"Quiet and subtly enchanting, [Vox Balaenae] reveals Crumb’s discoveries of new instrumental resources at their most lyrical; this second hearing confirmed that it is not a mere assemblage of sound effects but a sustained and beautiful dream vision of the deep." (Andrew Porter, New Yorker, April 28, 1971).

George Crumb’s iconic Vox Balaenae for Three Masked Players is a work for electric flute, electric cello, and electric piano. In 1971, the New York Camerata commissioned the work, and along with the request, sent the composer a recording of whale songs. Crumb, instead of directly quoting the whale songs, was inspired to recreate whale-like sounds with instrumentation and special, timbral effects. The composer’s “electric” designation means the players should be amplified with microphones.

 

Framed by an introduction and coda, Vox is constructed as a theme and variation form and takes on a “program” of the geologic ages. Each variation is titled a different geological age of the Earth. The introduction marks the beginning of time (“Vocalise”) and a coda for the end of time (a nocturne). The composer’s unpublished sketches reveal an original plan for seven variations that he later reduced to five.

Crumb instructs the performers to wear black half-masks and the stage is illuminated with blue lights. In the composer's own words, “by effacing a sense of human projection, [the masks] will symbolize the powerful, impersonal faces of nature,” and the blue lighting  evokes the sea.

Vox Balaenae

Information provided by Dr. Leanne Hampton

© 2016 by Kathryn Hendrickson