Erb, Donald (James)

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Erb, Donald (James)

Erb, Donald (James), significant American composer and teacher; b. Youngstown, Ohio, Jan. 17, 1927. He studied composition with Harold Miles and Kenneth Gaburo and received training in trumpet at Kent State Univ. (B.S., 1950). He pursued training in composition with Marcel Dick at the Cleveland Inst. of Music (M.M., 1953), and also studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris (1952). His studies in composition were completed under Bernhard Heiden at Ind. Univ. (D.M., 1964). From 1953 to 1961 he taught at the Cleveland Inst. of Music. In 1964–65 he was an asst. prof, of composition at Bowling Green (Ohio) State Univ. He was a visiting asst. prof, for research in electronic music at Case Inst. of Technology in Cleveland from 1965 to 1967. From 1966 to 1981 he was composer-in-residence at the Cleveland Inst. of Music, which position he also held with the Dallas Sym. Orch. in 1968–69. He served as a staff composer at the Bennington (Vt.) Composers Conference from 1969 to 1974. He was the Meadows Prof, of Composition at Southern Methodist Univ. from 1981 to 1984, and also was president of the American Music Center from 1982 to 1986. From 1984 to 1987 he was a prof, of music at Ind. Univ. In 1987 he became prof, of composition at the Cleveland Inst. of Music, from which he retired in 1996. He also held a Meet the Composer Residency with the St. Louis Sym. Orch. (1988–91), was resident composer at the American Academy in Rome (1991), was composer-in-residence at the Aspen (Colo.) Music Festival (summer, 1993) and the Schweitzer Inst. (1994, 1995), and was artist-in-residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts (1995). Erb held a Guggenheim fellowship in 1965, was awarded the Cleveland Arts Prize in 1966, and received an American Academy and Inst. of Arts and Letters award in 1985.

As a composer, Erb is exceptionally liberal in experimenting in all useful types of composition, from simple folklike monody to the strict dodecaphonic structures; as a former trumpeter in jazz bands, he also makes use of the jazz idiom as freely as of neo-Classical pandiatonic techniques. His most popular composition, The 7th Trumpet for Orch. (Dallas, April 5, 1969), is an epitome of his varied styles. He furthermore applies electronic sound in several of his works. In his band compositions, he achieves an extraordinary degree of pure sonorism, in which melody, harmony, and counterpoint are subordinated to the purely aural effect. He also cleverly introduces strange-looking and unusual-sounding musical and unmusical and antimusical instruments, such as euphonious goblets, to be rubbed on the rim, and telephone bells. Thanks to the engaging manner of Erb’s music, even when ultradissonant, his works safely traverse their premieres and endure through repeated performances.


ORCH Chamber Concerto for Piano and Strings (1958; Chicago, Feb. 12, 1961); Symphony of Overtures (1964; Bloomington, Ind., Feb. 11, 1965); Concerto for Solo Percussion and Orch. (Detroit, Dec. 29, 1966); Christmasmusic (Cleveland, Dec. 21, 1967); The 7th Trumpet (Dallas, April 5, 1969); Klangfarbenfunk I for Orch., Rock Band, and Electronic Sounds (Detroit, Oct. 1, 1970); Autumnmusic for Orch. and Electronic Sounds (New Haven, Conn., Oct. 20, 1973); Treasures of the Snow (1973; Bergen, NJ., lune 8, 1974); Music for a Festive Occasion for Orch. and Electronic Sounds (1975; Cleveland, Jan. 11, 1976); Cello Concerto (1975; Rochester, N.Y., Nov. 4, 1976); Trombone Concerto (St. Louis, March 11, 1976); Concerto for Keyboards and Orch. (1978; Akron, Ohio, March 23, 1981); Trumpet Concerto (1980; Baltimore, April 29, 1981); Sonneries (1981; Rochester, N.Y., March 18, 1982); Prismatic Variations (1983; St. Louis, Jan. 28, 1984); Contrabassoon Concerto (1984; Houston, March 15, 1985); Clarinet Concerto (1984); Concerto for Orchestra (Atlanta, Sept. 12, 1985); Concerto for Brass and Orch. (1986; Chicago, April 16, 1987); Solstice for Chamber Orch. (Cleveland, June 3, 1988); Sym. for Winds (1989; Elmhurst, 111., May 11, 1990); Ritual Observances (St. Louis, April 30, 1991); Violin Concerto (1992; Grand Rapids, Mich., April 16, 1993); Evensong (1993; Cleveland, May 5, 1994).

