A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
Some names, even in contemporary classical music, are
well-known or even important to everyone. Others are significant
mainly to those who are in the business or have a specific love for the
narrow field. George Crumb is one of those who is gaining general
acceptance but has always been a major figure within the community of
As part of my long-running series on WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago, I
interviewed many people involved in various aspects of keeping music
alive in the twentieth century, and Crumb was near the top of the
list. It pleased me that he responded to my invitation right
away, and we set up a time to speak on the telephone.
He was sitting outside his home during our
chat and there were a few distractions including airplanes (which he
not like) and cicadas (which he seemed to enjoy).
At one point, the Crumb family dogs could be heard in the background
and I assured my guest that it was OK since there were dogs and cats at
the radio station where I worked. And yes, they could
occasionally be heard behind the announcers when we were making live
announcements such as intros, news, or advertisements.
Incidentally, it was with mixed feelings that when our station was sold
and changed format in 2001, there were many calls offering to take care
of the animals but no such offers to the announcing staff . . . (!)
For more about the station, see my website which contains
articles and photos.
Here is what was said that balmy August afternoon in 1988 . . .
One of the things that has struck me in
listening to your pieces is that you use everything. There are so
different sounds that emerge from your music! Is this a conscious
effort on your part to find new things?
I guess I would have to speak about my
influences, and an important one would be Debussy. My
interest in color and timbre and so forth, I think, really comes from
music as much as anybody’s music.
BD: Are you
trying to emulate his music or
continue his music?
GC: No, I
think his music was just in my ear very
early on. As a kid, I played some of the piano things, and
I sensed then, but it became much more obvious later, that Debussy
really was one of the first composers to make the sheer sound
a very special aspect of the music. There were others, of
course, but I think he was one of the very first to do this, and
I suppose my music is very much influenced by his music.
thinking about composing, is there
anything in the realm of sound that you would not want to include in a
piece of your music at some point?
GC: I think
virtually everything is useable,
everything in sound is useable if it’s justified in the music
makes it justified?
I’m not sure I could pin that
down. I’ve never thought of special sounds as being gratuitous,
but as having to be in that piece of music. It’s a very
subjective thing, you know. It
amounts to the composer’s taste as to what would be authentic
in a piece of music in terms of sound. All of the sounds
that I’ve borrowed from eastern music, Asian music, and so
forth, are sounds that are in my ear. Our world has expanded so
in terms of sound not only for myself, but for composers generally.
BD: Are you
constantly discovering new sounds?
yes. I hear new things
constantly, and I suppose only a very few eventually end up in my
music. [Laughs] I won’t live that long, I’m sure.
BD: There are
too many sounds?
are. Yes, there are, indeed!
getting an idea for a composition, do you hear the sound in your head,
then try to recreate it and direct the performers to recreate
it? Or do you hear the sound as it’s been created, and then
incorporate that into the score?
GC: I think
both. The inner imagination, I
think, can lead you to certain
things. Or, your memory may be functioning and you may
recall the certain sound that you’ve heard in, say, some ethnic
music. This sticks in your mind and seems appropriate to the
sense of the moment, you see.
sure. Now, when you’re working on a
piece of music, how do you know when you’ve come to the end? How
do you know when to put the pencil down, and say, “It’s done.”?
sometimes one doesn’t, I guess. But
ideally, I suppose, when you cannot add a further note, or subtract a
note, then the piece, for better or worse, seems to fulfill itself with
that given number of notes.
BD: Do you
ever go back and tinker with
scores, once they’ve been out, given to the public?
sometimes I do when there’s some
conceptual thing that didn’t really work, or if there’s a
in a technical matter or in sheer sound. It may be a question of
balance or quality. All of these things can
happen. With a few works I’ve done a kind
of an overhaul of the composition.
BD: When you
do overhaul a composition, are you
actually changing the concept, or are you trying to communicate the
original concept in a better way?
GC: I think
the latter. The
seeds of a composition — the
original impulse — that’s what you’re
trying to carry out in your writing of the piece, and sometimes
you betray that. Sometimes you’re
not up to realizing that germinal thing, though you’re
trying. I think probably all composers are involved with
this, and probably most of the work you produce over the years misfires
to some degree. It’s always a
question of how close you can get to that
original insight that prompts the composition.
