George Crumb (1929 – ) wrote Apparition, a song cycle for soprano and amplified piano, in 1979. The text is taken from Walt Whitman’s elegy on the death of Lincoln, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” considered one of the greatest of all American poems.
Crumb used the following excerpts from the poem:
One of the things that’s really interesting and attractive about the poem . . . is that Whitman at several points seems to say, “I don’t know how I can find words that are adequate to express the depth of my grief” . . . Crumb intensifies the sonorous qualities of the words, helping us to hear how Whitman is “musicalizing” the language . . . It’s Whitman’s way of saying that mere words can’t express a sense of loss—only music can do that.
Interspersed among the Whitman song settings are vocalises, i.e. melodies without words. This vocalise comes right before the song “Approach, strong deliveress!”
It may sound absolutely wild, free, and improvisatory, but it is not, as you will see when you look at Crumb’s score in the classroom.
On the other hand, John Cage’s Aria (1957) is improvised, with guidance from the score:
As is Cage’s Water Music (1952):
And his Water Walk (1960), a revised version of Water Music:
Here is Cage performing Water Walk on the game show “I’ve Got A Secret”: