George Crumb, Influential Pulitzer-Winning Composer, Dead at 92

David Bowie was a fan

George Crumb
"Composer Portraits: George Crumb" at the Miller Theater on Friday night, February 1, 2008.
Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images

Numerous classical composers have won the Pulitzer Prize over the years. Far fewer of them, however, could also say that their music had influenced David Bowie. When it came to George Crumb, however, that was very much the case — and it’s a statement to how singular his music could be. Bridge Records, which had released much of his work, confirmed on Twitter that Crumb died on Sunday at his Pennsylvania home.

Crumb received the 1968 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his orchestral suite Echoes of Time and the River. Decades later, he won a Grammy Award for his composition Star-Child. He was known for textual innovations and scores that made use of illustrations and looked like little else out there. “I just think the music should look the way it sounds,” he said in 2016.

In a 2003 interview with Vanity Fair, David Bowie cited Crumb’s Black Angels as one of his 25 favorite records. “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 recalled. “At the time, Crumb was one of the new voices in composition and Black Angels one of his most chaotic works. 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.”

Crumb drew upon his feeling about the Vietnam War to write the piece, and subsequent recordings of it (including one by the Kronos Quartet) have also drawn plenty of acclaim. In fact, Kronos Quartet founder David Harrington told the Denver Post, “That’s why I started Kronos — it was in order to play ‘Black Angels.’”

Crumb’s music makes for unexpected connections and resonances, and draws together disparate artists. And his body of work shows how inspiration can spark the most unlikely things imaginable.

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