BD: Have you
ever hit it right on the nose?
GC: No, I
don’t think I have! [Laughs] I admire
certain composers who I think did that
on a routine basis, but that’s something. You can try hard, but
you don’t always do it.
also a professor of music, a teacher of
BD: How do
you divide your time between the teaching
and your own composing?
schedule isn’t so heavy, so that’s not so much
of an intrusion on my time. And
I genuinely enjoy the teaching.
BD: Do you
ever find that a student’s work will
suddenly inspire you in your own composition?
it’s useful to always stay
in touch with what young people are thinking. It may be that
a certain fleeting idea in a piece may reflect in something
that I would be doing, but usually the students are looking to
their teachers for this same sort of thing. So
maybe it’s only fair if it can be mutual at times.
BD: Do they
ever rip you off?
Well, I suppose that’s one natural thing
that happens when you’ve been writing music for a long time.
Other people steal, and I’m sure I steal, too.
BD: Let me
ask the big philosophical
question: what is the purpose of music in society?
[laughs] I’m not sure that I know,
really! And I’m not sure that composers involve
themselves so much with these very far-reaching questions.
Usually it’s a matter of wanting to get something out of your
system. You’re just trying to do this, and you hope people
like your music when the piece is finished, but that’s out of your
BD: Then what
do you expect of the
public when they come to hear a piece of yours?
GC: Well, one
hopes that everybody
listens with open ears; one hopes that the sense of the piece will
communicate and that whatever personal stylistic quirks are there
won’t interfere with that. It’s natural, as a composer and a
human being, to do your own music, and it sometimes takes a while
before audiences can get beyond the personal idiosyncrasies and
get to what the composer is saying, or trying to say.
BD: Do you
feel that your music communicates
GC: Some of
it probably does. I imagine that
there would be some pieces, though, that would maybe not communicate as
much. It all depends, I guess, on the particular piece.
BD: Are there
some particular pieces of yours
that tend to communicate with audiences better than others on a regular
GC: There are
probably, half a
dozen pieces that seem to immediately communicate. I’m not
sure that these are necessarily the best pieces. [Laughs] Maybe they
are; I don’t know. Maybe for that reason they might be the best
pieces, but I don’t know. I think it’s impossible for the
composer to have any kind of perspective about his own music.
BD: Well, who
should decide which piece by
George Crumb is the best? Is it you, is it the public, is it
critics, is it history?
GC: I think
the public, ultimately, but I don’t think
the public right at the moment. I think that’s a rather lengthy
process. It involves, perhaps, decades, and it’s out of
one’s control. And there’s no guarantee that any of our music
could possibly speak to another time. When you’re alive, people
play your music; you’re
there and the music is played. You’re writing new works. I
may be a little fatalistic, but I think I’m realistic at
the same time, when I say that only time can determine what has any
kind of a
lasting power of communication. But again, one can’t even dwell
on that. That’s out of one’s hands, I guess.
BD: So then
you’re really writing music that you
expect to last for generations?
GC: I think
every composer, hopefully, is
trying to write his very best music. I think every composer,
unconsciously, is trying to write a masterpiece, and that simply
translates into the very best you can do. And so what if it
isn’t, or if it’s rarely, of a very high quality?
BD: What are
some of the
traits that contribute to making a piece of music a masterpiece?
GC: I wish I
could articulate those because I can
recognize such things in traditional works, but analysis doesn’t have
the power to isolate these factors. I think it would
be an incredibly subtle problem, and nobody to my satisfaction
has pinned it down. It’s perhaps because it’s a spiritual quality
or a quality of life that inhabits
certain works, and other works are clearly inert. And I think
this defies analysis. Sophisticated construction is not the
same thing; that can be a very common thing. The other
thing is, I think, a little more rare, and I wish I knew what it was or
how to account for it.
say you hear it in music of the past. Do you
hear it in your own music?
