Black Angels (Crumb)

Black Angels (Edition Peters, New York, no. 66304, copyright 1971), subtitled "Thirteen Images from the Dark Land", is a work for "electric string quartet" by the American avant-garde composer George Crumb. It was composed over the course of a year and is dated "Friday the Thirteenth, March 1970 (in tempore belli)" as written on the score.[1] Crumb is very interested in numerology and numerically structured the piece around 13 and 7. The piece is notable for its unconventional instrumentation, which calls for electric string instruments, crystal glasses, and two suspended tam-tam gongs. The work references the second movement, Andante con moto from Schubert’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ String Quartet.

Structure

The thirteen individual movements of Black Angels are divided into three large groups.

I. Departure

Threnody I: Night of the Electric Insects (tutti)

Sounds of Bones and Flutes (trio)

Lost Bells (duo)

Devil-music (solo)

Danse Macabre (duo)

II. Absence

Pavana Lachrymae (trio)

Threnody II: Black Angels! (tutti)

Sarabanda de la Muerte Oscura (trio)

Lost Bells (Echo) (duo)

III. Return

God-music (solo)

Ancient Voices (duo)

Ancient Voices (Echo) (trio)

Threnody III: Night of the Electric Insects (tutti)

The structure of the work displays the numerological elements important to Crumb, that is, thirteen movements, of which the seventh is the centerpiece. Further, the organization of movements displays symmetry and palindrome: the instrumentation of each movement follows a palindromic structure: 4, 3, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4, 3, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4; the first, central and thirteenth movements are titled Threnody; God-music and Devil-music stand symmetrically opposite each other.[2]

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