THE PULITZER PRIZE IN MUSIC: 1943-2002

In celebration of the 1995 Pulitzer Prize in music, the American University Library mounted a special exhibit, displayed May 8-July 1, 1995, which focused on the history and winners of the coveted music award. That exhibit has been updated to include information on the 1996-2002 winners.

Exhibit research and photographs by James Heintze, Head, Music Library. All scores and recordings are from the American University Music Library, located in the Kreeger Building. Selected materials provided courtesy of the Columbiana Collection, Columbia University. Special thanks to Helen Ives, American University Library Exhibits Coordinator, for her assistance in making this exhibit possible. Accompanying the display is a guide to the PulitzerPrize in music that lists winners, titles of compositions, published scores, and sound recordings.

Photographs may be used with permission from James Heintze. Readers may also want to consult the homepage of the Pulitzer Prize Board; at Columbia University. For a list of past winners of the Pulitzer Prize in Music, click here.

Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911)

Joseph Pulitzer was born in Hungary and grew up amid affluence and aristocratic privilege.His decision to come to America in 1864 was a direct result of his determination to become a soldier.While on a visit to Germany, he had met U.S. recruiters and enlisted to fight as a Union soldier in the Civil War. After the war, his interest turned towards newspaper journalism, first in St. Louis as a reporter on the Westliche Postwhich he later purchased, and subsequently in Washington, D.C. and New York. In 1883, Pulitzer bought the NewYorkWorldwhich, under his leadership, had the largest newspaper circulation in the nation. During the period 1896-98 theWorldrivaled William Randolph Hearst's New York Evening Journal in its "yellow journalism."

Pulitzer bequested $2 million in his will to establish a graduate School of Journalism (1912) at Columbia University (currently the site where the Pulitzer announcements are made eachApril). The Pulitzer Prizes were created with part of this money and were first awarded in 1917.

The 1943 Award

The first Pulitzer Prize in music was awarded in 1943. Although Joseph Pulitzer had a passion for music, his will did not call for a prize in that area, but only a scholarship for a music student. Instead, Pulitzer bequeathed $500,000 to the New York Philharmonic Society--an amount equal to the entire Pulitzer Prize bequest. In 1943 the Pulitzer Board converted the scholarship to a prize. The requirements were stated:

"For distinguished musical composition in the larger forms of chamber, orchestral, or choral work, or for an operatic work (including ballet), first performed or published by a composer of established residence in the United States, Five hundred dollars ($500)."

The first recipient was William Schuman (b. 1910) for his "Secular Cantata No. 2: A Free Song" for full chorus of mixed voices, with accompaniment of orchestra.

The 1950 Award

Gian Carlo Menotti (b. 1911) won the 1950 award with his first full-length opera, The Consul, considered by many to be his greatest composition. The opera was premiered on March 15, 1950 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in New York. The work, which also received the Drama Critics' Circle Award, has been translated into 12 languages and performed in over 20 countries.

The 1968 Award

The 1968 award was given to George Crumb for his work "Echoes of Time and the River." Besides the Pulitzer, Crumb has been the recipient of grants from the Fulbright Commission, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Koussevitzky Foundation. The central unifying theme in this work is Crumb's treatment of psychological and philosophical time. The spatial projection of the time continuum takes the form of various "processionals"--the four movements of the suite may be realized with the players actually marching about the stage in steps of various length synchronized with the music they are performing.

The 1973 Award

Four composers have been awarded the Pulitzer Prize twice. Samuel Barber (1958, 1963); Elliott Carter (1960, 1973); Gian-Carlo Menotti (1950, 1955); and Walter Piston (1948, 1961). Elliott Carter (b. 1908) won his second award with his String Quartet no. 3 which was commissioned by the Juilliard School for the Juilliard Quartet. David Schiff writing for Ovationdescribes the work as a "constant superimposition of highly colored textures, tapestry upon tapestry, produces a hallucinatory effect, at once terrifying and captivation."

The 1983 Award

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich (b.1939) has the distinction of being the first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize in music. Her "Symphony No. 1: Three Movements for Orchestra" was commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra. Zwilich studied at the famed Juilliard School of Music in New York where she was the first woman to receive the Doctor of Musical Arts in composition.

The 1992 Award

A controversial music Pulitzer was awarded in 1992 and spawned a tidal wave of responses and commentaries in newspapers throughout the country. The Pulitzer music jury, George Perle, Roger Reynolds, and Harvey Sollberger, unanimously chose Ralph Shapey's "Concerto Fantastique" for the award. However, the Pulitzer Board rejected that recommendation, choosing instead the jury's second choice, "The Face of the Night" by Wayne Peterson. The music jury responded with a public statement stating that the jury had not been consulted in that decision and that the Board was not professionally qualified to make a decision. The Board responded that the "pulitzers are enhanced by having, in addition to the professional's point of view, the layman's or consumer's point of view." The Board did not rescind its decision.

The 1995 Award

The 1995 Pulitzer Prize winners were announced on April 18, 1995 at the annual press

anouncements conference held at the Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University, in New York City. Shown here is a photograph of Seymour Topping, member of the Pulitzer Prize Board, making the announcements of the Pulitzer winners to the press.

An example of the Pulitzer press kit that was provided to journalists at the press conference was part of the Library's exhibit. Included in the kit, which was handed out at precisely 3 p.m. to prevent any one journalist from having an unfair advantage in reporting the news, is a list of all 1995 winners, including a compilation of biographies, photographs, and addresses, as well as names of all finalists in the competition and nominating jurors and a list of "Years of No Awards." The press typically draws information from this material for publication later that day or on the following day (April 19 in this case) and for use in support of television/cable coverage of the event. Shown here is a photograph of Topping being interviewed by the press immediately after the announcements were made.

The Music Prize was given to Morton Gould for his composition "Stringmusic." A review of the premiere of Gould's work describes it as "a half-hour suite in five movements for large string orchestra that the composer claims is reflective of the many moods and facets of Slava'. . . . The variety of moods, grace, charm, pathos, fun and excitement are all present in this welcome addition to the string orchestra repertoire, and while it is clearly a contemporary piece, it invites rather that dares repeated hearings" (Paul Teare, "Gould's Suite Salute to Slava,"Washington Post, 11 March 1994).

Pulitzer winners received their prizes at a luncheon held in their honor on May 22, 1995 in the Low Memorial Library at Columbia University. Shown here is a photograph of Gould accepting his award from George Rupp, president of Columbia Universityand a photograph of Gould (right) eaving the ceremony. Also shown (left) is Morton's brother, Walter, a music publisher, and Horton Foote (center), winner of the 1996 award for drama. (Morton Gould died on February 21, 1996.)

The 1996 Award

The 1996 prize was awarded to George Walker for his "Lilacs" (on a text from Walt Whitman for voice and orchestra) which was commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The premiere of the work took place in Boston on February 1, 1996 with the prize announcement occurring on April 9, 1996.

The Awards Ceremony

The 1996 Pulitzer awards luncheon ceremony took place on May 20 at Low Library, Columbia University, New York. The awardees first assembled for a special informal reception where greetings and accolades were exchanged by the winners and their guests. Shown here is a photograph of George Walker (left) and his son Ian immediately upon their arrival at Low Library.

Following was lunch in the rotunda of the library where some 209 persons were evenly distributed among 21 elegantly set tables. Those seated with George Walker at his table included Ian, who was instrumental in submitting his father's composition for the music prize, George Rupp, member of the Pulitzer Prize Board and president of Columbia University, and Louis D. Boccardi, also a member of the Board and president and chief executive officer of the Associated Press. Shown here is a photograph of all the Pulitzer awards stacked and ready to be presented.

The awards program began with welcoming remarks by Sissela Bok, chairman of the Pulitzer Board, followed by the presentation of the awards by George Rupp. The music award was given out last. Shown here is a photograph of Walker proudly displaying his award.

