Eleven Echoes of Autumn

Categories: Strumentale
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Published on: 9 June 2009

George Crumb – Eleven Echoes of Autumn (1966) for violin, alto flute, clarinet, and piano.

Eleven Echoes of Autumn was composed during the spring of 1966 for the Aeolian Chamber Players (on commission from Bowdoin College). The eleven pieces constituting the work are performed without interruption:

  1. Eco 1. Fantastico
  2. Eco 2. Languidamente, quasi lontano (“hauntingly”)
  3. Eco 3. Prestissimo
  4. Eco 4. Con bravura
  5. Eco 5. Cadenza I (for Alto Flute)
  6. Eco 6. Cadenza II (for Violin)
  7. Eco 7. Cadenza III (for Clarinet)
  8. Eco 8. Feroce, violento
  9. Eco 9. Serenamente, quasi lontano (“hauntingly”)
  10. Eco 10. Senza misura (“gently undulating”)
  11. Eco 11. Adagio (“like a prayer”)

Each of the echi exploits certain timbral possibilities of the instruments. For example, eco 1 (for piano alone) is based entirely on the 5th partial harmonic, eco 2 on violin harmonics in combination with 7th partial harmonics produced on the piano (by drawing a piece of hard rubber along the strings). A delicate aura of sympathetic vibrations emerges in echi 3 and 4, produced in the latter case by alto flute and clarinet playing into the piano (close to the strings). At the conclusion of the work the violinist achieves a mournful, fragile timbre by playing with the bow hair completely slack.

The most important generative element of Eleven Echoes is the “bell motif” — a quintuplet figure based on the whole-tone interval — which is heard at the beginning of the work. This diatonic figure appears in a variety of rhythmic guises, and frequently in a highly chromatic context.

Each of the eleven pieces has its own expressive character, at times overlaid by quasi-obbligato music of contrasting character, e.g., the “wind music” of the alto flute and clarinet in eco 2 or the “distant mandolin music” of the violin in eco 3. The larger expressive curve of the work is arch-like: a gradual growth of intensity to a climactic point (eco 8), followed by a gradual collapse.

Although Eleven Echoes has certain programmatic implications for the composer, it is enough for the listener to infer the significance of the motto-quote from Federico García Lorca: “… y los arcos rotos donde sufre el tiempo” (“… and the broken arches where time suffers”). These words are softly intoned as a preface to each of the three cadenza (echi 5-7) and the image “broken arches” is represented visually in the notation of the music which underlies the cadenzas.

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