George Crumb's Vox Balaenae

George Crumb's Vox Balaenae
George Crumb?s Vox Balaenae , or voice of the whale , is anything but normal. For example , all the musicians must play electrified instruments and wear black masks. According to Crumb , ? The masks , by effacing a sense of human projection , will symbolize the powerful forces of nature (nature dehumanized). Crumb also recommended using deep-blue lighting for the stage in order to enhance the theatrical effect. One has to wonder what kind of music would require such elaborate performance preparations. As expected , the music of Vox Balaenae is as eccentric as the performance preparations. At first view of the score , the viewer is flooded with a flurry of notes and very strange annotation. The first thing that should come to mind is , ?How does Vox Balaenae work??
One idea to keep in mind is the inspiration behind Vox Balaenae. Crumb was ispired to write ?Voice of the Whale? after hearing the sounds of whales singing underwater. Vox Blanaenae represents sounds of nature , rather than therfor I feel that I believe that an analysis of Vox Balaenae should be done from a greater distance with less complex analytical tools. The piece is an overview of the begining of time through the end of time. Crumb makes this very clear by naming each of the variations after archeologial periods of time, Each movement represents a step in the evolutionary process , therfor the musical evolution should be observed and listened to in a similar manner. Crumb very appropiatly chose the form of theme and variation to bring the evolution of nature to music. Theme and variation requires that a theme , such as the Sea Theme , must pass on some element of itself to its variations. This mirrors the idea that at the begining of time there was one single ?thing? , and everything else flowed from it. This was Crumb?s goal, and if you listen to the piece , he achieves it. The observation of the Sea Theme and the first two variations provides excellent examples of what Crumb was doing. There are several important aspects of Vox Balaenae that makes it very cohesive and effective.

One of the most important aspects of Vox Balaenae is the overall texture. Texture is the overall placement and interaction of notes on the page. Tonality is unimportant to texture. The Sea Theme?s texture is not very complex. Crumb chose to omit the flute in favor of the cello and piano. The use of only two instruments keeps the texture very clear. In order to keep the Sea Theme as simple as possible , Crumb structures it in a simple call and answer fashion. The cello sounds four times and the piano answers each time. The instruments do not interact together. First the cello begins and plays a fairly simple melody in the extreme upper register. The piano then enters with strummed chords in the extreme low register. Once again the texture is simplified through the use of extreme registars ; the piano at the bottam and the cello on top.

The first variation shares the same texture as the theme. The cello and piano act again in a call and response structure. There is no overlapping or intereaction. This is where the similarities end. The main difference is that the piano is now playing the melody , while the cello has introduced a new sound texutre in the form of seagull noises. Although the structure and overall texture is the same , the sound is totally different. This aspect will be discussed later on in the paper. Tension is increased by the decreasing of the space bewteen the cello and the piano. The listener begins to feel closed in as the seagull effects come in from the top of the range while the piano melody is coming up from the bottom. There is an overall afeeling of a closing in of the music.

George Crumb's Vox Balaenae 9.4 of 10 on the basis of 2883 Review.