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Crumb - Music for a Summer Evening (Makrokosmos III)

Composer:  George Crumb


Title:  Music for a Summer Evening (Makrokosmos III)


Number of Players:  2 amplified pianists, 2 percussionists

  • 1. 3 Japanese temple bowls, largest possible tam-tam, small tam-tam, 2 maracas, glass wind chimes, large suspended cymbal, small suspended cymbal, detached cymbal with flattened dome (to be places on timpano membrane), claves, 3 wood blocks, sleigh bells, glockenspiel, large timpano, slide whistle (plastic preferred over metal), thunder sheet, 2 octaves of crotales (8 of which will be placed on the timpano and then back on their stand), well-rosined contrabass bow, quijada (jawbone of an ass – vibraslap may be substituted), African log drum, sizzle cymbal, bass drum (positioned on its side), 2 toms, sistrum, Tibetan prayer stones, bell tree, alto recorder, tubular bells (shared with percussion 2), xylophone (shared with percussion 2)
  • 2. Vibraphone, bamboo wind chimes, 5 temple bocks, sizzle cymbal, large suspended cymbal, slide whistle (plastic preferred over metal), well-rosined contrabass bow, large tam-tam, small tam-tam, 2 toms, jug (to be blown, Appalachian style), bongos, bell tree, 2 triangles (large and small), sleigh bells


Approx. length:  40 minutes


Composer’s Notes:


Music for a Summer Evening (Makrokosmos III), for two amplified pianos and percussion, was completed in February 1974. The work was commissioned by the Fromm Foundation and was written specifically for (and is dedicated to) Gilbert Kalish, James Freeman, Raymond DesRoches, and Richard Fitz. These four gifted performers premiered the work at Swarthmore College on March 30, 1974.

The combination of two pianos and percussion instruments was, of course, first formulated by Béla Bartók in his Sonata of 1937, and it is curious that other composers did not subsequently contribute to the genre. Bartók was one of the very first composers to write truly expressive passages for the percussion instruments; since those days there has been a veritable revolution in percussion technique and idiom and new music has inevitably assimilated these developments. The battery of percussion instruments required for Summer Evening is extensive and includes vibraphone, xylophone, glockenspiel, tubular bells, crotales (antique cymbals), bell tree, claves, maracas, sleighbells, wood blocks and temple blocks, triangles, and several varieties of drums, tam-tams, and cymbals. Certain rather exotic (and in some cases, quite ancient) instruments are occasionally employed for their special timbral characteristics, for example: two slide-whistles (in "Wanderer-Fantasy"); a metal thunder-sheet (in "The Advent"); African log drum, quijada del asino (jawbone of an ass), sistrum, Tibetan prayer stones, musical jug, alto recorder, and, in "Myth", African thumb piano and guiro (played by the pianists). Some of the more ethereal sounds of Summer Evening are produced by drawing a contrabass bow over tam-tams, crotales, and vibraphone plates. This kaleidoscopic range of percussion timbre is integrated with a great variety of special sounds produced by the pianists. In "Music of the Starry Night", for example, the piano strings are covered with sheets of paper, thereby producing a rather surrealistic distortion of the piano tone when the keys are struck.

As in several of my other works, the musical fabric of Summer Evening results largely from the elaboration of tiny cells into a sort of mosaic design. This time-hallowed technique seems to function in much new music, irrespective of style, as a primary structural modus. In its overall style, Summer Evening might be described as either more or less atonal, or more or less tonal. The more overtly tonal passages can be defined in terms of the basic polarity F#-D# minor (or, enharmonically, Gb-Eb minor). This (most traditional) polarity is twice stated in "The Advent" -- in the opening crescendo passages ("majestic, like a larger rhythm of nature"), and in the concluding "Hymn for the Nativity of the Star-Child". It is stated once again in "Music of the Starry Night", with the quotation of passages from Bach's D# minor fugue (Well-tempered Clavier, Book II) and a concluding "Song of Reconciliation" in Gb (overlaid by an intermittently resounding "Fivefold Galactic Bells" in F#). One other structural device which the astute listener may perceive is the isorhythmic construction of "Myth", which consists of simultaneously performed taleas of 13, 7, and 11 bars.

I feel that Summer Evening projects a clearly articulated large expressive curve over its approximately 40-minute duration. The first, third, and fifth movements, which are scored for the full ensemble of instruments and laid out on a large scale, would seem to define the primary import of the work (which might be interpreted as a kind of "cosmic drama"). On the other hand, "Wanderer Fantasy" (mostly for the two pianos alone) and the somewhat atavistic "Myth" (for percussion instruments) were conceived of as dream-like pieces functioning as intermezzos within the overall sequence of movements.


-George Crumb



Annotated by David Luidens


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