Composer: George Crumb
Title: Lux Aeterna
Number of Players: 1 Soprano, 1 Bass Flutist (doubling soprano recorder), 1 Sitar player, 2 percussionist
Approx. time: 14 minutes
Notes of the work:
Lux Aeterna (1971) is scored for soprano, bass flute (doubling the soprano recorder), sitar, and two percussionists. The familiar Latin text utilized is: “Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine. Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis”. (May eternal light shine on them, O Lord. Grant them everlasting rest, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.)
The work is in one movement, most of which is to be played “very slowly, with a sense of meditative time; pregnant with mystery”. The opening sound, while related rhythmically to the opening of the Four Nocturnes, gives clear indication of how incredibly far Crumb’s sense of sonorous invention has evolved in the intervening years. A crotale (antique cymbal) is placed near the center of a timpano membrane; after striking the crotale sharply (“with a very hard beater”), the percussionist moves the timpano pedal up and down in a specified rhythm, thereby “bending” the pitch of the crotale in that same rhythm. Crumb adds, in the score, that the sound should be “shimmering, iridescent!” This is only one of the several luminous percussion effects (many of which are not the least bit “percussive”) in this score.
Interrupting this slow music on four occasions is a Refrain entitled “Masked Dance: Elegy for a Dead Prince”. These four Refrains will be recognized instantly by the entrance of the sitar, which plays throughout each (and nowhere else). Listeners who know the score of Black Angels are aware that numerology is one of Crumb’s pet fascinations and will not be surprised that the four Refrains contain, successively, 77, 55, 33, and 11 beats.
The vocal writing consists primarily of melismas on the Latin text or, as at the first entrance, on vowels derived from the text. The composer provides the following performance instructions:
The performance of Lux Aeterna requires certain theater effects. All performers (including the conductor) should wear black masks (masks of the visor or domino types) and, if possible, black robes. The flutist and sitar player should sit in the lotus position. The stage should be totally dark before the performance begins, with the instrumentalists and the conductor in position onstage. A deep red lighting gradually comes up, at which point the soprano slowly walks on stage. She lights the candle (positioned at the stage center), and the performance begins. At the conclusion of the work, the soprano slowly walks over to the burning candle and extinguishes it. The deep red lighting fades to total darkness.
A solo dancer (also masked) can be included in Lux Aeterna, if desired. The dancer should perform only in the refrain sections (Masked Dance: “Elegy for a Dead Prince”), and should remain frozen in position during the other music. The dance should be symbolic and ritualistic; the lighted candle might serve as a focal point for the dancer, like a moth attracted to a flame.
Annotated by David Luidens