George Crumb: Jumping Off The Page to Become Sound

Striving for Simplicity

FRANK J. OTERI: Yet despite what we’ve been talking about here, I wouldn’t characterize your music as overly complex.

GEORGE CRUMB: Well, it’s not intentionally complex at all. I’m always striving for simplicity. It can never be simple enough for me.

FRANK J. OTERI: The sounds may not necessarily be sounds that a performer is used to making, but they’re not necessarily difficult sounds to make once you’ve figured out how to do them.

GEORGE CRUMB: Once you do them, once you know how to produce them. That’s true. I think my music is never difficult in the old-fashioned sense of finger dexterity, you know. It’s not difficult like a Chopin etude or any of Brahms…the difficulties are more in the area of timbral projection, balance, getting the fabric of the music, the kind of color projection also in terms of texture.

FRANK J. OTERI: Well, it’s interesting. One of the charges that has gotten raised about a lot of contemporary music is that it’s music for the eye, you can analyze it on the page but when you hear it, it doesn’t pan out. Now, your music is very much about how it looks on the page, but it does pan out to the ear and looking at your score, you might get a structure, you see things like a spiral or circle and understand the structure that way, but it doesn’t strike me as being overly structured music in that sense.

GEORGE CRUMB: Well, I suppose my model was always Mozart. I loved him even when I was a tiny kid. (laughs) I was writing in the Mozart style when I was 10 or 11 years old. I thought that was contemporary music, in West Virginia. You know, that was contemporary music. But I admire his economy—the fact that there were so few notes on the page. The fact that every note was expected to accomplish something.

FRANK J. OTERI: That’s so funny because that famous accusation that the nobleman said about The Abduction from the Seraglio—too many notes.

GEORGE CRUMB: Too many notes, my dear Mozart. (laughs) That’s right and Mozart said, “Which notes would you delete, your majesty?”