CRUMB: Black Angels

The Roaring 20s
September 11, 2014

CRUMB: Black Angels

"Things were turned upside down. There were terrifying things in the air ... they found their way into Black Angels." - George Crumb, 1990

Black Angels is probably the only string quartet to have been inspired by the Vietnam War. The work draws from an arsenal of sounds including shouting, chanting, whistling, whispering, gongs, maracas, and crystal glasses. The score bears two inscriptions: in tempore belli (in time of war) and "Finished on Friday the Thirteenth, March, 1970".

*This performance program is featured along with Franghiz Ali-Zadeh's Mugam Sayagi. Contact us for more information.
Black Angels was conceived as a kind of parable on our troubled contemporary world. The numerous quasi-programmatic allusions in the work are therefore symbolic, although the essential polarity God versus Devil implies more than a purely metaphysical reality. The image of the Black Angels was a conventional device used by early painters to symbolize the fallen angel.

The amplification of the stringed instruments in Black Angels is intended to produce a highly surrealistic effect. This surrealism is heightened by the use of certain unusual string effects, e.g., pedal tones (the intensely obscene sounds of the Devil-Music); bowing on the “wrong” side of the strings (to produce the viol-consort effect); trilling on the strings with thimble-capped fingers. The performers also play maracas, tam-tams and water-tuned crystal goblets, the latter played with the bow for the “glass-harmonica” effect in God-Music.