Again, I would not have a perspective
this, but statistically the odds are against any
composer, I think. One works on faith — I guess that’s what I’m
saying. You write your music and then that’s
it. It’s out of your hands.
either in general
concert music or your own music in particular, where is the balance
between an artistic achievement and an entertainment value?
question. I’ve never understood, really, the sense of what’s
purely entertainment because I think very good music can also be
entertaining. It keeps one involved. I
suppose maybe artistic achievement might indicate something that goes a
little beyond pure entertainment.
BD: I assume,
then, you feel there’s a place for both?
GC: Oh, yes,
yes indeed! And some very good
music can have high entertainment qualities, too, I suppose.
There must be a lot of music of this kind. Some of Tchaikowsky,
for example, is on a very high artistic level, and certain other pieces
might be more entertainment than artistic achievement. It’s a
mixture, too; it’s not always so clear. One speaks of Beethoven’s
quartets as being an artistic achievement. Maybe, in many
people’s minds they would be one of the highest
achievements of music; and it is, you know. I think, goes beyond
you’re writing a piece, for whom do
GC: Well, as
I mentioned before, I
think you’re trying to get something out of your system. For the
composer in his workshop, it’s a question of making
something come out right, and to get out what you want to say. In
fact the composer is serving as his own
audience during the process of writing music, and then once the
piece is completed, you hope that it does project to other
people. But I really don’t think that this is pervading
your mind at each step
of composing a work. To me, this would be
psychologically impossible. You’re involved in the problems of
the piece. I can understand the source of the point, I
suppose, if audiences are reacting against a kind of
scholastic music, academic music that perhaps is kind of cold and does
not engage people on any kind of a human plane. But otherwise, I
understand that question so much, because I think the composer, in
writing a piece of music, is functioning as a human being,
primarily, and therefore he is representative, as one
person of the audience, in writing the piece.
we were talking
about the difference between the noise of the cicadas and
the noise of the airplanes — one
being natural and one being
man-made. Is music natural, or is music man-made?
GC: I think
it’s natural, but of course it
depends on a rather sophisticated technology. The
piano may consist of smelted ore and wood, but it demanded advanced
knowledge of physics and
so forth; high tension stringing and so forth, all
those things. Even the mechanism is relatively
sophisticated. So it’s a mixture, really. But the actual
music, apart from the instruments, should be in touch with natural
things. I think
probably music started that way. There are all the analogs in
nature, all the voices that you hear on this summer evening,
as I’m hearing now. And more than that, there’s the sense of
rhythm in all of nature, a more abstract thing such as the tides and
wind; the pulse beat of the
living animals. All of that is part of music, I think.
BD: Once you
set down your ideas on the
paper, how much leeway do you allow for interpretation on the
part of the performer?
GC: Quite a
bit. Everything is written out, in
the sense that a Chopin piece would be written out. But I
am not doctrinaire about any kind of accuracy because I
don’t believe in that. Ultimate accuracy, like
metronome points that go down into fractions, I just don’t believe in
that sort of approach; or dynamics that are absolutely
objective. I’ve never understood this because the hall is always
changing, the time of year is different, the mood in audience is
different. There are variables for the music; any performer
would know what I’m talking about, and I think that keeps the
music alive. It’s reborn with each performance, and that
performance is conditioned by the psychology of the audience and
all the other factors I’ve mentioned. It’s unique to
that time, and those are variables that are going to change. To
be more specific, in my own music I would allow the traditional
latitude and tempo rubato, nuances of tempo and dynamics and all
of that. It’s quite traditional that way.
BD: Are there
ever cases where performers
or interpreters discover things in your scores that you didn’t even
know you had put there?
Yeah. That can happen.
BD: Is that a
is. I think it means that they’re
finding something that enlarges the
possibilities in terms of a performance, and in recreation, the piece
will sound a little different from somebody’s personal
insights. Don’t you think that happens traditionally,
too? That’s part of music, I think.
BD: Do you
feel that you’re part of a lineage
GC: I like
all of the traditional music, and I
think I like most music generally — all the eastern
musics and the folk musics and the ethnic musics. I like jazz
some rock. I like very early music, western music,
pre-baroque music. There’s not much music I don’t like. In
terms of direct lineage, I mentioned Debussy, but the
line might be amplified, and you can speak of Bartók as
coming after, inheriting from Debussy. And perhaps you
could point to Chopin as being the first contemporary composer.
