George Crumb, the influential avant-garde composer, passed away at his home yesterday (February 6th). His long-term label, Bridge Records, confirmed the news, adding that his wife and sons were present when he passed away. Crumb was 92 years old.
The musical legend taught for 30 years at the Unversity of Pennsylvania, and in 1967 he won the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his work Echoes of Time and the River in 1967. Crumb also won the Grammy Award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition for Star-Child in 2011. The West Virginia native made his name by exploring the intersection of nature and sound.
Crumb earned his master’s degree at the University of Illinois in 1953, and finally, his doctorate from the University of Michigan in 1959. However, later in his career, he would admit that he found academia stifling. Being a true pioneer, he would stay away from the academic norm with regards to avant-garde music, wanting to create something genuinely new.
Famously, Crumb made his name with his graphic scores that were hand-drawn on large sheets, resembling pieces of art. “I don’t have any artistic skills outside of musical calligraphy,” he told Brunswick in 2016. “I just think the music should look the way it sounds.”
Unsurprisingly, Crumb’s work had a significant impact on two of modern music’s most essential boundary-pushers, Jonny Greenwood and David Bowie. Bowie even listed Crumb’s 1972 album, Black Angels, as one of his favourites of all time.
“I heard this piece for the first time in the darkest time of my own 70s, and it scared the bejabbers out of me,” Bowie said of the album in an interview with Vanity Fair. “It’s still hard for me to hear this piece without a sense of foreboding. Truly, at times, it sounds like the devil’s own work.”
Listen to ‘Black Angels’ below.