Dream Sequence (Images II)


Program Note

This extraordinary, quiet, mysterious piece is perhaps the most extreme of the explorations of composer George Crumb (b. 1929) into his characteristic static realm of sound events. As usual he crafts these sounds with lapidary precision and exceptionally subtle distinctions.

The sound world Crumb has created since the 1950s is suggested by a perusal of his list of works. Nocturnes, Night-Music, Zodiac musings, Dreams, Images, Sleep. Apparitions and hauntings, voices from the past, and voices from nature dominate the catalog.

The instrumentation of Dream Sequence is essentially a piano trio plus percussion, though the percussion and piano make one discrete group, and the two strings play as a duo. The percussion is typically exotic: The pianist plays three water-tuned crystal goblets and a Thai wooden buffalo bell. The percussionist has Japanese temple bells, crotales (finger cymbals), sleigh bells, maraca, and suspended cymbals. In addition, there are two more players who remain offstage, continually playing a glass harmonica — four more crystal goblets tuned to the chord C sharp, E, A, D. These notes hang in the air continually throughout Dream Sequence and are marked “quasi subliminal.”

Dream Sequence appears to be an attempt to capture the elusiveness of dream. While nearly all music is linear, with a melodic line moving in a perceptible flow across time, this work (and much of Crumb’s other music) does not. What melodies there are just float, seemingly disconnected from time. The music hangs in one place rather than moving. It does not move in a straight line, but circularly.

This is not just a metaphoric description. Most of Dream Sequence is, literally, written in circles rather than on straight staff lines. Crumb developed this special “circular notation” earlier and used it in parts of such works as his orchestral Echoes of Time and the River and the song cycle Ancient Voices of Children.

None of his works uses circular notation as much as this one. Players begin playing at a point on a system of staves that is drawn in a circular shape, and play around the circle. There is a varying amount of freedom as to how to move and the manner of playing. Except at the very beginning and the end the piano and percussion move around their own circle, while the cello and violin have their own, independent circle.

About George Crumb

George Crumb (1929-2022) is one of the most frequently performed composers in today’s musical world. Crumb is the winner of Grammy and Pulitzer Prizes, and continues to compose new scores…