He was kind of a maverick who was a little
bit out of the mainstream. Even when he was the
German-Central-European mainstream of music, Chopin was on the
periphery. And I think one can trace a direct line through
Chopin and the earlier Russian composers, Mussorgsky, Debussy and then
Bartók. This maybe would be the
important second stream, as opposed to what was thought of as the
German’s — I think of their music as being the mainstream, with
justification, in the nineteenth century. But in our own times,
it’s clear that in western music there are at
least these, and there are probably many more by now. But anyway,
I tap into all this. I can feel a certain provenance from that
BD: You say
you like all of these various types
of music. Do you also like the music by others who are writing
composers, uh-huh, impress me. I’ve
always liked Berio’s music and certain things of Messiaen, and I
think I’ve been influenced by Ives. Of course, he’s not writing
today [laughs], but I hear, occasionally, pieces by my American
contemporaries; I’m sure I steal little things from them, too.
[See my Interview with
does Ross Lee Finney fit into that?
[Photo at left: Ross Lee Finney]
GC: Ross, of
course, was my teacher. That’s why
you’re asking the question, I’m sure.
Yes. He’s also a personal favorite
of mine. I did an interview with him and then I presented an
birthday program for him on the radio.
Good! I like many of Ross’s things very
much, but curiously I didn’t come on to my own personal style
until after my student days. Or maybe that isn’t so curious;
composers tend to develop rather later nowadays. We’re not like
the nineteenth century in that respect. But I
owe very much to Ross in the area of technique and the discrimination
of the ear. All those things that are so important to
BD: Where is
the balance between the
inspiration and the technique?
GC: Well, it
should be synthesized, sort of. Both things are operating all the
time. I’m not ashamed to say that such a thing exists as
inspiration. It might be a dirty word in some corridors, but I
think it has to be there. But I don’t know whether it’s
ideally two percent of a piece of music, or five percent or
whatever. The work is there; there’s no question.
As to the actual labor, you’re exerting your craft constantly to
try to make the ideas work in a piece.
BD: Let me
come back to the idea of liking various
musics. You say you like the old music
and you like the new music. Do you like the music that you write?
uh-huh. I think most composers
like their own music! [Laughs] But I’m aware at the same time that in
my opinion I haven’t fully realized a
piece. In other words, I haven’t yet written the kind of music I
would like to write in my heart of hearts. I sense that maybe
that’s the human condition; maybe one never does, in fact.
BD: What is
blocking you from that?
GC: I don’t
know. I don’t know. If I
knew, I guess I could come closer. But maybe that’s
what keeps a person always trying. You know you’re not
satisfied yet, and you’re trying again.
BD: Do you
feel that all the music you are
writing are individual pieces, or are they all parts of one large
piece of George Crumb?
GC: I think
they’re all organically related. I’m that type of a composer,
rather than the type that
would, so to speak, reinvent music with each
work. And again, that may be part of that tradition I referred
to. I think Debussy and Mahler are other examples of composers
who have these cross-references through their life’s work,
really. Rather than a specific
symphony of Mahler, there’s like one symphony, one larger symphony of
Mahler. He laid out his territory in the first symphony and
I think was elaborating on that the rest of his life.
BD: Did you
lay out your territory already, and
have you been elaborating?
Not consciously, but I’m sure that I got on to my own way of writing in
sixties. I sense a connection with all the music since
then. That may be bad, I don’t know, but there is that. It
BD: It seems
like an awful large
responsibility to put on young shoulders, to lay out the territory of a
lifetime when you’re twenty-five or thirty years old.
GC: I don’t
think it’s a conscious thing. I think if you write your own
music, it’s perhaps out of your control as to your
fertility, your inventing in the sense of basic types. Of
course, Beethoven is the extreme form of that. In discussions, I
always used to
say that Beethoven should have been about fifty people,
psychologically speaking. There’s no accounting him; there’s no
parallel for it in the history of music. When I spoke of
recreating music with each work, this guy is
uncanny. I think he must have been an extraterrestrial or
something. [Both laugh]
BD: Have you
basically been pleased with the
performances you’ve heard of your works over the years?
yes. There have been many
excellent performances. Sometimes even very young performers will
do fine performances. Sometimes the performance is not so
good, but then that’s par for the course, right?
about the recordings? Many of your
works have been recorded; are you basically pleased with these?
yes. In fact, many of the recording
sessions I have been involved in, so there’s that sense
of really being there and being able to get the fine points.
