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Composer George Crumb (October 24, 1929 – February 6, 2022) was born in Charleston. His Poem for Orchestra was given its premiere performance by the Charleston Symphony Orchestra (now West Virginia Symphony Orchestra), with his father playing clarinet and his mother playing in the cello section, when he was only 17 years old. After graduating from Charleston High School, he earned a bachelor of music degree from Mason College of Music (later absorbed into Morris Harvey College, now the University of Charleston), master of music degree from the University of Illinois, and doctor of musical arts degree from the University of Michigan, where he studied with Ross Lee Finney. From 1965 to 1997, he served as professor of music at the University of Pennsylvania.

In 1968, Crumb was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Echoes of Time and the River: Four Processionals for Orchestra, commissioned by the University of Chicago for its 75th anniversary and premiered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Among the unusual sonic devices used in this piece is the rhythmic intoning of the West Virginia motto ‘‘Montani semper liberi.’’ Crumb’s many settings of poetry by Federico Garcia Lorca include Ancient Voices of Children, which won the Koussevitzky and UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers awards in 1971. His Star Child received a 2001 Grammy Award for best classical contemporary composition. He also wrote several volumes of keyboard music published as Makrokosmos.

Although Crumb’s music abounds in its use of exotic sounds and instruments, such as Tibetan prayer stones, African mbira, and Japanese temple bells, his West Virginia roots are evident in his frequent use of the mandolin, sometimes with bottle-neck technique, as well as musical saw, banjo, and hammered dulcimer. Crumb’s imaginative musical scores are characterized by meticulous notation, incongruous juxtapositions, new performance techniques, and highly refined timbral nuances.

The Charleston Sunday Gazette-Mail named George Crumb West Virginian of the Year in 1968, with soprano Phyllis Curtin. He was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in 2007. He died at his home in Media, Pennsylvania. Crumb was 92.

This Article was written by H. G. Young III

Last Revised on June 26, 2023


George Crumb: Profile of a Composer. New York: C. F. Peters, 1986.

Crumb, George. Echoes of Time and the River: Four Processionals for Orchestra, The Louisville Orchestra, Jorge Mester, conductor, Louisville S-711, 1967.

Cite This Article

Young III, H. G. "George Crumb." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 26 June 2023. Web. 20 April 2024.


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