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George Crumb

George Crumb (born October 24, 1929) is an American composer of classical music. He is noted as an explorer of unusual timbres.


Crumb was born in Charleston, West Virginia, and began to compose at an early age. He studied music first at the University of Illinois, and then briefly in Berlin before returning to the United States to study at the University of Michigan.

Crumb has made his living from teaching. His first teaching job was at a college in Virginia, before he became professor of piano and composition at the in 1958. In 1965 he began a long association with the University of Pennsylvania, becoming Annenberg Professor of the Humanities in 1983. He 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 Echoes of Time and the River.

Crumb's music

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 music often seems to be concerned about the theatre of performance as much as the music itself. 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 madrigalss 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 Garcia Lorca. Many of his vocal works were written for the virtuoso singer Jan De Gaetani.

Black Angels (1970) is another piece which displays Crumb's interest in exploring a wide range of timbres. Written for electric string quartet, the players are required to play various percussion instruments and to bow small goblets as well as to play their instruments in the conventional way. 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 three books of Makrokosmos (1972-74). The first two books are for solo piano, the third, known as Music for a Summer Evening, is for two pianos and percussion. The title alludes to the six books of piano pieces by Bela Bartok, Microcosmos, and, like Bartok's work, Makrokosmos is a series of short character pieces. Apart from Bartok, Claude Debussy is another composer Crumb acknowledged as in influence here, although the techniques called for are far from what either of those composers knew. The piano is both amplified and prepared by the placing of objects on and between the strings. 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.

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