George Crumb: Makrokosmos

24 fantasy-pieces after the zodiac for amplified piano

Laurie Hudicek, Piano

Track Time Preview Cost +Add
1 Primeval Sounds (Genesis I) Cancer 4:20 $0.99
2 Proteus Pisces 1:16 $0.99
3 Pastorale (from the Kingdom of Atlantis, ca.10,000 B.C.) Taurus 2:07 $0.99
4 Crucifixus [Symbol] Capricorn 2:38 $0.99
5 The Phantom Gondolier Scorpio 2:45 $0.99
6 Night-Spell I Sagittarius 3:48 $0.99
7 Music of Shadows (for Aeolian Harp) Libra 2:50 $0.99
8 The Magic Circle of Infinity (Moto perpetuo) [Symbol] Leo 1:49 $0.99
9 The Abyss of Time Virgo 2:30 $0.99
10 Spring-Fire Aries 1:44 $0.99
11 Dream Images (Love-Death Music) Gemini 4:09 $0.99
12 Spiral Galaxy [Symbol] Aquarius 2:50 $0.99
13 Morning Music (Genesis II) Cancer 3:00 $0.99
14 The Mystic Chord Sagittarius 2:47 $0.99
15 Rain-Death Variations Pisces 1:41 $0.99
16 Twin Suns (Dopplegänger aus der Ewigkeit) [Symbol] Gemeni 3:21 $0.00 Free Downloads
17 Ghost-Nocturne: for the Druids of Stonehenge (Night-Spell II) Virgo 1:52 $0.99
18 Gargoyles Taurus 1:22 $0.99
19 Tora! Tora! Tora! (Cadenza Apocalittica) Scorpio 2:33 $0.99
20 A Prophecy of Nostradamus [Symbol] Aries 3:49 $0.99
21 Cosmic Wind Libra 1:55 $0.99
22 Voices from “Corona Borealis” Aquarius 3:31 $0.99
23 Litany of the Galactic Bells Leo 2:36 $0.99
24 Agnus Dei [Symbol] Capricorn 3:47 $0.99
Format: FLAC (16 Bit/CD Quality)
Full Album Includes ALC Version

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Although composed fairly recently (1972/73), George Crumb’s two volumes of Makrokosmos: Twelve fantasy-pieces after the zodiac for amplified piano have proven to be hallmark compositions of 20th century solo piano music.  These monumental works, 24 pieces after the zodiac, are tackled by relatively few artists in the music world today.  For not only do these pieces stretch the imagination and test the technique of the performer, they also reach beyond the realm of certainty, beyond that which is concrete and comfortable, and beyond the security of the keyboard.  Within these works, Crumb suspends reality to such an extent as to bring the listener and the performer to a place that hasn’t been visited since childhood.

Notes

While we remember the monsters under the bed or the glowing eyes in the corner of our dark room as we sought the solace of our dreams, we know that there was a world between being awake and being asleep.  Although frightening to most children, this was a part of ours lives, and we lived knowing that it was there, this place to run to when sad or run from when sacred.  This was a place where we knew ourselves and could experience the unknown. George Crumb can still see this world and has so expertly described it to us through his Makrokosmos that the uneasiness we felt as children on the verge of sleep comes flooding back upon first hearing.  The fine line between fantasy and reality, where dreams can seem real and reality seems an illusion, is the place in which these 24 fantasy pieces exist, a “dream within a dream” as another American icon may have described it.  We question at times if we are hearing things or if these otherworldly sounds are part of Crumb’s plan.

It is commonly known that these pieces are written after the zodiac. Each of the twelve pieces from both sets has a descriptive title, a zodiac symbol, and explicit instructions indicating the mood of the work, making these pieces, in the romantic sense, character pieces.  For example: from Volume II: Ghost-Nocturne: for the Druids of Stonehenge (Night-Spell II) Virgo Dark, fantasmic, subliminal.  Even in his titles Crumb shows us that his music is “larger than life,” in that it isn’t confined to the world in which we live. It makes us feel small at times, which adds to the discomfort of some listeners. There are sounds in these pieces that are not only foreign to the piano, but are sounds we might not even find in nature, sounds that may only exist in space or in our childhood fantasy-world, sound hallucinations.
In the above movement Crumb has the performer use glass tumblers to bend the pitch of the piano by having them move the glasses slowly along the strings while pressing firmly on them and playing the keys.  Not only is the sound exotic, but also the technique is not a pianistic one.  This remains true for most of the other techniques Crumb employs, such as strumming, plucking, muting, scraping, and hitting the strings, as well as using other objects such as paper, chains, a wire brush, thimbles, and plectrums.  The techniques are far different from those used in most keyboard literature today.

