George Crumb, “Star Child”

posted by: sarahperske

This monumental work by George Crumb made a big impression on me recently and I wanted to share. The score of this piece is a work of art in itself and is well worth trying to find (thank heaven for interlibrary loan). The text is an interweaving of medieval Latin texts (including the “Dies Irae”) and a Biblical text (John 12:36) that convey the apocalyptic theme of hope in the midst of destruction.

On my first hearing of the piece, the form struck me as a spiral or corkscrew; new elements are added as the piece moves forward in time, but previous elements keep cycling back either through periodic re-introduction (as in the shouted “Dies Irae” sections in the male speaking choir) or continuous repetition. The idea of a spiral form is graphically reflected in Crumb’s use of circular systems in certain sections to show musical elements that are repeated continuously as a “background” under other musical elements. Crumb labels these continuous sections as “Musica Mundana” and “Musica Humana.”

Crumb uses the human voice in intriguing ways in this piece. Trombone I, for example, is directed to speak through the instrument, creating an eerie, “disembodied” echo of the soprano’s speaking part. I also appreciate Crumb’s use of striking timbral juxtapositions in this piece. For example, after the luminous string sounds and bowed crotales of the first “circle music” have been established, a trombone with a metal plunger mute enters at 3:10, creating a ragged, jarring sound that contrasts sharply with the shimmering “Musica Mundana.”

I look forward to hearing what other people have to say about this piece – please comment!


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