Walker is the first living African American to receive a Pulitzer Prize in music. No stranger to the awards circuit, Walker, born in Washington, D.C., has received five Nartional Endowment for the Arts awards, and has been the recipient of a host of fellowships and honorary doctorates. He began the study of piano at age five and later was a student at the famed Curtis Institute of Music where he was a pupil of Rudolf Serkin and Rosario Scalero, teacher of Samuel Barber and Gian-Carlo Menotti. Walker has published over seventy compositions, including two overtures, two sinfonias, concertos, a Variations for Orchestra, two string quartets, and a number of sonatas for various instruments, as well as songs and choral works. Walker's "Lilacs" for soprano and orchestra has been described by Boston Globe critic Richard Dyer, whose comments were subsequently quoted by the Washington Post (April 10, 1996), as work "profoundly responsive to the images in the text--you can hear the sway of lilacs in the rhythm, smell their fragrance in the harmony." "Lilacs" was heard on National Public Radio's "Performance Today" on WETA-FM, Washington, D.C., on April 10, 1996.

According to Gary Craig, staff writer, for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle(May 26, 1996), Walker was to have learned of his Pulitzer Prize through Western Union, a "plan to ensure that winners wouldn't first hear from a reporter. But they couldn't reach the Eastman School of Music graduate. Word had already leaked out." Walker later exclaimed, "'Western Union couldn't get through to me because my phone was ringing nonstop for five straight hours.'"

George Walker received the University of Rochester's Distinguished Rochester Scholar award at the University's doctoral graduation on May 25, 1996. For a recent article on Walker, see Joseph McLellan, "Hometown Homage to a D.C. Composer," in Washington Post (June 8, 1997). Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry proclaimed June 14 as George Walker Day in the nation's capitol. Walker had returned to the city of his birth to receive the D.C. Youth Orchestra's 1997 Friends Award and to hear a selection of his compositions performed.

The 1997 Award

The Pulitzer Prize was announced on April 7. Wynton Marsalis won the award for his "Blood on the Fields," an oratorio that depicts the journey of two slaves, Jesse and Leona--from their capture to their subsequent sale and life on a plantation. Marsalis is the first jazz composer to win this prize and, upon hearing of the news, the trumpeter reported from his home, "the fact that an award normally given to people in classical music goes to a jazz musician after all these years of all the musicians writing all of their jazz, that this was worthy of being recognized, that's a sign of progress" (as reported by David Streitfeld in "Pulitzer Prizes Hit a New Note,"Washington Post, April 8, 1997).

In an interview with Joseph P. Kahn of the Boston Globe(April 8, 1997), Marsalis noted, "I'm very pleased that the Pulitzer for music is for a piece of jazz music. It means it'll be more easy for other musicians who write in jazz."

Marsalis, winner of eight Grammy Awards who currently is director of the jazz program at Lincoln Center in New York, attended the awards ceremony held on May 29 at Columbia University. His celebrity status brought immediate attention and fellow Pulitzer winners, guests, and others lined up for autographs.Distinguished classical composer Jack Beesonalso had an opportunity to exchange greetings with Marsalis.

Following lunch, the awards were presented. Geneva Overholser, Chairperson of the Pulitzer Prize Board and Ombudsman for the Washington Postpresented welcoming remarks and noted that "the very word Pulitzer sends dreams dancing in our heads." She praised Marsalis and noted her excitement upon hearing the work for the first time. "I even gave a copy of the Wynton tape to my son at the University of Iowa so he could hear it." Shortly thereafter, George Rupp presented the award to Marsaliswho was very pleased with receiving the honor.

One additional awardee also merits equal attention. In the journalism category for criticism, Tim Page, chief classical music critic for the Washington Postwon the award "for his lucid and illuminating music criticism." Page who is the author and/or editor of eight books, including works on Glenn Gould, William Kapell and Virgil Thomson, but who also plays keyboards and has composed music for his own rock band, expressed to this writer that "I like all kinds of music. In considering my work, I am particularly proud of my articles on the crisis in classical music and radical music that will remain radical." Shown here is Page (right) being congratulated by Jack Beeson with Tim's dad (center) looking on.

