Donald Erb

Donald Erb


• 1927 2008


Electronic music pioneer Donald Erb remains best remembered for 1965's Reconnaissance, one of the first chamber compositions for live synthesizer and acoustic instruments. Born in Youngstown, OH on January 17, 1927, Erb played trumpet in his high school dance band prior to serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II. After returning to civilian life he moonlighted as a professional jazz trumpeter while studying music at Kent State University, later studying composition under Marcel Dick at the Cleveland Institute of Music. In addition, Erb briefly studied in Paris under Nadia Boulanger. In 1952 he was appointed to the Cleveland Institute of Music faculty, going on to teach composition for more than four decades at schools including Southern Methodist University, Indiana University, and Melbourne University. Erb's significant early works include 1958's chamber piece Dialogue for Violin and Piano, 1959's Correlations for Piano Solo and 1962's orchestral effort Bakersfield Pieces, but over time his interests evolved into electronics, and in 1965 he completed Reconnaissance, which premiered two years later at New York City's Music in Our Time event with Robert Moog operating the synthesizer. Erb shuttled between the orchestral and electronic spheres throughout his career, earning a reputation for challenging the conventional context of traditional instrumentation by requiring soloists to play in unusual ranges or manners -- for example, striking piano strings with mallets, or removing a trumpet's mouthpiece. The 1969 orchestral composition The Seventh Trumpet remains Erb's most frequently resurrected work, with more than 200 performances by over 50 symphonies across the country and abroad -- it was also selected as the U.S.'s UNESCO representative in 1970. Although a 1996 cardiac arrest curtailed Erb's pursuits as both a composer and lecturer, he held the position of Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Composition at the Cleveland Institute of Music until 2000 -- upon his retirement, his life and career were celebrated with concert produced in his honor and a scholarship created in his name. Erb died August 12, 2008 at his Cleveland Heights home -- he was 81 years old.