Crumb: Zeitgeist; Music for a Summer Evening (Makrokosmos III)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Bridge
WORKS: Zeitgeist; Music for a Summer Evening (Makrokosmos III)
PERFORMER: Susan Grace, Alice Rybak (piano), John Kinzie, David Colson (percussion)
Has any music from the Seventies dated so rapidly and fatally as George Crumb’s? When it first appeared there was something endearing about the self-conscious allusiveness of Music for a Summer Evening, for two amplified pianos and percussion, with its larding of literary quotations (from Quasimodo, Rilke, Pascal et al), its evocative movement titles (‘Wanderer-Fantasy’, ‘Music of the Starry Night’, etc) and exotic sound-world, in which a huge range of percussion is combined with all manner of piano resonances and prepared piano techniques. Now, though, it all sounds desperately contrived and meretricious, for the musical substance of the piece has an emperor’s-new-clothes thinness.

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More than a decade later, in Zeitgeist, Crumb was still doing the same things, introducing musical quotations, using quaint symbolic typography – the score for the third movement, ‘Monochord’, bends the staves into a circle – and creating from the four hands at one piano a sound-world that is superficially beguiling, but ultimately rather empty. Crumb’s talent for inventing sonorities is undeniable, his ingenuity at setting up these conceits considerable, but after that there is just not enough to take away from the music; there’s too much surface, far too little depth. Andrew Clements