Metric Ambiguity and Rhythmic Gesture in the Works of George Crumb

Kristina L. Knowles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Despite a growing body of theoretical work on the music of George Crumb, surprisingly little has been said about his use of rhythm and metre, elements which are often more aurally accessible than complex pitch structures and which constitute a recognisable aspect of Crumb’s style. Much of Crumb’s output is characterised by a unique combination of metric ambiguity with clear and often recurrent rhythmic gestures whose use and juxtaposition creates varying levels of metricity. A significant portion of his music can then be situated in the middle of a spectrum that ranges from completely non-metrical to clearly metrical. The result is a unique rhythmic language that stringently avoids large-scale metrical structures but makes frequent use of localised metrical gestures and brief moments of metrical emergence. These rhythmic and metric structures are then used in different ways to create a range of temporal and formal effects. This paper focuses on the rhythmic and metric characteristics of motives from several pieces by George Crumb. Emphasis will be placed on a particularly interesting case in the final movement from Crumb’s Vox Balaenae, where the repetition and shifting musical context of a small set of rhythmic motives results in a process of metrical emergence and dissolution that contributes to the arch form of the piece.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)30-54
Number of pages25
JournalContemporary Music Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022


  • Ametrical
  • George Crumb
  • Metric Continuum
  • Metrical Ambiguity
  • Rhythm and Metre
  • Time

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Music


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