Transtextuality in George Crumb’s Scores and Sketches

Steven Bruns

George Crumb’s scores carry resonances far beyond the literal meaning of their musical symbols. Scholar Steven Bruns invokes concepts from Gérard Genette’s Palimpsests (1982) to explore the transtextuality of Crumb’s music. As Genette defines it, transtextuality considers “all that sets the text in a relationship, whether obvious or concealed, with other texts.” The published score remains the primary text, but in Crumb’s case, the paratext—his titles and subtitles, performance and program notes, compositional sketches, etc.—provides valuable keys to understanding the ethos and expressive qualities of his compositions. The sketches in particular illuminate aspects that elude explicit notation, and they function as a kind of gloss on the published score. Bruns focuses on Four Nocturnes for violin and piano (1964) and related compositions from the same period. By comparing text and paratext, we learn that Crumb alters pitch, rhythm, timbre, expressive markings, and other details at every stage of composition. The earliest drafts show general gestural and timbral ideas that may be understood as resonant sources for the specific realizations in the finished score. Though the Nocturnes are purely instrumental, the paratext also indicates Federico García Lorca’s influence. Having worked closely with the composer for two decades, Bruns shares his knowledge of Crumb’s compositional processes, thereby revealing how his unusual and beautiful notation holds implied resonances. Crumb’s published scores and unpublished sketches together function in quite remarkable ways as shared items among the composer, the scholar, and the performer.