” work, since its inception was an artistic response to an external event. The texts—extracts drawn from the poems of Federico Garcia Lorca—symbolize my own rather ambivalent feelings vis-à-vis Apollo 11. The texts of the third and fourth songs seemed strikingly prophetic!


The first three songs, with their very brief texts, are, in a sense, merely introductory to the dramatically sustained final song. The moon is dead, dead . . . is primarily an instrumental piece in a primitive rhythmical style, with the Spanish words stated almost parenthetically by the singer. The conclusion of text is whispered by the flutist over the mouthpiece of his instrument. When the moon rises… (marked in the score, “languidly, with a sense of loneliness”) contains delicate passages for the prayer stones and the banjo (played “in bottleneck style,” i.e., with a glass rod). The vocal phrases are quoted literally from my earlier (1963) Night Music I (which contains a complete setting of this poem). Another obscure Adam dreams… (“hesitantly, with a sense of mystery”) is a fabric fragile instrumental timbre, with the text set like an incantation. The concluding poem (inspired by an ancient Gypsy legend)—Run away, moon, moon, moon! ... —provides the climactic moment of the cycle. The opening stanza of the poem requires the singer to differentiate between the “shrill, metallic” voice of the Child and the “coquettish, sensual” voice of the Moon.


At a point marked by a sustained cello harmonic and the clattering of Kabuki blocks (Drumming the plain,/the horseman was corning near…), the performers (excepting the cellist) slowly walk off stage while singing or playing their “farewell” phrases. As they exit, they strike an antique cymbal, which reverberates in unison with the cello harmonic. The epilogue of the song (Through the sky goes the moon/holding a child by the hand) was conceived as a simultaneity of two musics: “Musica Mudana” (“Music of the Spheres”), played by the onstage cellist; and “Musica Humana” (“Music of Mankind”), performed offstage by the singer, alto flute, banjo, and vibraphone. The offstage music (“Berceuse, in stile Mahleriano”) is to emerge and fade like a distant radio signal. The F-sharp Major tonality of the “Musica Humana” and the theatrical gesture of the preceding processionals recall the concluding pages of Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony.

The Lorca Texts

     I.   La luna está muerta, muerta;                                       I.    The moon is dead, dead;

          pero resucita en la primavera.                                           but it is reborn in the springtime.

     II.  Cuando  sale la luna                                                        II.  When the moon rises,

          el mar cubre la tierra                                                            the sea covers the earth

          y el  corazón se siente                                                          and the heart feels like

          isla en el infinito.                                                                   an island in infinity. 

     III. Orto Adán oscuro está soñando                                  III. Another obscure Adam dreams

          neutra luna de piedra sin semilla                                      neuter seedless stone moon 

          donde el niño de luz se irá quemando.                            where the child of light will be kindling.

     IV."¡Huye luna, luna, luna!                                                  IV. "Run away, moon, moon, moon!

          Si vinieran los gitanos                                                          If the gypsies should come, 

          harían con tu corazón                                                          they will make of your heart

          collares y anillos blancos."                                                  necklaces and white rings."

         "Niño, déjame que baile.                                                     "Child, let me dance.

          Cuando vengan los gitanos                                                 When the gypsies come,

          te encontrarán sobre el yunque                                         they will find you on the anvil

          con los ojillos cerrados."                                                      with your little eyes closed."

          "¡Huye luna, luna, luna!                                                       "Run away, moon, moon, moon!

          que ya siento sus caballos."                                                for I hear now their horses."

          "Niño, déjame, no pises                                                      "Child leave me, do not step

          mi blancor almidonado."                                                     on my starched whiteness."                   

          ¡El jinete se acercaba,                                                           Drumming in the plain,

          tocando el tambor del Ilano!                                               the horseman was coming near!

          Dentro de la fragua el niño                                                 Inside the smithy

          tiene los ojos cerrados.                                                        the child has closed his eyes.

          ¡Por el olivar venían                                                              Along the olive grove

          bronce y sueño, los gitanos!                                               the gypsies were coming, bronze and dream!

          Las cabezas levantadas                                                       Heads high

          y los ojos entornados.                                                          and eyes half-closed. 

          Cómo canta la zumaya,                                                       How the owl hoots!

          ¡ay, cómo canta en el árbol!                                                Ah, how it hoots in the tree!

          Por el cielo va la luna                                                           Through the sky goes the moon

          con el niño de la mano.                                                       Holding a child by the hand.

"Night of the Four Moons culminates in a spectacular instance of musical quotation which Crumb uses to bring together Lorca's legendary gypsy moon and the one claimed by Apollo 11 astronauts. In an epilogue to the final song, the point of view shifts to the moon, which is evoked on stage by a bleak and desolate electric cello solo. From off stage, fading in and out like a distant radio signal, a richly melodic cradle song emerges, evoking memories of home. The effect of the juxtaposition of the two segments is a piercing feeling of recognition and warmth that reverberates - half pleasingly, half unsettlingly -  throughout the context of the composition." - Richard Steinitz, The Musical Times

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