George Crumb

George Crumb

1929 -

George Crumb is known for his experimental use of timbres and stunning manuscript scores. Many of his vocal works explore the rhetoric of America music, especially Apparition, which sets poems of Walt Whitman for voice and piano, as well as his American songbooks, which reimagine traditional American songs with a plethora of percussion instruments. Crumb has also set the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe (The Sleeper for mezzo soprano and piano) and Sara Teasdale (3 Early Songs).

Crumb also loves the poetry of Lorca, and many of his vocal works set Lorca's texts.

Photo: George Crumb, Photo by Sabine Matthes, from the C. F. Peters Corporation, 2007


The audio recordings provided in the audio playlist to the right feature Thomas Hampson, baritone, and members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.  The recordings are from a live performance at Alice Tully Hall (New York City) on April 29, 2011 and have been used with permission. To listen, please click on the track name itself.


Born in Charleston, West Virginia, George Crumb studied at institutions throughout the United States (as well as Berlin), finishing his doctorate at the University of Michigan. His first teaching job was at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where his compositions began to garner attention, especially Night Music I (1963, for soprano, piano/celesta, and two percussionists).

Crumb took a teaching position at the University of Pennsylvania in 1965 and remained there for 30 years. Crumb was very prolific during his time at Penn, setting the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca more often than any other poet. However, American poetry is also at the heart of his vocal works, such as Apparition (1979, Walt Whitman text) and The Sleeper (1984, Edgar Allan Poe text).

While Crumb's music is certainly experimental, his delicate use of timbre and echoing of American (and especially West Virginian) traditions makes it accessible to a wide audience. In recent years, Crumb has explored America folk traditions more overtly in his music, with his American Songbooks. The American Songbooks set dozens of American folk and traditional songs using Crumb's unique approach to sound and instrumentation.

--Christie Finn

Audio PLaylist

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