Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Scott Burnham

Committee Members

Jason Eckardt

Jeff Nichols

Dimitri Papageorgiou

Subject Categories

Composition | Music Theory


Silence, George Crumb, Absences


The music of American composer George Crumb (1929-2022) is undeniably singular in the musical landscape. His aesthetic is often characterized by his exploration of timbre, his graphic scores, his use of quotation, his theatricality, and his interest in unusual instruments. This study proposes to take a different approach to Crumb’s aesthetic through the spectrum of silences and other absences. The concept of silence will be broken down and reconstructed through the Japanese concept of ma (間) and of empty spaces. Multiple types of silences and absences will be considered throughout this dissertation, expanding thus the concept of silence not only as an absence of sound, but also as an absence of register or an absence of timbre. These different types of absences may be used to perform different functions. They may be used as structural elements, used to create dramatic effect, or used in a figural way. A corpus of pieces by George Crumb will be analyzed during this study in order to reveal the personal and expressive presence engendered by these absences. By taking into consideration absences as prime elements in Crumb’s music, it also allows us to define his aesthetic by the different uses of empty spaces and to set the foundations for an aesthetic of silence.

Each chapter focuses on a different type of silence. The first chapter considers the absence of sound in Crumb’s music and its different functions: structural, dramatic, and pictorial. The second chapter is dedicated to the study of the absence of register. Finally, the third chapter is centered on the absence of timbre in Crumb’s music.