Mundus Canis


While contemplating the composition of a little dance piece for solo guitar for David Starobin (to be one of a series he was commissioning from several composers), I hit upon the idea of creating a musical homage to the several dogs in my life. It occurred to me that the feline species had been disproportionately memorialized in music and I wanted to help redress the balance.

And so, the "piece for solo guitar" metamorphosed into a little suite of five canine humoresques, each being a portrait and character study of one of the Crumb family dogs. I have always known that dogs, like their biped masters, have various and distinct personalities. The addition of a percussionist, who supplies a specific instrumental color for each piece, helped me to delineate each canine character.

"Tammy" a brown, short-haired, full-sized dachshund, and the first dog in our family, exhibited qualities ranging from nobility to capriciousness. Her piece is inscribed "elegantly, somewhat freely" and the percussion component is a pair of maracas. The music ends in a scampering rush of movement which represents her more playful side. The surprising ambiguities in her canine "persona" are illustrated by a rubato style of expression and the use of widely contrasting registers.

"Fritzi's" piece, marked furioso in the score, expresses a pronounced impetuosity and irrepressibility of spirit. The percussionist plays a frame drum and the guitar writing is virtuosic in style and contains stingingly percussive pizzicato effects and knuckle-rapping on the wooden belly of the instrument. Fritzi was a brown male dachs of a lovable disposition despite his stubbornness and high-spirited antics.

The dog "Heidel" (acquired on a visit to Heidelberg, Germany) was our first long-haired specimen of the breed, a rich brown in color, who exhibited a philosophical disposition and confounding depths of personality. Her sloth-like movements and hoard of secret lore are represented in the score by the indication languido, un poco misterioso. The guitar style is quite coloristic with "bottle-neck" playing and much pitch-bending. The percussionist plays two tamtams, the smaller of which is lowered into (or raised out of) a tub of water to produce the "water-gong" glissando effect.

"Emma-Jean" was a jet-black miniature female dachshund of a definitely coquettish nature. There are abrupt changes of tempo and mood and the finely etched rhythmic gestures convey a sense of prissiness and archness. The guitar line is punctuated by claves and occasional soft strokes on a suspended cymbal.

The final character in our quintet of dogs is "Yoda," who was rescued from a New York City pound by my daughter Ann. He is a fluffy-white animal of mixed parentage (in which the bichon frise strain predominates) and mercurial temperament. The tempo marking for Yoda's piece is prestissimo possible and scurrying, scampering guitar passages are complemented by raspy, güiro sounds and mounted castanets. Yoda's naughty, yet endearing, pranks necessitate an occasional scolding from master or mistress. But in an instant, all forgiven, Yoda plops in one's lap!

Mundus Canis was premiered in Cannes, France on January 20, 1998 by David Starobin, guitar, and George Crumb, percussion.