Vox Balaenae

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Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale), is a work for electric flute, cello and amplified piano by the American avant-garde composer George Crumb. It was composed for performance by the New York Camerata in 1971.[1]


As the name of the piece indicates, Vox Balaenae was inspired by whale songs. "Late in the 1960s, George Crumb heard a tape recording prepared by a marine scientist of the sounds emitted by the humpback whale.... In 1971, Crumb drew on these sounds as the inspiration...".[1] Although the piece has eight movements, these are grouped into three structurally similar parts: the first two movements "(...for the beginning of time)", five variations named after geologic time periods, and the last movement "(...for the end of time)".[2]

Movements and instrumentation techniques[edit]

In addition to instrumentation techniques, performers are asked to wear half black masks.[1] It is highly suggested that whenever possible the performance be done under blue lighting.[1] The cello is tuned scordatura,[2] and the piece requires the use of a grand piano as the techniques required would not be possible on an upright model.[3]

Name of movement[3] Examples of instrumentation and technique
Vocalise Sing flute, performer sings into flute while playing
Sea Theme "Aeolian harp" performer strums piano strings
Archeozoic cello harmonics and chisel on piano strings
Proterozoic Paper clip strums piano strings and sing flute
Paleozoic Harmonic glissando for cello
Mesozoic Glass rod on piano strings
Cenozoic Harmonics called whistle
Sea-Nocturne Antique cymbals


  1. ^ a b c d Berger, Melvin (1889). Guide to Chamber Music. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications. pp. 139–140. ISBN 0486316726.
  2. ^ a b George Crumb. "An Idyll for the Misbegotten - Vox Balaenae : Madrigals" (PDF). Newworldrecords.org. Retrieved 2014-03-12.
  3. ^ a b A Study Module Created for the Associated Colleges of the South Composers Forum Patricia Gray, ACS, Craig Hultgren, Birmingham Southern College, Anthony Brandt, Rice University. "George Crumb Voice of the Whale". Retrieved 2014-03-11.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)