George Crumb is an American composer whose music shows great attention to color and effect, creating a spiritual and ritualistic sound that fits neither into the modernist complexity genre nor into any neoclassical style. There is also a very postmodern usage, either directly of indirectly, of other musical materials, from recognizable classical works to folk and non-western music.
Crumb was born in West Virginia, USA and was surrounded by music in his early years: his father was a clarinettist and his mother a cellist. He was also well exposed to the Appalachian, folk, and country music of the area. He later described the natural environment of his youth as having a “reverberant” acoustic that influenced his aesthetic. As a young child he learned flute, clarinet, and piano. He studied at Mason College, West Virginia, and at the University of Illinois, before going on to complete a postgraduate study at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin and a doctorate at the University of Michigan. His recognised works begin in the mid-1940s with several chamber works, a piano sonata, and his first orchestral work. A well-known piece from his earlier period is the Sonata for Solo Cello (1955).
Crumb was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his 1967 orchestral work Echoes of Time and the River (Echoes II). In a response to a commission from the University of Chicago for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Crumb “wanted to express in musical terms the various qualities of metaphysical and psychological time.” Important aspects of his later work are found here: an element of theatricality or ritual, with choreographed movements of the musicians onstage, and also the use of his first musical quotation; the hymn Were You There When They Crucified The Lord is heard from offstage at one point. Crumb’s characteristic striking sonorities and effects are also present here, with the use of ringing bells and gongs, dramatic glissandi effects, breath and chanting sounds, and effects from playing the strings inside the piano.