BD: To get it
according to my own conception.
BD: Is there
just one right way to play your
No, but since I was on hand for the
recording session, the performers seemed to expect
that I should make a choice between two ways of doing
something. I was sometimes in on the editing sessions, too,
and it’s an outright choice to decide which take you like best! [Both
laugh] But of course, that doesn’t deny what
I was referring to earlier, that music is reborn with
different performers. I’m sure it is a very good
thing that the composer isn’t always around, you know.
Maybe some of the best performances of Beethoven he never heard because
he was dead already. But who knows?
BD: You don’t
feel he’s listening to them still?
Maybe he is!
let’s look in the other
direction. Where is music going these days?
GC: I don’t
know. I sense that so far
in the twentieth century, synthesis seems to be the big thing.
Composers like Mahler, Debussy and Ives were all involved with
combining things. They were anti-purists, in a sense. They
were combining all the music they ever knew, or music that meant
something to them, and they would put it in the same piece. And
process is still going on. Of course, we still have the purist
approach, too, that exists or co-exists. But I rather believe
the world is, in a way, coming together, in the sense that
all the musics might influence a composer, even if he lives in Media,
Pennsylvania. It’s possible that music all the way around the
world can influence his own music.
BD: So then
you’re optimistic about the future of
indeed! I am optimistic, and if I ever get pessimistic, I know
that there are young
composers that are coming along that will keep it going. It’s
bound to evolve, I think.
BD: Is there
any chance that there are too many
people writing music?
GC: Well, no,
I don’t think so, really,
ideally. Maybe professionally there aren’t enough
commissions for all those people, but there seem to be more
commissions and prizes and all that sort of thing, too. In
certain periods of the past, in any cross-section of
the baroque period of a certain year, there must have been
just hundreds and hundreds of composers writing music. I don’t
know how this would all compare. Our population is so much huger
now. But allowing for
that, in vigorous periods there probably was an enormous quantity of
production in music.
mentioned awards and commissions. What was the impact upon you,
or musically, of winning the Pulitzer Prize?
it’s always fun to win any kind of a prize,
of course. I think, ultimately, that prizes probably are not so
important, but that doesn’t take the fun out of occasionally winning
something! [Both laugh]
BD: Is it
like a universal recognition?
GC: At least
it’s recognition by whoever
happened to be on the panel that awarded you that prize!
BD: But that
didn’t change your life in any way?
GC: No, I
don’t think too much, no. I think if
you win the Pulitzer Prize, probably for a couple of years, anyway,
people are talking a little more about your music. It
might be reflected for a while in your royalty checks, but I
don’t think that it probably can influence much your
development as a composer in the real sense.
BD: Is a
prize like that something you should
strive for, or should it just be like manna from heaven when it drops
into your lap?
GC: I don’t
think one should become obsessed
with winning prizes, and in fact as a student I hardly won anything at
all; my classmates were winning all kinds of things.
BD: Does it
give you any sense of satisfaction to
know that they are, perhaps, more obscure, and you are more glorified
No, I don’t think so because,
in fact, some of my classmates are doing all right, too. I take a
that in line with what I already mentioned, you simply
write what you have to write and that’s all you can do. There
ain’t no more that can be done, you see!
BD: Are most
of the pieces you write on
yeah. Sometimes they’re informal ones, like a friend will ask me
to write a piece.
But yeah, most of them are.
someone comes to you with a
commission, how do you decide if you’ll accept it or put it off or
just decline it?
invariably decline because I suppose every week that I get two or three
asking if I’d be interested in writing a piece! Since my
production of music has averaged about one work a year, obviously I
can’t accept much.
