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George Crumb, "Black Angels," Movt. 1, "Departure"

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Published on Mar 8, 2014

Geo. Crumb (b. 1929), "Black Angels: Thirteen Images from the Dark Land" (1970), as performed by the Kronos Quartet (David Harrington, violin; John Sherba, violin; Hank Dutt, viola; Joan Jeanrenaud, cello), rel. on their 1990 album "Black Angels" (Nonesuch 79242)

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The program:

I. Departure:

(1) Threnody I: Night of the Electric Insects
(2) Sounds of Bones and Flutes (ca. 1:23)
(3) Lost Bells (ca. 2:03)
(4) Devil-music (ca. 2:56)
(5) Danse Macabre (ca. 4:34)


II. Absence:

(6) Pavana Lachrymae
(7) Threnody II: Black Angels!
(8) Sarabanda de la Muerte Oscura
(9) Lost Bells (Echo)


III. Return:

(10) God-music
(11) Ancient Voices
(12) Ancient Voices (Echo)
(13) Threnody III: Night of the Electric Insects;
(13) Sarabanda de la Muerte Oscura (Echo)

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[The following is adapted from D. C. Gillespie, ed., "George Crumb: Profile of a Composer" (New York: C. F. Peters, 1986); the booklet notes to Kronos Quartet, "Black Angels" (Nonesuch 79242); and http://kronosquartet.org (accessed 8 March 2014).]

"Things were turned upside down. There were terrifying things in the air. . . . They found their way into 'Black Angels.'"
—George Crumb, 1990

George Crumb's "Black Angels," inspired by the Vietnam War, draws from an arsenal of sounds including shouting, chanting, whistling, whispering, gongs, maracas, and crystal glasses. The score bears two inscriptions: "in tempore belli" (in time of war) and "Finished on Friday the Thirteenth, March, 1970."

About "Black Angels," Crumb writes:

"'Black Angels' was conceived as a kind of parable on our troubled contemporary world. The work portrays a voyage of the soul. The three stages of this voyage are Departure (fall from grace), Absence (spiritual annihilation), and Return (redemption).

"The numerological symbolism of 'Black Angels,' while perhaps not immediately perceptible to the ear, is nonetheless quite faithfully reflected in the musical structure. These 'magical' relationships are variously expressed, e.g., in terms of length, groupings of single tones, durations, patterns of repetition, etc. . . . There are several allusions to tonal music: a quotation from Schubert's 'Death and the Maiden' quartet, an original 'Sarabanda,' the sustained B-major tonality of 'God-music,' and several references to the Latin sequence 'Dies irae' (Day of Wrath). The work abounds in conventional musical symbolisms such as the 'Diabolus in musica' (the interval of the tritone) and the 'Trillo del diavolo' (the Devil's Trill, after Tartini)."

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