George Crumb 1929–2022

George Crumb dies aged 92
Edition Peters is deeply saddened to learn of the death of George Crumb. Crumb was one of the defining compositional voices of the last century, influencing generations of composers and performers with his unique approach both to sound and its graphic representation.

Famous for his beautiful, conceptual music notation – often combining traditional stave notation with symbolic imagery (for example, the circular scores found in works such as Star-Child or the “peace symbol” staves in Makrokosmos) – Crumb’s ear was finely tuned to an amazing palette of timbral possibility, which he deployed in works of extraordinary colour and power. Once described by the New York Times as “the reluctant poet of moonlit dreams and Blakelike visions,” Crumb’s music derived impetus from his comprehensive knowledge of, and love for, the great classical repertory, which he first encountered as a child in his father’s collection of scores; from the modernism of Bartók, Webern, Stravinsky and Debussy, which he studied under Ross Lee Finney at the University of Michigan and later with Boris Blacher at Tanglewood and in Berlin; and also from the wider range of traditional and popular music that he heard his parents perform and that he himself played for some years as a

His work was also driven by a strong social conscience and a non-denominational idea of music as a unifying spiritual force. In Black Angels for Electric String Quartet, Crumb created a powerful lament for the continuing tragedy of the Vietnam War; in Vox Balanae, his juxtaposition of ironic quotations from Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra with the sound of whale song was an early expression of the fragility of the ecosystem under human strain. In Star-Child – a massive score requiring four conductors (led at the work’s New York Philharmonic premiere by Pierre Boulez) – Crumb, with “no esoteric philosophical basis,” strove to find a “universal meaning” through the connecting idea of the eternal music of the spheres and, in the Beethovenian tradition, to use music to find light in a world of darkness.

More recently, Crumb had found inspiration in the traditional music of America, particularly his home state of West Virginia, resulting in an extraordinary sequence of American Songbooks, which illustrate his fascination with, and infinite imagination for, percussion instruments. His final works, the percussion suite Kronos – Kryptos and the large-scale piano cycle Metamorphoses, saw him returning conclusively to the musical genres that he transformed through his body of work.

A beloved teacher, Crumb taught for many years at the University of Pennsylvania and was appointed Annenberg Professor of the Humanities in 1983. An intensely private man, Crumb lived in a quiet suburb of Philadelphia for most of his adult life. He married Elizabeth, his “first and only girlfriend,” on May 21, 1949. She survives him, as do his sons David and Peter. His daughter Ann Crumb, an actress and singer, died in 2019. Edition Peters has proudly published all George Crumb’s music for more than 50 years. We mourn his passing but celebrate our association with one of the most important and original composers of our time.

Kathryn Knight, President of Edition Peters USA, comments: “The world has lost a truly original and innovative composer whose work continually enriched and enlivened the musical scene. Our thoughts are with his wife Elizabeth and sons David and Peter.”

Gene Caprioglio, Vice-President for New Music and Rights Edition Peters USA, comments: “George Crumb was a wonderful person to work with as well as being a brilliant composer of ingenious and beautiful music. We will miss both our colleague and the composer. His visually and aurally stunning scores have been our great pleasure to help bring into a world which is diminished by his passing.”

George Henry Crumb: born October 24, 1929; died February 6, 2022.

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