George Crumb: A Gallery Of Bizarre & Beautiful Scores

Today is George Crumb's 82nd birthday. Crumb is an acclaimed contemporary classical composer famous for his experimentation. Still alive, kicking and composing today, he's been known to include such oddities in his scores as having the strings of a contrabass struck with a mallet, or notating that players should enter or leave the stage in the middle of a piece. He's also one of the few composers to specifically include amplified instruments in his compositions.

Another hallmark of Crumb's is writing out his sheet music in such a way that the scores themselves become a work of art. Below we've showcased five examples of Crumb's visual experimentation in his sheet music. Yes, this is exactly how it will appear if you order Crumb's books from your humble narrator at his day job as a sheet-music salesman.

5. "Black Angels"

This electric string quartet was a commission by the Stanley Quartet at Crumb's alma mater, the University of Michigan. The piece is obsessively numerological, with each section somehow linking to the numbers 13 and 7.

4. "Agnus Dei" from Makrokosmos II

In addition to playing the keyboard, the pianist is required to strum and pluck the strings; apply glass tumblers and paper to the piano interior; as well as chant, whistle and whisper.

3. Spiral Galaxy from Makrokosmos I

Each part of the Makrokosmos series was divided into four parts in three divisions, with the last part in each division represented by a symbol and connected to a sign of the zodiac.

3. "Vox Balaenae"

"Vox Balaenae" means, "Voice of the Whale." Crumb was inspired by humpback whale songs to compose this piece for amplified flute, cello and piano. His performance notes state...

Each of the three players should wear a black half-mask (vizor-mask) throughout the performance of the work. The masks, by effacing a sense of human projection, will symbolize the powerful impersonal forces of nature (nature dehumanized). Vox Balaenae can be performed under a deep-blue stage lighting, if desired, in which case the theatrical effect would be further enhanced.

1. "Crucifixus" from Makrokosmos I

The finale of part I in the first volume of Makrokosmos was written as a crucifix. The zodiac symbol associated with this piece is Capricorn, the astrological sign of Jesus Christ (assuming his birthday really is December 25). Fittingly, December 25 was also the celebration of another cosmically themed festival, Saturnalia in Rome. Saturn was the father of Jupiter, or Zeus in Greek mythology.

Follow Rocks Off on Facebook and on Twitter at @HPRocksOff.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >