Donald Erb RAAR’92 (1927-2008), avant-garde composer, Cleveland Institute of Music professor

“Donald Erb, a bold, avant-garde composer who inspired generations of composition students at the Cleveland Institute of Music, died Tuesday [12 August] at his home in Cleveland Heights at age 81”, writes Richard M. Peery in an obituary for the 13 August Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“He conducted and lectured at more than 150 colleges and universities and took pride in the scores of former students who teach on campuses across the country.”

In 1992 Donald Erb was a Resident in Musical Composition at the American Academy in Rome. His Cleveland students include Kathryn Alexander FAAR’89, James C. Mobberly FAAR’90, and William Neil FAAR’83. For The New York Times obituary of Erb, see here.

Peery continues in the Plain Dealer, “Erb was one of the most-performed American-born composers. Major orchestras commissioned and played his work. One of his compositions, ‘The Seventh Trumpet,’ has had more than 200 performances by more than 50 orchestras in the United States and overseas.”

There is a superb short biography of Donald Erb on the website of Theodore Presser, the music publishing company, which includes also a substantial list of works, recordings, and reviews.

“Erb used unusual sounds from unlikely instruments in his compositions,” notes Peery, “ranging from soda bottles to wind chimes to chopsticks. Performers might strike piano strings with mallets or use trumpet mouthpieces without the instruments.”

“He explored electronic music early on. His 1965 work ‘Reconnaissance’ premiered in New York with Robert Moog, inventor of the Moog synthesizer, operating the synthesizer.”

One can add that it was presented also at Expo ’67 in Montreal. Erb’s piece, for violin, string bass, piano, percussion, and electronica, was captured on a live Nonesuch recording that remains highly valued.

The Plain Dealer: “‘Any object can be a sound source; found objects such as pots and pans, leaves and running water or various signals which generate pure electronic sound,’ Erb told an interviewer in 1969.”

“Although his compositions defied categorization, much of his music retained influences from his early days as a jazz trumpeter. One of his fondest musical memories was of having heard jazz giant Charlie Parker.”

Three pieces by Erb that date to the mid-70s—Autumnmusic (1973), Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra (1976), and Quintet (1976)—can be heard via the Art of the State website.

“Erb was born in Youngstown”, reports Richard Peery. “After a stint in the Navy on the USS Baltimore at the end of World War II, he received a bachelor of music degree at Kent State University, a master’s degree at CIM and a doctorate at Indiana University.”

“He joined the CIM faculty in 1952. Ten years later, he received a Ford Foundation grant to spend a year as composer-in-residence with the Bakersfield, Calif., school system, then taught at Bowling Green State University. He returned to the CIM faculty in 1965. In 1993, he was given the Distinguished Alumni Award and was distinguished professor of composition when he retired three years later.”

“He chaired the composer librettist panel of the National Endowment for the Arts from 1977 to 1979 and was president of the American Music Center from 1981 to 1984. His career was studded with grants and fellowships from the NEA; and the Rockefeller, Guggenheim, Kulas, Koussevitsky, Fromm and Aaron Copland foundations. He was composer-in-residence with the Dallas and St. Louis symphony orchestras…[he] had additional faculty appointments at Southern Methodist and Indiana universities. He wrote an article on orchestration in the Encyclopedia Britannica….[i]n 2001, he received the Letter of Distinction from the American Music Center.”

Donald Erb is survived by his wife Lucille (nee Hyman) of Cleveland Hts., OH.; children Christine Hoell (John) and Matthew Erb (Beth) of Columbus, OH., Stephanie Erb (Arthur Hanket) of CA, and Janet Carroll (Chris) of NJ. He was the grandfather of nine.

The family prefers that those who wish may make contributions, in lieu of flowers, to The Donald Erb Scholarship Fund at The Cleveland Institute of Music, 11021 East Blvd., Cleveland, OH 44106 or Hospice of the Western Reserve, 300 E. 185 St., Cleveland, OH 44119.


One Response to “Donald Erb RAAR’92 (1927-2008), avant-garde composer, Cleveland Institute of Music professor”

  1. Disquiet » tangents / 3 months of 4′33, mic’ing Marfa, three Martinez scores … Says:

    […] Composer Donald Erb, 1927-2008  (,, … Composer Mauricio Kagel, 1931-2008 […]

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