George Crumb’s Piano Solo Music – Transformation and Innovation
Mei-Wen Lee (National Sun Yat-sen University, Taiwan)
Since World War II American music composition has attained its full maturity. A few years before that time, American composers would often spend several years in Europe in order to learn the “craft”. Recently, however, younger generations came to realize that this is no longer necessary or profitable. The overall environments in the U.S. provide proper institutions of higher learning so that composers will find cultural interest and relevant concerns for their art via universities and conservatories.
George Crumb (born 1929), a second generation American twentieth-century composer and one of the earliest doctoral graduates, is considered one of the most important composers of the twentieth century. Crumb fully acknowledges the Western tradition. He consistently makes reference to his continental European predecessors, acknowledging them by direct quotation in his music as well as in his language of music making.
It was when Crumb’s style was becoming mature that the musical leadership of American composers in the international arena began to establish. Theodor Adorno, the German sociologist, wrote in 1962 that there was “a certain shift of the musical center of gravity from Europe to America.” But Adorno was concerned only with the radical avant-garde which at the time still depended upon “the premise of an absence of tradition.” Yet this situation is only the first half of the creating “American style” process, the erasing of the blackboard so that it may be written on anew. The coming of an American style or rather a new style means the distancing from the European tradition and then returning to it, absorbing it rather than re-entering into it.
This presentation is going to focus on George Crumb’s six solo piano works, to see how he absorbs the European musical ideas and blends them into his own creation. The influences from the composers he admires such as B. Bartok, F. Chopin, L.v. Beethoven, J.S. Bach, C. Debussy and A. Webern will be examined carefully. However, despite all the influences, George Crumb develops his own sound characteristics, form, texture, dynamic and articulation.