Peculiarities of the Embodiment of Variational Principles in “Gnomic Variations” by George Crumb




«Gnomic variations» by G. Crumb, timbre variation, structural principles, performing techniques, extended piano techniques


Relevance of the study. American composer George Crumb is one of the most famous contemporary artists. The variety of his works for different kinds of ensembles has a number of similar features that bear the stamp of the author's style. Among them are: theatricalization of the performance process, visualization of the score, graphical notation, citation as a means of specifying the idea, non-standard interpretation of instruments and invention of new ways of playing, perception of the artist as a special instrument. One of the main stylistic features of many opuses of the composer is variability, which manifests itself at the micro and macro levels. The cycle “Gnomic Variations” for piano solo is a work where variability is realized as a genre, a form and principle of thematic development, which has not yet been studied by domestic musicologists, hence the scientific novelty of the paper.

The main objective of the study is to reveal the laws of the variation principle embodiment at different levels of G. Crumb's “Gnomic Variations”.

Methodology. The study uses a comprehensive approach with the application of the intonation method for identifying the main intonation units of the composition, structural and functional methods — for studying basic patterns of the structure and variation techniques.

Results and conclusions. The cycle “Gnomic Variations” contains a theme and eighteen variations. The last variation is a timbre-renewed repetition of the theme. It is determined that the basic compositional idea of the cycle is in playing structures. The key motif of the theme displays the main interval unit — the tritone, playing in the opposite direction, the principle of expansion and shrinkage of the timbre-register space. Under analysis is the method of timbre variation used in the first part of the cycle, the implementation of which within the framework of one instrument became possible due to the use of the piano timbre-pedal effects combined with the advanced techniques of performance. The connection with tradition is revealed through the application of principles of “strict variations” in the first part. It is stated that when building the whole there is an idea of creating characteristic variations involving the methods of contrast and generalization through the genre. It is noted in the conclusions that the variation process of the cycle “Gnomic Variations” is based on distinct interval structures, their variation transformation in the process of the musical material development, combinatorial technique, texture-harmonic complex and all the timbre-phonic possibilities of the extended piano. At the same time, the cycle is marked by the implementation of variability at the level of form and genre. A detailed study of G. Crumb’s achievements in the field of piano music broadens the vision of a contemporary musician, helps them to use the latest performance techniques, and contributes to the development of internal hearing, orientation in the time space of contemporary art.

Author Biography

Maksym Shadko, Kharkiv National University of Arts named after I. P. Kotlyarevsky

first year postgraduate student


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