February 14, 2006 Originally published on Panopticist
For a couple of years I’ve been meaning to find books of original scores by the American avant-garde composer George Crumb (b. 1929), who often uses highly unconventional, and graphically gorgeous, techniques to represent his music on the page. I haven’t heard much of Crumb’s music, but the scores themselves are sublime works of art. The staves on Crumb’s manuscript pages often dip, curl, and twist back into themselves, forming crucifixes, peace signs, closed loops, and various other symbolic shapes.
I bought two Crumb collections from sheetmusicplus.com: Makrokosmos Volume I (1972) and Makrokosmos Volume II (1973), both of which are for amplified piano. The design of my site can’t accommodate large, detailed graphics, but these images should give you a sense of the beauty of Crumb’s manuscript pages. The first image is a composition called “Twin Suns,” which is part of Makrokosmos Volume II. I rotated the image about 100 degrees clockwise so it would fit in this column:
Here’s a detail from “A Prophecy of Nostradamus,” also from Makrokosmos Volume II:
I’m going to frame four or six or eight of these and put them up in my apartment. As unplayable as they look, Crumb’s scores are all quite playable by experienced musicians. Don’t ask me how.
Here are video excerpts from an interview with Crumb in which he talks about some of his techniques. And on this page you can listen to sound samples and download cropped PDFs of some Crumb scores.