CHAMBER: 3 string quartets (1960, 1989, 1995); Quartet for Flute, Oboe, Alto Saxophone, and Double Bass (1961); Sonata for Harpsichord and String Quartet (1961); Dance Pieces for Violin, Piano, Trumpet, and Percussion (1963); Hexagon for Flute, Alto Saxophone, Trumpet, Trombone, Cello, and Piano (1963); Antipodes for String Quartet and Percussion Quartet (1963); Phantasma for Flute, Oboe, Double Bass, and Harpsichord 1965); Diversion for 2 (other than sex) for Trumpet and Percussion (1966); Andante for Piccolo, Flute, and Alto Flute (1966); Trio for Violin, Electric Guitar, and Cello (1966); Reconnaissance for Violin, Double Bass, Piano, Percussion, and 2 Electronic Setups (1967); Trio for 2 for Alto Flute or Percussion, and Double Bass (1968); Harold’s Trip to the Sky for Viola, Piano, and Percussion (1972); Quintet for Violin, Cello, Flute, Clarinet, and Piano (1976); Trio for Violin, Percussion, and Piano (1977); Sonata for Clarinet and Percussion (1980); 3 Pieces for Harp and Percussion (1981); Deja vu, 6 etudes for Double Bass (1981); The St. Valentine’s Day Brass Quintet (1981); Aura for String Quintet (1981); The Last Quintet for Woodwinds (1982); The Devil’s Quickstep for Flute, Clarinet, Violin, Cello, Percussion, keyboards, and Harp (1982); Fantasy for Cellist and Friends (1982); Adieu for Bass Clarinet and 2 Percussionists (1984); The Rainbow Snake for Trombone, 2 Percussion, Keyboards, and Tape (1985); Views of Space and Time for Violin, Keyboards, Harp, 2 Percussion, and Amplification (1987); A Book of Fanfares for Brass Quintet (1987); The Watchman Fantasy for Amplified Piano with Digital Delay, Violin, and Synthesizer (1988); Woody for Clarinet (1988); 4 Timbre Pieces for Cello and Double Bass (1989); 5 Red Hot Duets for 2 Contrabassoons (1989); Celebration Fanfare for 13 Instruments (1990); Drawing Dawn the Moon for Piccolo and Percussion (1991); Illwarra Music for Bassoon and Piano (1992); Sonata for Solo Violin (1994); Remembrances for 2 Trumpets (1994); Changes for Clarinet and Piano (1994); Harp Sonata (1995); Sunlit Peaks and Dark Valleys for Violin, Clarinet, and Piano (1995); Dance, You Monster, to My Soft Song for Trumpet (1998).

VOCAL: Cummings Cycle for Chorus and Orch. (1963); Fallout? for Narrator, Chorus, String Quartet, and Piano (1964); God Love You Now for Chorus, Hand Percussion, and Harmonicas (1971); New England’s Prospect for Choruses, Narrator, and Orch. (Cincinnati, May 17, 1974).

ELECTRONIC: Reticulation for Symphonic Band and Electronic Tape (1965); Stargazing for Band and Electronic Tape (1966); Fission for Electronic Tape, Soprano Saxophone, Piano, Dancers, and Lights (1968); In No Strange Land for Tape, Trombone, and Double Bass (1968); Basspiece for Double Bass and 4 tracks of prerecorded Double Bass (1969); Souvenir for Tape, Instruments, Lights, etc. (1970); Z milosci do Warszawy for Piano, Clarinet, Cello, Trombone, and Electronic Sound (1971); The Purple-roofed Ethical Suicide Parlor for Wind Ensemble and Electronic Sound (1972); The Towers of Silence for Electronic Quintet (1974); Suddenly It’s Evening for Electronic Cello (1998).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire