George Crumb, classical music composer

George Crumb


George Crumb (born October 24, 1929) is an American composer of modern and avant-garde music. He is noted as an explorer of unusual timbres, alternative forms of notation, and extended technique. Examples include spoken flute (one speaks while blowing into the instrument) and glass marbles poured onto an open piano.

Crumb was born in Charleston, West Virginia, and began to compose at an early age. He studied music first at the Mason College of Music in Charleston where he received his Bachelor's degree in 1950. He obtained his Master's degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and then briefly studied in Berlin before returning to the United States to study at the University of Michigan, from which he received his D.M.A. in 1959.

Although his scores and recordings sell steadily, Crumb has earned his living primarily from teaching. His first teaching job was at a college in Virginia, before he became professor of piano and composition at the University of Colorado in 1958. In 1965 he began a long association with the University of Pennsylvania, becoming Annenberg Professor of the Humanities in 1983. Some of his most prominent students include Margaret Brouwer, Uri Caine, Christopher Rouse, Osvaldo Golijov, Jennifer Higdon, Cynthia Cozette Lee, Yen Lu, James Primosch, Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon, Ofer Ben-Amots, and Gerald Levinson.

Crumb retired from teaching in 1997, though in early 2002 was appointed with David Burge to a joint residency at Arizona State University. He has continued to compose.

Crumb has been the recipient of a number of awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1968 for his orchestral work Echoes of Time and the River and a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Composition in 2001 for his work Star-Child .

Crumb's son, David Crumb, is a successful composer and, since 1997, assistant professor at the University of Oregon. George Crumb's daughter, Ann Crumb, is a successful actress and singer. She recorded his Three Early Songs for the CD George Crumb 70th Birthday Album (1999), and has also performed his Unto the Hills (2001).

After initially being influenced by Anton Webern, Crumb became interested in exploring unusual timbres. He often asks for instruments to be played in unusual ways and several of his pieces are written for electrically amplified instruments.

Crumb's compositions often incorporate theater as an element of performance. In several pieces he asks players to leave and enter the stage during the piece. He has also used unusual layouts of musical notation in a number of his scores. In several pieces, the music is symbolically laid out in a circular or spiral fashion.

Several of Crumb's works, including the four books of madrigals he wrote in the late 1960s and Ancient Voices of Children, a song cycle of 1970 for two singers and small instrumental ensemble (which includes a toy piano), are settings of texts by Federico García Lorca. Many of his vocal works were written for the virtuoso mezzo-soprano singer Jan DeGaetani.

Black Angels (1970) is another piece which displays Crumb's interest in exploring a wide range of timbres. The piece is written for electric string quartet (Crumb notes that amplified acoustic instruments are acceptable, but electric instruments are preferred),[citation needed] and its players are required to play various percussion instruments and to bow small goblets as well as to play their instruments in both conventional and unconventional ways. It is one of Crumb's best known pieces, and has been recorded by the Kronos Quartet.

Another of Crumb's best known works are the four books of Makrokosmos.[4][page needed] The first two books (1972, 1973), for solo piano, make extensive use of string piano techniques; the third, known as Music for a Summer Evening (1974), is for two pianos and percussion; the fourth, Celestial Mechanics (1979), was written for piano four-hands. The title Makrokosmos alludes to Mikrokosmos, the six books of piano pieces by Béla Bartók; like Bartók's work, Makrokosmos is a series of short character pieces. Apart from Bartók, Claude Debussy is another composer Crumb acknowledged as an influence here, although the works call for techniques far from what either of those composers ever employed. The piano is both amplified and prepared by the placing of objects on and between the strings (Crumb has referred to string and prepared piano techniques collectively as "extended piano"). On several occasions the pianist is required to sing or shout certain words as well as playing. Makrokosmos was premiered by David Burge, who later recorded the work.

Composer Title Date Action
George Crumb Sonata for cello solo. Toccata 02/20/2010 Play Add to playlist
George Crumb "Wind Elegy" from the "Three Early Songs" 04/10/2012 Play Add to playlist