The 1998 Award

Aaron Jay Kernis won the music award for his work String Quartet No. 2, Musica Instrumentalis which was premiered at Merkin Concert Hall in New York on 10 January 1998 by the Lark Quartet. The Pulitzer announcement was made at Columbia University on April 14 and the awards ceremony occurred on May 28 at low Library. According to a "May 1998 Schirmer News" report, Kernis upon receiving the news exclaimed: "I'm astonished and really pleased. I'm just floating on air. There is a special intensity to a string quartet that is different from an orchestral piece, and I'm truly honored that the Pulitzer judges chose to reward it." Kernis is no stranger to honors and awards, having been given the prestigeous Rome Prize, Bearns Prize, New York Foundation for the Arts Award, as well as BMI and ASCAP awards. His works represent a broad range of orchestral opportunities, including, for example, the recent New Era Dancecommissioned for the 150th Anniversary of the New York Philharmonic and premiered by the Baltimore Symphony. (Note: Kernis's music is published exclusively by Associated Music Publishers.)

The Pulitzer Luncheon Awards Ceremony was a delightful affair that began with a reception where all 21 winners, family members, friends, and colleagues gathered to exchange greetings, share stories, and renew and commence friendships. Kernis at the reception, when asked by this writer what composers in the new millennium will do to assure the future of the symphony orchestra responded, "Orchestral writing needs to be exciting to interest the instrumentalists, but also to draw an audience." Kernis, no doubt, has had considerable success in meeting that vision. Members of the Lark Quartet have characterized his winning composition with descriptions such as "demanding," "complex, rich in ideas," and "hauntingly beautiful."

Following the reception, the awards ceremony began with welcoming remarks by James V. Risser, himself a Pulitzer winner. Risser spoke about the Pulitzer decisions as "not a perfect process but [one that] works amazingly well." In addressing the winners he said, "You did something significant and you did it well." Following Risser, George Rupp, President of Columbia University and member of the Pulitzer Prize Board spoke. He mentioned that at this fifteenth occasion of the luncheon ceremony, there are "no sealed envelopes, you know who you are, we know who you are." The awards were then presented. Shown here is Kernis leaving the podium with his award and Thomas French (right), winner of the 1998 Pulitzer for Feature Writing, getting Kernis's autograph.

A special feature of this year's awards was a citation presented posthumously to George Gershwin. The composer's sister, Frances Gershwin Godowsky, was there to accept the award on his behalf. Sitting at her table was her son Leopold Godowsky III (shown here with Frances), and his wife Elaine.

The 1999 Award

Melinda Wagner was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music for her Concerto for Flute, Strings and Percussion, the announcement taken place on April 12. The work was premiered on May 30, 1998 by the Westchester Philharmonic in Purchase, N.Y. "I thought it was a mistake," Wagner said when she first learned of her award. "I was working on a piece up in my office," she reported to Beth Harpaz of the Philadelphia Inquirer(May 13, 1999), "and I practically fell over." Wagner, born in Philadelphia, arrvied at Columbia University's Low Library shortly before noon and joined other Pulitzer winners at a reception held immediately prior to the lunch. I caught up with her and we chatted about the award and what she thought orchestral performances would be like in the new millennium. "I feel positive about the future of the symphony orchestra," Wagner said beaming. "Composers have access to increased performances today. Also, orchestras need to engage their publics with exciting performances. Audiences, in turn, have a responsibility to attend and support these ensembles."

Wagner's works have been performed by such ensembles as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Denver Symphony Orchestra, American Composers Orchestra, Syracuse Society for New Music, and Contemporary Chamber Players. Her honors and commissions are many, including a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, grants from the Illinois Arts Council, three ASCAP Young Composers awards, resident fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and Yaddo, and commissions from the New York New Music Ensemble and the Danny Kaye Playhouse. Her work "Falling Angels," commissioned by the Chicago Symphony and premiered in 1993, was performed there again in 1996 under the AT&T American Encore Program. Her Pulitzer-winning concerto was performed again on May 23, 1999 in Washington, D.C. by the National Women's Symphony, with guest flutist David Whiteside.

