The Crystal Cabinet (Duo)

Inspired by William Blake’s poem by the same name, and arranged for two percussionists and a CD accompaniment to explore free, meterless music.

William Cahn joined the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra as principal percussionist after graduating form the Eastman School of Music in 1968.


The Crystal Cabinet was completed in May 2008. It was composed for and is dedicated to the Pendulum Percussion Duo – Susan Powell and Joseph Krygier. The piece takes its title after the poem by William Blake, the poet, painter, engraver, and mystic born in London (U.K.) in 1757, who in defiance of his era, ardently believed in the freedom of the imagination and the rejection of rationalism and materialism. His works addressed the classic dilemma – how can we know that anything is real, since we know of reality only through our own minds?

The music composition was inspired by the second stanza of Blake’s poem:

This cabinet is formed of gold

And pearl and crystal shining bright,

And within it opens into a world

And a little lovely moony night.

The “cabinet” in the poem is a metaphor, but for what? It is left to the imagination to resolve the issue.

The music is scored for two percussionists and prerecorded CD. It reflects a lifelong fascination with free, open, and meterless music in which seemingly independent and unrelated lines, when occurring simultaneously, can be perceived as connected, much in the same way as independent events in everyday life are seen as related in hindsight. Free, meterless music can evoke mysterious and otherworldly atmospheres, as for example in “Poèmé Électronique” by Adgard Varése or in Gagaku (traditional Japanese court music).

In relation to the line in Blake’s verse, “it opens into a world“, the “it” in this case is free, meterless music.

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