Record of the day: George Crumb, "Makrokosmos III"

Record of the day: George Crumb, “Makrokosmos III”

George Crumb
Makrokosmos III (Cd Bis- 261)

It is not easy to define exactly what type of music George Crumb writes: he is certainly one of the reference figures in
contemporary American musical panorama and is among the most performed and appreciated living composers.
Yet he was never part of “schools” nor of the avant-gardes linked to the names of Babbitt, Cage, Lieberson or the generation of “university” composers such as Martino or Wuorinen; much less does his poetics have to do with the minimalism of Reich and Glass or with the neoconservatism of authors such as Danielpour and Torke.

His scores created like paintings, sometimes arranged in a circular manner, are very attractive and original also from the point of view of
graphic view (and obsessive in their precision of every minimal technical-expressive indication) are unmistakable, as is the sound world that comes to life in them. Far from tonality and initially influenced by Webern for a short period, Crumb managed to reach a vast audience of listeners, fascinated by the particular sounds that he manages to obtain without any use of electronic instruments (apart from amplification), through performance techniques unusual and creating compositions of often vast dimensions which sometimes also include theatrical and extra-musical elements.

The great “Makrokosmos” cycle (finished in 1974), which right from the title pays homage to the sound world of Béla Bartók, is unanimously considered the composer's masterpiece. Two volumes of the cycle are for solo piano, one for piano a
four hands and the one recorded on the CD that I recommend is for two pianos and percussion: the pianists, as always in Crumb, have to play in a completely unconventional way, sometimes covering the strings with sheets of paper or inserting various objects inside the tailpiece .

The percussionists play a real arsenal of instruments also coming from other cultures (African kalimba, Tibetan gongs) to create very differentiated rhythmic-timbral situations with colors that are at the same time lively and nuanced, never intrusive, and together with the pianos they often move on the thread of silence, sometimes interrupted by vocalizations that seem to come from ancient, unknown civilizations.

Carlo Boccadoro, composer and conductor, was born in Macerata in 1963. He lives and works in Milan. He collaborates with soloists and orchestras in different parts of the world. He is the author of numerous books on musical topics.

This text is taken from “Lunario della musica: A record for every day of the year” published by Einaudi, courtesy of the author and the publisher.