© 2016 by Kathryn Hendrickson 

THE MUSIC OF GEORGE CRUMB

Unique and innovative notation is a hallmark of George Crumb’s scores. His scores are neat, precise, and meticulously crafted, and many of his scores are handwritten. The initial contents of most scores include detailed performance notes and explanations of extended techniques. Many scores, such as Vox and Idyll, also include directions involving stage and performer arrangement, lighting, and microphone placement.  

 

Performers must read from the complete score in order to see the relationships between the instruments, and he will often include vertical arrows to assist entrances and ensemble alignment. Additionally, some of his music is notated spatially and unmetered; pauses and fermatas are notated in terms of seconds of time. Rhythmically, Crumb prefers small units of measurement and beat divisions such as dotted sixteenth notes. He employs the use of odd-numbered rhythmic groupings such as quintuplets and septuplets, and accelerando-ritardando motives frequently appear in Crumb’s music.  

 

For Crumb, timbral effects and extended techniques are not used frivolously but serve as an integral part of the composition. Crumb’s pieces challenge performers to communicate a connected progression of unique sounds rather than a series of unrelated extended techniques and noises.

 

Performers will be successful they capitalize on the visual qualities and physicality of their instrument. Many of the physical gestures used to create the extended-techniques on each instrument are clearly noticeable to the audience and can serve to heighten and communicate the expressive qualities of the music itself. Microphone placement, however, with the flute is critical as it must be close enough to pick up the sound. Practice bending into the microphone in certain places that need more amplification. Additionally, avoid excessive movements when using the microphone as it will distort the sound.