Works performed by Earplay:

Celestial Mechanics
Eleven Echoes of Autumn, 1965
Four Nocturnes (Night Music II)
Madrigals Book II
Processional
Sonata for Solo Violoncello

The mysterious and introverted works of George Crumb have achieved worldwide distribution and acclaim shared by few composers. He was born in 1929 in West Virginia, where the sounds of the hills created a kind of auditory memory that came to influence his music. "An echoing quality, or an interest in very long sounds, haunting sounds, sounds that don't want to die; this is all part of an inherited acoustic." [GC]

Crumb’s father, like his grandparents, was a professional musician and music copyist in the small city where they lived; his mother was a cellist. While still a young man, George followed his father’s path as a free-lance musician. Perhaps the fact that his work involved copying music as his father had is significant given the later development of Crumb’s unusually beautiful scores.

In college he studied closely with Ross Lee Finney, and eventually received his doctorate at the University of Michigan. Crumb has pursued a long career as a music professor, mostly at the University of Pennsylvania. He has received many honors, including the Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy. He credits a diverse array of composers, including Mahler, Debussy, Ives, Bartok, Varese, and Webern, with influencing his work. Other major influences have been medieval music and philosophy, cosmic contemplations, numerology, and humanism.

Crumb’s music incorporates programmatic, symbolic, mystical, and theatrical elements, as well as sophisticated musical allusions. He has often used the poetry of Garcia Lorca. His scores have contained musical staves shaped like a peace sign and a spiral, direct quotations of the music of other composers, and a use of poetic instructional language that is also crystal clear. Perhaps the most central element of his approach has been a haunting exploitation of sound color, extending the traditional palette while emphasizing texture, timbre, and line. His works sometimes use extended techniques to evoke a wild surreal soundscape, but more often their quiet dynamics and resonant, slow sounds engender a feeling of sublimity. Demanding virtuosity from the performers, he encourages the display of their musical personalities.

In recent years, Crumb has explored American folk songs with a series of seven American Songbooks, many inspired by and dedicated to his daughter, Ann Crumb, a Grammy-winning Broadway performer.

— R. W. M.

[from program for May 19, 2014 concert]

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