Celestial Mechanics (1979) by George Crumb
for two pianos

Celestial Mechanics, completed in April 1979, is the fourth in a series of works entitled (or subtitled) Makrokosmos. The first two works were scored for solo piano and the third (Music for a Summer Evening) for two pianos and percussion.

I had long been tempted to try my hand at the four-hand medium, perhaps because I myself have been a passionate four-hand player over the years. The best of the original four-hand music — which includes, of course, those many superb works by Mozart, Schubert, and Brahms — occupies a very special niche in the literature of music. The idiom, a strange hybrid of the pianistic and the orchestral, lends itself readily to a very free and spontaneous kind of music — one thinks of the many collections of dances of various types and of the predilection for the "fantasy" genre. The present work, therefore, comprising a suite of "cosmic" dances composed in a rather "fantastic" style, falls squarely within the tradition.

My sole departure from tradition occurs at two points in the score where I have enlarged the medium to six-hands; and so, in the whimsical manner of Ives, the page turner must contribute more substantively to the performance than is his wont.

The title Celestial Mechanics was borrowed from the French mathematician Laplace. The titles for the four movements (added after the music was completed!) are the beautiful names of stars of the first through the fourth magnitude. The majestic movement of the stars does indeed suggest the image of a "cosmic choreography" and, in fact, I briefly considered opting for an alternate title (proposed by my brother, punster that he is) — The Celestial Ballroom.

— G. C.    

[from program for February 7, 2011 concert]