In Memoriam: George Crumb (1929 – 2022)

George Crumb. Photo credit: Simon Jay Pierce.

Hailed by the Los Angeles Times as “…an all-American composer – one of our best, most original and most important,” George Crumb was a titan of contemporary classical music, who was beloved by musicians and audiences alike for his aurally and visually stunning scores.

A true avant-garde, Crumb expanded our conception of what it means to be a musician, turning items like bowed water glasses into instruments, incorporating new elements such as spoken word, nature sounds, and electronics into his works, and asking instrumentalists to participate in elaborate theatrical presentations of his music, wearing masks, for instance, or performing under prescribed lighting.

Creating works simultaneously dramatic and concise, Crumb gave to music his own musical language, both in sound and on the page. Many of Crumb’s unique notated scores famously were hand-drawn shapes and spirals. For example, his written score for “Agnus Dei” from Makrokosmos II, is in the shape of a peace symbol. In a 2016 interview with the Brunswick Review, Crumb said, “I don’t have any artistic skills outside of musical calligraphy, I just think the music should look the way it sounds.”

George Crumb writing “The Fiddler.” Photo credit: Margaret Leng Tan.

Refreshingly original and hauntingly beautiful, Crumb’s music not only reached the souls of some of the 20th-century’s most important musicians, but also inspired them to do their part to revolutionize music. Black Angels, Crumb’s best-known work, was described by David Bowie as one of his favorite records: “a study in spiritual annihilation.” That piece, said Kronos Quartet’s David Harrington, “opened up a whole new world to me…. I had no choice but to form Kronos.”

Crumb won a Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy Award for his compositions, and his groundbreaking, evocative music has been used again and again in works ranging from ballets to Hollywood films, including The Exorcist. His scores are routinely taught in textbooks and in conservatories around the world, and his influence on contemporary music is immeasurable.

Join us in celebrating the life and work of the legendary George Crumb.

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