Resonant Openings:

George Crumb's Four Nocturnes and the poetry of Federico García Lorca

Michiko Theurer
George Crumb’s 1964 composition, Four Nocturnes for violin and piano, presents daunting challenges for performers. The piece is prevailingly soft throughout, and the musicians must convincingly shape and energize the many silences. Violinist and scholar Michiko Theurer uses concepts drawn from the poetry of Federico García Lorca as a means for interpreting the apparently negative spaces in the music. Though not explicitly acknowledged in the published score, Lorca’s poetry is connected to the genesis of Crumb’s Four Nocturnes. Lorca’s poem, Nocturno del hueco (Nocturne of Emptied Space), articulates a concept that serves as a shared item between the domains of Lorca’s poetry and Crumb’s music: huecos, or empty spaces charged with resonance. Lorca uses several interrelated techniques in this poem to draw the reader into a visceral experience of emptiness: Phonetic echoes fill and enliven deliberate gaps in semantic meaning; directed images reach beyond their outlines to suggest something indefinable; and structural repetitions build expectations that are denied, making absence palpable. Crumb uses similar techniques to draw attention to the resonant, empty spaces in his Four Nocturnes. Theurer and Leong will demonstrate representative passages from the piece, highlighting the ways in which the concept of huecos aids in solving interpretive problems. The presentation concludes with a complete performance of the Four Nocturnes by Theurer and Leong.