In Memoriam George Crumb

George Crumb (1929-2022). Often imitated. Never duplicated. We feel your music in our bodies as much as we hear it through our ears. From some primal state, it communicates with us directly, the way we experience Nature or the Spirit Realm: being alone in the woods and encountering an animal or a sudden rustling of trees.

The quote that I read or heard you say that I come to again and again was when you spoke of a very difficult period when you were unable to compose for a couple years and before you had found the sound(s) we now know as yours: “I couldn’t allow myself to write what had already been written” …or something very close to that. Is it too bold for me to believe I understand you?

Of course you had retired from Penn by the time I arrived, but with four of your students as my own teachers—Rouse, Ricardo, Jim, and Jay—your voice and wisdom were never far: “Crumb used to say…” and then your gentle cadence. Has there been an American composer whose actual speaking voice has been more widely imitated?

One of the blessings of being in Philly for 14 years was hearing the premieres of a few of your American Songbooks. These were huge pieces, dozens of percussion instruments on stage. Your sounds penetrate us. They haunt us. Beautiful dreamer…

When I say you’re a genius, I mean that when we study your music, we can see how it fits together, but that tells only part of the story. When the sound stops and the applause finish, we’re still left grasping as we ask: how did a man imagine this world?

Rest in peace, George Crumb. A Genius From West Virginia.