BD: Then how
do you decide which is the
one you will accept?
usually involves a friend or somebody I’ve worked with, and you
really want to do a piece for that person. I wish we were all
Mozarts and could really fulfill all those requests that
come in! But I don’t think there are any Mozarts around.
you’re working on a piece of music, are you
conscious of the amount of time it will take in performance?
pretty much — at least the
psychological time; perhaps not the actual clock timing. The
pace of a work, I think, is a very important thing in music.
work! It’s fun when you are finishing a piece and you say you’re
relatively happy with it; it’s
come together. But starting a new work I wouldn’t describe quite
as fun. It’s kind of a searching process. I’m more
impressed with the kind of work aspect of it! But isn’t that true
of everything in life, that fun is relative? Maybe fun is not
the right word. I suppose it’s kind of a thralldom.
BD: I assume
that you get a satisfaction out of the
eventually if a piece seems to
work and if you manage to get out something that you wanted to say.
BD: Do you
have a special time that you work — always in
the morning or always in the evening?
morning and early afternoon, uh-huh.
BD: Have you
ever gotten one of those fictionalized ideals where
you wake up in the middle of the night with a slam-bang idea that has
to be done?
GC: No, I
tend to get my ideas when I’m at my work
BD: So you
don’t get them strolling through the park
or playing with your dog?
sometimes I guess you may have a
kind of an idea, but those are usually fleeting and are not
precise enough to be workable. That’s
it. The whole world is around us and yet you
can say only so little in your music, really. You’re drawing on
your experience which is open to so many
things, and yet [pause] to even write one piece of music
has to be circumscribed in a way.
BD: We talked
earlier about composing. What advice do you have for performers?
GC: You mean
in reference to new music, or just
general, and then with
reference to new music, and then in reference to your music
particularly. Turn it into a three-part question.
GC: Well, I
haven’t thought about
that. I guess to a performer I would say — extrapolating from
what I tell my composition students — is that you should have
enough technique to realize your ideas, but then the essential thing is
something beyond technique. I think that holds for performance
just as much as for the conceptual thing in composition. I
mention that only because sometimes you do hear
performances that are technically astounding, but maybe a little cold
and lacking in kind of that human thing. So the
ideal would be a combination of the two. Technique is
important, too. Now as regards contemporary music, I think that
maybe realize that when they are able to play new music well; this
lends something to even their performance of traditional music.
It sharpens the ear; it sharpens their technique; it enlarges the
possibilities. So in playing any new work really well,
I think you would play Beethoven better. It enlarges your sound
sense and I
think it enlarges your imaginative powers that befit the special
instrument you’re involved with.
BD: Do they
play your music better if they play
GC: I think
so, yeah. I think, really, the best
performers of my music are those who are also experienced in the
traditional music. I think that’s so.
BD: Do you
ever have a shortage of people wanting to
play your music?
can’t complain, I guess,
about that aspect. There have been very many excellent performers.
BD: I was
just thinking that maybe we’ve
stumbled on a way to con more people into playing your music.
Tell them that learning your music will get them
to play Beethoven better, when in reality they play Beethoven better so
they’ll do your music better! [Both laugh]
Right. I don’t know. I
really see music as a larger thing, one thing and not broken into
little compartments. I think this is a healthy
thing for both performers and composers.
about the third part of the
equation — what advice do you have for the
GC: [Pause] I
would say allow for bad
acoustics because so many of the halls we hear music in are not so
good. I wish we had better halls in this country. And to
realize, too, that a live performance is not a
recording that’s synthetic and pasted together. It’s a live,
living organism. Beyond that, in reference to my own music,
listen to the sound,
to be sure, but also to other things. People do talk about sound
in my music, but I think other elements are important, too.
Rhythm is critical and the structure, the form, should be important,
always. So, in other words, for a listener I wouldn’t just say,
“Go take a sound bath,” but look for the rather
traditional aspects of my music which, I think, has something to do
at least a struggle towards form. I’m
concerned about all those things, too — thematics,
example. It’s just different sound, although sound is also
important in my music.
BD: What is
it that you are currently
working on? What is on your desk right now?
GC: I’ve been
sketching a little guitar piece
for David Starobin, who I’ve known for many, many years. He wants
a piece for guitar and ensemble,
but which would make guitar prominent. And this would be acoustic
guitar, rather than electric guitar.
BD: Do you
have any plans after that, or do you
just wait until the one is done before you look for the next project?
