On today's date in 1972, a most unusual chamber work by the American composer George Crumb had its premiere at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
Ideally, and "impractically" according to Crumb, it SHOULD have been heard, not in a concert hall in March… but in the open air… heard at a distance across a body of water, on a moonlit evening in August.
The work was entitled "Vox Balaenae," which is Latin for "The Voice of the Whale," and it's scored for three masked musicians, performing on electric flute, electric cello, and amplified piano.
Crumb writes, "The work was inspired by the singing of the humpback whale, a tape recording of which I had heard two or three years previously. Each of the three performers is required to wear a black half-mask or visor-mask. The masks, by effacing the sense of human projection, are intended to represent, symbolically, the powerful impersonal forces of nature. I have also suggested that the work be performed under deep-blue stage lighting."
In the opening of his piece, marked "Vocalise... from the beginning of time," Crumb quotes, with tongue firmly planted in masked cheek, the famous sunrise theme from Richard Strauss' "Also sprach Zarathustra," used to great effect in the opening of the Kubrick film "2001."
Music Played in Today's Program
George Crumb (b. 1929)Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale)Zizi Mueller, flute; Fred Sherry, cello; James Gemmell, pianoNew World 357