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Biographical Information:


Born:  October 24, 1929, Charleston, South Carolina.


Came from a musical family.  Father—clarinetist, conductor, music transcriber.

Mother—principle cellist with the Charleston Symphony.


Began studying clarinet with father at age 7.  By the time he was 9, he had began piano lessons as well.


Constantly performed chamber music with entire family.


Didn’t excel at school.  Would read composer biographies instead of English books.  He would also constantly bring scores to school to study instead of paying attention in class.





Completed formal high school education. 


B.M. from Mason College (Charleston, SC)—focus on piano and composition.


Masters from University of Illinois—Champagne-Urbana—studied with Eugene Weigel.  Also studied viola and readying foreign languages, such as Spanish, French, German, and Italian.


Doctorate from University of Michigan—Ann Arbor—studied composition with Ross Lee Finney.  Crumb learned his meticulous notation from him.


Went to Germany to study with Boris Blacher.



Professional Experience:


1958-59:  Hollins College.  Taught theory and analysis.


1959-1964:  University of Colorado—Boulder.  Taught secondary students piano.


1964-1965:  Composer-in-residence at Buffalo Center for the Creative and Performing Arts


1965-1997:  University of Pennsylvania.  Teacher of composition.


Has been awarded 6 honorary doctorates.



Compositional Information:


Began composing at 10 or 11 years of age.


When growing up, was exposed to “country music” more associated today with folk or mountain music.  This basis caused him to incorporate in his pieces such instruments as the musical saw, harmonica, and banjo.


Fascinated by composers such as Beethoven, Mozart, Debussy, and Chopin so much so that in his early works he attempted to imitate their styles.


He had a difficult time composing serial music in his college years, even though that was the standard music of the time.


Considered to be an “avant-garde” and “experimental” composer.  In the 1960s, he and John Cage were considered the forerunners in American composition.


He stretched technical and resource limits to the brink.  Composed for non-traditional instruments such as the glass harmonica, sitar, and mandolin.


Combined ethnic sources into music including the natural dialect with the historical settings.



Percussion Compositions:


Notable pieces for percussion:

§         Ancient Voices of Children

§         Dream Sequence (Images II)

§         An Idyll for the Misbegotten (Images III)

§         Lux Aeterna

§         Music for a Summer Evening (Makrokosmos III)

§         Night Music I

§         Night of the Four Moons

§         Quest

§         Songs, Drones, and Refrains of Death


Music for a Summer Evening (Makrokosmos III)

Composed:  1974

Series:  third and final in the Makrokosmos Series

Instrumentation:  2 pianos and 2 percussionists

Special percussion instrumentation:  jawbone of an ass, Japanese temple bells, thunder sheet, African log drums, Tibetan prayer stones, sistrum, bows to apply to other instruments, etc.

Premiere:  Swarthmore College Pennsylvania, March 30, 1974.  Percussionist Raymond DesRoches and Richard Fitz


I.                    Nocturnal Sounds (The Awakening)

II.                 Wanderer-Fantasy

III.               The Advent

IV.              Myth

V.                 Music of the Starry Night

Purpose:  Inspired by the Bartok Sonata for 2 Pianos and Percussion



Ancient Voices of Children

Composed:  1970

Series:  Part of a cycle of songs based on the texts of Federico Garcia Lorca

Instrumentation:  Mezzo-soprano, boy soprano, oboe, mandolin, harp, amplified piano, toy piano (played by the pianist), 3 percussionists.

Special percussion instrumentation:  musical saw, Japanese temple bells, and Tibetan prayer stones.

Premiere:  October 31, 1970 by the Contemporary Chamber Ensemble at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.


I.                    El nino busca su voz  (Dances of the Ancient Earth)

II.                 Me he perdido muchas veces por el mar

III.               De donde Viernes, amor, mi nino?  (Dance of the Sacred Life-Cycle)

IV.              Todas las tardes en Granada, todas las tardes se muere un nino (Ghost Dance)

V.                 Se ha llenado de luces mi corazon de seda

Quotations:  incorporated non-western patterns and feelings as well as Ravel’s Bolero, Maher’s Das Lied von der Erde.



An Idyll for the Misbegotten (Images III)

Composed:  1985

Premiere:  November 1986 in Toronto

Instrumentation:  amplified flute and 3 percussionists

Duration:  9 min.






Gillespie, Don.  George Crumb:  Profile on a Composer.  C. F. Peters Corporation.  New York.  1986.


Holland, James.  Percussion.  MacDonald and James.  London.  1978.  Pgs. 1, 48, 109, 131.


Nicholls, David.  The Cambridge History of American Music.   Cambridge University Press.  1998.  Pgs. 261, 517, 531.




Web Sites  (official George Crumb web site including discography, biography, complete composition listing, and program notes)  (complete bibliography)  (complete bibliography)  (entire breakdown and essay on Black Angles)