• Pablo Ziffer

Crumb - Makrokosmos [Audio + Score]

Crumb - Makrokosmos I, Twelve Fantasy-Pieces after the Zodiac [Audio + Score]

George Crumb [1929 - ] - Makrokosmos I, Twelve Fantasy-Pieces after the Zodiac [1972]

Laurie Hudicek, piano

Part 1:

Primeval Sounds (Genesis I) (Cancer) [0:03]

Proteus (Pisces) [4:25]

Pastorale (from the Kingdom of Atlantis, ca. 10,000 B.C.) (Taurus) [5:42]

Crucifixus [SYMBOL] (Capricorn) [7:42]

Part 2:

The Phantom Gondolier (Scorpio) [10:23]

Night-Spell I (Sagittarius) [13:09]

Music of Shadows (for Aeolian Harp) (Libra) [16:57]

The Magic Circle of Infinity (Moto Perpetuo) [SYMBOL] (Leo) [19:48]

Part 3:

The Abyss of Time (Virgo) [21:13]

Spring-Fire (Aries) [23:43] Dream Images (Love-Death Music) (Gemini) [25:28]

Spiral Galaxy [SYMBOL] (Aquarius) [29:28]

"George Crumb’s Makrokosmos pieces for amplified piano were created during an especially fertile period of his compositional career. Crumb had received the 1968 Pulitzer Prize for Music (before turning 40), and he produced a series of masterpieces in rapid succession.

As is true of most of Crumb’s music, the rhapsodic, quasi-improvisatory impression of many passages in Makrokosmos belies an extremely precise compositional design. The voluminous compositional sketches for the work reveal the composer’s meticulous planning, from the large-scale formal shape of each volume down to the smallest details. Chopin’s manuscripts confirm that the apparently “free” filigree in certain passages is in fact the result of painstaking revisions. Crumb’s sketches illustrate a similar concern for a perfectly balanced musical conception. Just as pianists come to appreciate the intricate architecture of Makrokosmos in the process of rehearsal and performance, the design of each piece and of the whole crystallizes for listeners after repeated hearings.

Perhaps the most famous aspect of Makrokosmos, and of Crumb’s music in general, is the dazzling exploration of musical timbre. Virtually every imaginable pianistic tone color is exploited in the work. The palette of traditional pianistic colors — those produced by playing on the keyboard as usual — is enriched by traversing the entire pitch range of the instrument, using special pedal effects, and exploiting an extraordinarily wide dynamic range (amplification makes possible not only tremendously loud sounds, but also helps us to hear extremely soft ones.) The blurry washes of sound throughout result from strategic use of the damper and sostenuto pedals, and all three pedals are used to create myriad gradations of color. At the opening of “Primeval Sounds,” the “darkly mysterious” low chords — which emerge as a kind of indistinct rumbling — are played with the damper pedal down and “sempre pppp,” a dynamic marking on the threshold of audibility. Crumb seems to be depicting a world “without form, and void,” out of which his musical macrocosm will emerge (the opening piece is aptly subtitled “Genesis I”). The sostenuto pedal is used far more extensively than in previous piano music. For instance, in the second and third pieces of Volume I (“Proteus” and “Pastorale”), the pianist holds down the middle pedal throughout,thereby allowing all strings of the lower half of the piano to vibrate freely. In these two pieces, the sympathetically vibrating lower strings create delicate, echoing “halos” around the incisive, quicksilver notes in the high register."

Crumb - Makrokosmos II, Twelve Fantasy-Pieces after the Zodiac [Audio + Score]

George Crumb [1929 - ] - Makrokosmos II, Twelve Fantasy-Pieces after the Zodiac [1972]

Laurie Hudicek, piano

Part 1:

Morning Music (Genesis II) (Cancer) [0:03]

The Mystic Chord (Saggitarius) [3:02]

Rain-Death Variations (Pisces) [5:51]

Twin Suns (Doppelgänger aus der Ewigkeit) [SYMBOL] (Gemini) [7:31]

Part 2:

Ghost-Nocturne: for the Druids of Stonehenge (Night-Spell II) (Virgo) [10:36]

Gargoyles (Taurus) [12:21] Tora! Tora! Tora! (Cadenza Apocalittica) (Scorpio) [13:43]

A Prophecy of Nostradamus [SYMBOL] (Aries) [16:16]

Part 3:

Cosmic wind (Libra) [19:20]

Voices from "Corona Borealis" (Aquarius) [21:16]

Litany of the Galactic Bells (Leo) [24:46]

Agnus Dei [SYMBOL] (Capricorn) [27:21]

"George Crumb's Makrokosmos, Volume II (1973) -- subtitled 12 Fantasy Pieces after the Zodiac -- is a sequel to Makrokosmos, Volume I, and was composed in 1972. Like its predecessor, it is a work for solo piano in which the pianist is asked to play his or her instrument in a fashion that would likely have left Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms completely speechless. The instrument must be amplified so that the incredibly wide dynamic range (ffff to pppp) can be better felt by audience members far back from the stage; then, taking up where John Cage left off, the piano must be "prepared" beforehand by the insertion of foreign objects -- a strip of paper, glass tumblers, etc. -- into the string area to produce carefully calculated sonic effects. When it comes time to actually play the piano, the pianist must, in addition to employing ordinary keyboard techniques, stick his or her hands into the guts of the piano and pluck strings, knock on the soundboard, and so on. He or she must also, in vintage Crumb fashion, use his or her voice -- "singing" certain mystic words, making rhythmic breath sounds, and at one point whistling. Naturally, the range of sounds produced during a performance of Makrokosmos II is stunning; this, combined with the sheer spectacle of one performer doing so many different things in one piece, have made the work one of Crumb's most famous.

The player or listener familiar with Crumb's Four Nocturnes for violin and piano will find the visual layout of the score of Makrokosmos II, and its multi-textured, semi-percussive sounds, very familiar. Three of the pieces (Nos. 4, 8, and 12 -- the final piece in each part) do, however, look completely differently than the others; in them, the music is printed in circles and spirals -- Crumb calls these movements "symbols." Makrokosmos II lasts a little over 30 minutes in performance and is dedicated to pianist Robert Miller, who premiered it on November 12, 1974."


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