GC: Well, I
better not speak of further things,
because sometimes my pieces undergo transformations.
understand. Not specifically, but have you got an idea for the
piece after this and maybe the one
down the road?
GC: Oh, I
have several ideas in my sketchbook, pieces
I’d like to do one day. But until the work actually
exists, it would be futile to speak about it. But just generally
speaking, I would love to get back to orchestra at some point, although
most of my music has been
BD: So if you
have a bunch of commissions, if
one of them is for an orchestral work you’ll look more kindly upon
GC: Well, I
just want to get back to that, because my
last orchestral piece was Haunted
goes back about three years or so, already. I need to
allow a little space in between, you know. Orchestra
isn’t the most natural medium for me, I suppose. It’s always an
especially difficult thing to grapple with, and I need a little space
between, I suppose, each time.
Exactly. You’ve been
most generous to spend a little time with me this evening. I
appreciate very much being able to probe your mind.
GC: Yes, I’ve
enjoyed chatting with you!
George Crumb's reputation as a composer of hauntingly beautiful scores
has made him one of the most frequently performed composers in today's
musical world. From Los Angeles to Moscow, and from Scandinavia to
South America, festivals devoted to the music of George Crumb have
sprung up like wildflowers. Now approaching his 75th birthday year,
Crumb, the winner of a 2001 Grammy Award and the 1968 Pulitzer Prize in
Music, continues to compose new scores that enrich the musical lives of
those who come in contact with his profoundly humanistic art.
George Henry Crumb was born in Charleston, West Virginia
on 24 October
1929. He studied at the Mason College of Music in Charleston and
received the Bachelor's degree in 1950. Thereafter he studied for the
Master's degree at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana under
Eugene Weigel. He continued his studies under Boris Blacher at the
Hochschule für Musik, Berlin from 1954-1955. He received the
D.M.A. in 1959 from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor after
studying with Ross Lee Finney.
George Crumb's music often juxtaposes contrasting musical styles. The
references range from music of the western art-music tradition, to
hymns and folk music, to non-Western musics. Many of Crumb's works
include programmatic, symbolic, mystical and theatrical elements, which
are ftlineoften reflected in his beautiful and meticulously notated
scores. A shy, yet warmly eloquent personality, Crumb retired from his
teaching position at the University of Pennsylvania after more than 30
years of service.
Awarded honorary doctorates by numerous universities and the recipient
of dozens of awards and prizes, Crumb makes his home in Pennsylvania,
in the same house where he and his wife of more than 50 years raised
their three children. George Crumb's music is published by C.F. Peters
and the ongoing series of "Complete Crumb" recordings, supervised by
the composer, is being issued on Bridge Records.
George Crumb is the recipient of numerous awards:
* Elizabeth Croft fellowship for study, Berkshire
Music Centre, 1955.
* Fulbright Scholarship, 1955-6.
* BMI student award, 1956.
* Rockefeller grant, 1964.
* National Institute of Arts and Letters grant, 1967.
* Guggenheim grant, 1967, 1973.
* Pulitzer Prize (for Echoes of Time and the River),
* UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers Award,
* Koussevitzky Recording Award, 1971.
* Fromm grant, 1973.
* Member, National Institute of Arts and Letters,
* Ford grant, 1976.
* Prince Pierre de Monaco Gold Medal, 1989.
* Brandeis University Creative Arts Award.
* Honorary member, Deutsche Akademie der Kunste.
* Honorary member, International Cultural Society of
* 6 honorary degrees.
* 1998 Cannes Classical Award: Best CD of a Living
Composer (BRIDGE 9069)
* 2001 Grammy for Best Contemporary Composition
* 2004 Musical American "Composer of the Year"
© 1988 Bruce Duffie
This interview was recorded on the telephone
on August 27, 1988. Portions (along with recordings) were
broadcast on WNIB in 1989, 1994 and 1999. The
transcription was made in 2008 and posted on this
website in December of that year.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been
transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago
from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of
2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and
journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM,
as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.
You are invited to visit his website
for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of
other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also
to call your attention to the photos and information about his
grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a
century ago. You may also send him E-Mail
with comments, questions and suggestions.