Wagner's writing, according to Tim Page of the Washington Post (May 24, 1999), himself a previous Pulitzer recipient, "seems both neoromantic and neoclassicist." The Concerto has "bright, deep colors," embodies a "seductive lushness," yet "is charged with a coiled tension that keeps a listener's mind alert; we are always interested in what is coming next. The score features some remarkably eloquent passages for solo flute and ends, literally with a bang." Wagner shown here holding her prize received the award from Jonathan R. Cole, provost and dean of faculties at Columbia University.

Of additional note, a second music award was given postumously to Duke Ellington, "commemorating the centennial year of his birth, in recognition of his musical genius, which evoked aesthetically the principles of democracy through the medium of jazz and thus made an indelible contribution to art and culture." A Pulitzer jury had recommended an award for Ellington in 1965, but that was rejected by the Pulitzer board because, at that time, jazz was not considered worthy of the prize. In honor of the occasion Delores Parker, who sang with Ellington, performed a medly of the artist's tunes. This is the first time in the history of the Pulitzer awards luncheon ceremonies, that a live performance has taken place.

The 2000 Award

Lewis Spratlan won this year's award for his work "Life is a Dream, opera in Three Acts: Act II, Concert Version." The announcement was made on April 10, 2000. The opera was completed in 1978 but the concert version was unveiled this year and its premiere took place in Boston on January 28 by the Dinosaur Annex, conducted by J. David Jackson. Spratlan is a professor of composition at Amherst College and when asked his reaction to winning the prize, he stated to Linton Weeks of the Washington Post, on April 11, it was "a complete surprise. . . I didn't have an inkling, didn't even know the prizes were going to be awarded." Life is a Dream (published by G. Schirmer) was inspired by "a seventeenth-century play written by Calderon de la Barca" and makes use of traditional operatic themes of "family, politics, and murder," according to Molly S. Delano, reporter for the Daily Hampshire Gazette. The story's main character, Prince Segmundo, is exiled by his father who fears his son's ascendency to the throne.

The 2001 Award

John Corigliano won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his Symphony No. 2 for String Orchestra which was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra on November 30, 2000, at Symphony Hall in Boston. Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Diane Haithman said that Corgliano spoke to her from his home in New York City. He said that he considered his composition a "very serious work about farewell," and the work's genesis resides in one of his previous works written for the Cleveland Quartet, now disbanded. Corigliano had won an Oscar last year for best original score for his music for the film "The Red Violin" (Los Angeles Times, 17 April 2001, A9). The award was announced on April 16. More about this award will be added to this site.

The 2002 Award

Henry Brant won the award for his work "Ice Field" which was premiered on December 12, 2001, at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco.

Additional readings:

Heintze, James R. "Pulitzer Press Conference at Columbia University,"Music 
   Library Association Newsletter 101 (May-June 1995): 14-15.

Ibid., "Report: Pulitzer Press Awards Luncheon," College Music Society    
    Newsletter(September 1995): 8.
Ibid., "George Walker Receives Pulitzer Prize in Music," MLA  
    Newsletter 106 (September-October 1996): 10.
Ibid., "LilacsBlossoms with Pulitzer Prize in Music,"
    Sonneck Society Bulletin 22/3 (Fall 1996): 9-10.
Ibid., "Marsalis and Page Take Home Pulitzer Prizes,"Sonneck Society 
    Bulletin 24/1 (Spring 1998): 15.
Ibid., "Aaron Jay Kernis Wins 1998 Pulitzer," College Music Society 
    Newsletter(September 1998): 7. 
Ibid., "Melinda Wagner Wins 1999 Pulitzer Prize in Music," MLA  
    Newsletter  118 (September-October 1999): 8, 19.
Ibid., "Lewis Spratlan Wins 2000 Pulitzer Prize in Music," Sonneck Society      
    Bulletin 26/2-3 (Summer-Fall 2000): 69.

For further information on the Pulitzer Prize in music and materials held in the American University Music Library, contact James Heintze (jheintz@american.edu).

American University Library, 4400 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20016. This site last updated April 11, 2002.