07 June 2007

Celestial Mechanics (Makrokosmos IV) for amplified piano (four hands) (1979): A much more effective, it seems to me, version of the many larger scale piano works of Crumb's 1970s. Must be thrilling to watch live with the choreography that was involved - I was lucky to be following along in a score that was used during an early performance and was intrigued by markings such as "duck." There is a mix of rhythmic moments and non-rhythmic movements which livens things up also interesting the way in which Crumb has an almost DIY (if I were French I could say bricolage) attitude toward the extended sounds particularly in the use of household implements like rulers to change the sounds of the piano into some combination of a Nancarrow-esque tack piano or a Stockhausen modulated piano. Hints of Ives abound to with the melodic appearance of fragments of Dies Iraes or Crumb's old hymn: Will There be any Stars in My Crown? Particularly lovely moment in the Pythagorean "Cosmic Canon" when the page-turner is called on to join in making it piano 6 hands, it's almost as if Crumb is composing out the theater as well. Interestingly, said page-turner gets the last word.

A Little Suite for Christmas, A.D. 1979 for piano (1980): Crumb has found a good analogue for his romantic fragments in the panels of Giotto's fresco cycle. This set for piano of short pieces based on particular paintings presents tiny fragments of sound - bits of "Will There Be any Stars in My Crown?" Major-seventh bells, quasi-Persian muted strings for the Magi and so forth. Its evocative, gentle and, it seems, deeply felt, which makes its naiveity all the more endearing. More a curiostiy than a great work, and a good introduction.

Gnomic Variations for piano (1981): I hope these aren't the gnomes of myth, but rather related to gnomon - a stone of importance. A monolithic theme is varied too many times. Variation form very suited to thte aphoristic, but whereas the best variations- Brahms for instance build on each other and move forward these don't so much climax, rather the texture is old-fashioned homophonic in most cases and lacking either interesting melodies or else real pianistic virtuosity, it becomes a dull succession of somewhat interesting sounds and not too interesting gestures. The ending reprise of the theme however is really quite lovely - the piano sounds are otherworldly.

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