Among the most mesmerizing of Crumb’s departures from the keyboard are the vocal parts.  The pianist is required to sing, chant, whisper, moan, hiss, and whistle, which, for some, is a feat in itself.  However, Crumb asks for the pianist to do this while playing both on the keys and strings.  From Volume I, Night-Spell I  Sagittarius has the pianist whistling extensively, and the final section requires playing on the keys, plucking the strings, and whistling a traditional tune simultaneously.  Techniques are no longer limited to the tone control of the fingers, but also include the shape of the lips and breath control, and phrasing inside the piano.

While the vocal parts of the pieces were not written for the operatic voice, they were composed for voices of men, namely David Burge and Robert Miller. There is a certain mood that Crumb desired when he wrote the Agnus Dei of Volume II or the “ahs” from The Phantom Gondolier of Volume I and each of the other vocal pieces. The male voice creates a much darker tone carrying with it the “malignant evil” that is desired for Phantom, while the female voice has the ability to be more despondent.  The “ahs” become more witchy and the chants become more hopeless, thus bringing forth a different corner of this fantasy world.

As if out of respect for what has gone before, Crumb incorporates many quotes of other works in his pieces.  The most recognizable quote is in Volume I: Dream Images (Love-Death Music) Gemini. Crumb quotes Chopin’s Fantasy Impromptu as if to entice the performer and the listener to enter his world, but really to pay homage to what has passed.  Chopin is suddenly transformed into a hauntingly, hopeless ghost.  Originally, Crumb had intended to use a quote from Rachmaninoff, but copyright issues kept him from doing so in print or in recording.  However, the Rachmaninoff carries with it a more recent history and a more sorrowful experience.  Crumb also uses Beethoven, the Dies Irae, and folk tunes from his childhood.

As performance works, these pieces are highly choreographed by the artist.  The movements from inside the piano to the keyboard are like a dance.  The pianist is finally able to create the sensual and intimate relationship with piano that a violinist might have with his instrument.  We are no longer confined to the bench, and while listeners can experience this other world during performance, the performer is also transported.  The audience thus becomes the voyeur.
- Laurie Hudicek

Credits

Special thanks to: George Crumb, West Center Church, Eliza Garth, Dary John Mizelle, Bradford Gowen & The Hudicek Family.

Produced By: Marc Wolf
Executive Producer: Jeremy Tressler

Recorded at West Center Church, Bronxville, NY October 14-18, 2001
Engineer: Jeremy Tressler, Dreamflower Studio
Recorded at 24Bit resolution.

Piano provided by Steinway Hall of New York City
Piano Tuning: Dirk Dickten of Steinway Hall

Mastered By: Jeremy Tressler, Dreamflower Studio

Laurie Hudicek’s photo by Peter van der Water
George Crumb’s photo courtesy The New York Times

Artwork by Simon Schmidt ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )
French translation by Vicky Hardy; German translation by Andrea Jung

Makrokosmos is published by Edition Peters

Score excerpts Spiral Galaxy (page 11 & Inlay)
and Twin Suns (pages 21-23) used by permission of the composer.

This recording is dedicated to the memory of Charles Hudicek (2/12/20 - 11/17/01)

Reviews

"Laurie Hudicek's brilliant, commanding, and virtuosic new recording of George Crumb's Makrokosmos, Volumes 1 and 2, can immediately take an honored place beside the classic recordings by David Burge (of Volume 1) and Robert Miller (of Volume 2) . And, given the fact that she has generously recorded both volumes, this makes a handier one-CD collection that either of the earlier.

Her tempos and interpretation are decidedly her own. So is her voice. But it is just as alarming to hear her soprano shouts of "Christe" and "Tora" and moanings as it was to hear Burge's basso. She captures all of Crumb's madness and mystery. The presence she brings to this CD is nothing short of stunning." - Mark Alburger , 21st Century Music, June 2002

"This new label keeps on its winning streak here. The work in question is a pair of piano sequences based upon themes of the zodiac. Crumb’s soundworld, for those unfamiliar, can be sparse and magical. Laurie Hudicek takes this work most seriously...but this new one by Hudicek earns special praise for giving each of the two times twelve pieces its own soundworld without losing any of the total architecture. Superb graphic design and the booklet includes excellent notes as well as the spiraling graphic score." -Steve Koenig, Jump Arts Journal, February 2004

"Pianist Laurie Hudicek tackles what many consider to be one of the monumental pieces of 20th century repertoire for solo piano. ..A great recording of a true masterpiece." -New Music Box

"... It takes a daring musician to pull it off with such aplomb. Hudicek attacks the piece with equal parts finesse and sass, resulting in one of the more provocative CDs for solo piano to come along in quite a while." -Andrew Ervin, Washington City Paper, August 2-8

  • Artist Links: Crumb, George [Composer]
  • Catalog #: FACD6805
  • Release Date: March 2002
  • Download Booklet: 6805_crumb_booklet.pdf
  • Additional Downloads: fa_track_sheet_6805.pdf
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