In Time of War… notes on the program

George Crumb (b. 1929) is one of the most frequently performed composers in today’s musical world. Crumb is the winner of Grammy and Pulitzer Prizes, and continues to compose new scores that enrich the lives of all who come in contact with his profoundly humanistic art. Crumb’s music often juxtaposes contrasting musical styles, ranging from music of the western art-music tradition, to hymns and folk music, to non-Western musics. Many of Crumb’s works include programmatic, symbolic, mystical and theatrical elements, which are often reflected in his beautiful and meticulously notated scores.

George Crumb – Photo by Becky Starobin

A shy, yet warmly eloquent personality, Crumb retired from his teaching position at the University of Pennsylvania after more than 30 years of service. Honored by numerous institutions with honorary Doctorates, and the recipient of dozens of awards and prizes, Crumb makes his home in Pennsylvania, in the same house where he and his wife of more than 60 years raised their three children. George Crumb’s music is published by C.F. Peters and an ongoing series of “Complete Crumb” recordings, supervised by the composer, is being issued on Bridge Records. –

In 1976, Crumb was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and completed Dream Sequence (for violin, cello, piano, percussion and offstage “glass-harmonica”), the second of his works to be premiered by the Aeolian Chamber Players (Ocober, 1976). The work is a study in stasis and fragility and its subtitle “Images II” recalls the delicate and evocative timbral shadings of certain passages in Black Angels (“Images I”). – David Cope, extract from Biography from George Crumb Profile of a Composer

George Crumb on Black Angels, Thirtheen Images From The Dark Land for Electric String Quartet

“‘Black Angels’ was conceived as a kind of parable on our troubled contemporary world. The work portrays a voyage of the soul. The three stages of this voyage are Departure (fall from grace), Absence (spiritual annihilation), and Return (redemption). “The numerological symbolism of ‘Black Angels,’ while perhaps not immediately perceptible to the ear, is nonetheless quite faithfully reflected in the musical structure. These ‘magical’ relationships are variously expressed, e.g., in terms of length, groupings of single tones, durations, patterns of repetition, etc. . . . There are several allusions to tonal music: a quotation from Schubert’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ quartet, an original ‘Sarabanda,’ the sustained B-major tonality of ‘God-music,’ and several references to the Latin sequence ‘Dies irae’ (Day of Wrath). The work abounds in conventional musical symbolisms such as the ‘Diabolus in musica’ (the interval of the tritone) and the ‘Trillo del diavolo’ (the Devil’s Trill, after Tartini).”

Julius Eastman was born in New York City and raised in Ithaca, New York. He studied piano and composition at the Curtis Institute of Music, graduating in 1963. In the late sixties, he moved to Buffalo, New York, where he was invited by composer-conductor Lukas Foss to join the prestigious university-based new music group, the Creative Associates, eventually becoming a member of the University of Buffalo music faculty. In Buffalo, his colleagues at the new music center included Petr Kotik, Gwendolin Sims, James Fulkerson, Jan Williams, and Morton Feldman. During his highly productive years in Buffalo, he composed Thruway; a ballet score, The Moon’s Silent Modulation; Macle; Trumpet; Colors; and Stay On It; among other pieces. In the summer of 1976, Eastman moved to New York City where he became part of the “downtown” New York music scene. During this period he performed with Arthur Russell, Meredith Monk, Peter Zummo, and others in venues ranging from Carnegie Hall and the Brooklyn Academy of Music to downtown lofts and disco clubs. From 1976 until his death in 1990, Eastman’s “model of musicianship,” as music historian Ryan Dohoney terms it, “expanded to include free Jazz, improvisation, new wave rock, disco, as well as his own composed music that is marked by intense repetition and political aggressiveness.” This “political aggressiveness” is evident in the series of multi-piano pieces that Eastman wrote with provocative titles such as Crazy Nigger, Evil Nigger, and Gay Guerrilla. Following a series of personal struggles and misfortunes such as eviction from his apartment for non-payment of rent and the confiscation of his possessions including his musical scores, Eastman returned to Buffalo, where he died in 1990 at age 49. -Renée Levine Packer, Co-editor (with Mary Jane Leach) and contributor, Gay Guerrilla: Julius Eastman and His Music (University of Rochester Press, 2015.)

Julius Eastman – Photo by Donald W. Burkhardt

Among the Eastman scores we have left, Gay Guerrilla is possibly the finest example of what Eastman himself called organic music: a sort of large-scale additive process of accumulation of harmonic materials that proliferates and grows organically across considerable time spans. Unlike Philip Glass’s additive minimalism, a process based on lines that rhythmically expand and contract, Eastman’s organic music is based on the piling up of pitch over pitch, harmony over harmony, in curves of decreasing and increasing harmonic density and harmonic rhythm. This process really makes these compositions breath as if they were living organisms.

[…] Eastman’s Gay Guerrilla is loosely structured like a Choralphantasie (chorale phantasia). The chorale fantasia is a music composition based on a Lutheran chorale, whose characteristic feature is that the presentation of the choral melody is delayed via an “edging”, often constituted by an extended fugue-like section that prepares the stage for the rhetorical climax: the entrance of the chorale as a cantus firmus to accompany and complete the contrapuntal splendor of the fugal devices already deployed, and which typically leads the piece, triumphantly, to its end. Chorale fantasias were the opening movement of many Johann Sebastian Bach’s Chorale Cantatas and are among the most thrilling participatory moments of the entire Lutheran liturgy. Chorale melodies in general can be conducive to militancy: they are constructed so as to be easy to memorize; some look and function as a “call to arms”; they are a powerful tool to unify a group, as every-one in the congregation is familiar with the melody; and as a chorale is first heard, the congregation is typically frenzied with enthusiasm and tends to participate in the singing. In “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” by Martin Luther, images of warfare are conjured up already in the title, and the text is a call for fortitude and strength (pride!) to overcome oppression […] – Extract form the essay Gay Guerrilla, A Minimalist Choralphantasie by Luciano Chessa.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *