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George Crumb: A Haunted Landscape

Program Notes by the composer

A Haunted Landscape is not programmatic in any sense. The title reflects my feelings that certain places on planet Earth are imbued with an aura of mystery: I can vividly recall the “shock of recognition” I felt on seeing Andalusia for the first time after having been involved with the poetry of Garcia Lorca for many years. I felt a similar sense of déjà vu on visits to Jerusalem and to Delphos in Greece. Even in the West Virginia woods, one senses the ghosts of the vanished Indians. Places can inspire feelings of reverence or of brooding menace (like the deserted battlefields of ancient wars). Sometimes one feels an idyllic sense of time suspended. The contemplation of a landscape can induce complex psychological states, and perhaps music is an ideal medium for delineating the tiny, subtle nuances of emotion and sensibility that hover between the subliminal and the conscious.

The orchestra for A Haunted Landscape is of normal size (winds in threes, etc.) except for the percussion section, which is enormous. In addition to the timpani there are four other percussionists playing some forty-five different instruments, including such exoticisms as Cambodian angklungs (a kind of bamboo xylophone/wind chime), Japanese Kabuki blocks, a Brazilian cuica (a friction drum), Caribbean steel drums, and an Appalachian hammered dulcimer. The amplified piano is also treated as a percussion instrument with the playing occurring on the strings and crossbeams inside the instrument. The two harp players are sometimes asked to tap the sounding boards with their knuckles.

In addition, two solo double basses tune their low C strings down to B-flat and, by overlapping each other, sustain this pitch very softly throughout the work. I had imagined that this low B-flat (sixty cycles, the frequency of alternating current) was an immutable law of nature and represented a kind of “cosmic drone.” But, alas, science defeats art. A chemist friend informed me that alternating current is arbitrarily determined by man, and that B-flat in not even international, much less intergalactic!

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