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Highlighting Metamorposes Book 1, a new work written by George Crumb for Margaret.

Henry Cowell, John Cage and George Crumb laid the foundation for the extended language of the piano, conjuring forth tantalizing new sound possibilities from the piano’s interior.

While their pioneering, now “classic avant-garde” accomplishments form the bedrock for future forays by experimentalists – Tan Dun, Stephen Montague, Somei Satoh, Gordon Monahan, Ge Gan-ru, among others – the alternative pianistic worlds of Cage, Cowell and Crumb remain sui generis, each an inimitably distinct, unmistakable sonic realm.

“I have chosen to represent John Cage’s prepared piano with The Perilous Night, a work that had profound implications for Cage on his path towards Zen. Four decades later this work became the inspiration for Jasper Johns’ Perilous Night which, in turn, is one of the artworks that Crumb has chosen to interpret in his latest composition, Metamorphoses, Book I.

The prepared piano is John Cage’s most famous invention: mutes of various materials are inserted between the piano strings completely transforming the instrument’s sound characteristics. Prepared with bolts, screws, pieces of felt, rubber and bamboo, The Perilous Night fulfills Cage’s intention of creating “a percussion orchestra under the control of a single player.” It is one of Cage’s most personal, expressive statements, a study in inquietude concerning “the loneliness and terror that comes to one when love becomes unhappy.”

Cage’s teacher, Henry Cowell, is recognized for his two pianistic innovations – the tone cluster and the string piano, Cowell’s term for playing directly on the piano strings. Aeolian Harp and The Banshee are string piano pieces while The Tides of Manaunaun and Advertisement employ all manner of clusters – aggregates of consecutive notes played by palms, forearms and fists. Advertisement is a sonic depiction of the blinking neon lights of New York’s Times Square while Irish mythology lies at the root of Banshee and Tides.

The rich timbral diversity of George Crumb’s music is achieved through a host of string piano techniques. In addition to plucking, strumming, hitting and scraping the strings, he applies objects such as a glass tumbler or felt mallet to the strings, to singular effect.

Metamorphoses, Book I is the first installment in a new major piano cycle by Crumb, his first since the four Makrokosmos piano volumes were created in the 1970s. Metamorphoses, Book I is inspired by ten paintings and is Crumb’s tribute to Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. A comprehensive summation of the Crumb pianistic vocabulary, Metamorphoses also makes vocal and theatrical demands on the pianist, as did the earlier Makrokosmos pieces.  A novel feature of this new work is Crumb’s use of the toy piano and several small percussion instruments in combination with the grand piano, a nod to my other career as a toy pianist and toy instrumentalist.”

~ Margaret Leng Tan


THE PERILOUS NIGHT (1944) by John Cage (1912-1992)
for prepared piano

THE TIDES OF MANAUNAUN (1912) by Henry Cowell (1897-1965)


METAMORPHOSES, BOOK I (2017) by George Crumb (b.1929)
for amplified piano, auxiliary percussion, toy piano, voice
1. BLACK PRINCE (1927) – Paul Klee
2. GOLDFISH (1925) – Paul Klee
3. WHEATFIELD WITH CROWS (1890) – Vincent van Gogh
4. THE FIDDLER (1912-13) – Marc Chagall
5. NOCTURNE: BLUE AND GOLD (Southampton Water) (1871) – James McNeill Whistler
6. PERILOUS NIGHT (1990) – Jasper Johns
7. CLOWNS AT NIGHT (1957) – Marc Chagall
8. CONTES BARBARES (1902) – Paul Gauguin
9. THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY (1931) – Salvador Dalí
10.THE BLUE RIDER (1903) – Vasily Kandinsky

METAMORPHOSES, BOOK I was written for Margaret Leng Tan and premiered on 7 May 2017 at the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., USA.