Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Routine

"Pulitzer Prize in Music?  Passport to oblivion."  — Richard K. Winslow

Let's get over the Steve-Reich's-Pulitzer-Is-Well-Deserved-But-30-Years-Too-Late trope, okay?  If you go through a list of the music composition awards* (or the poetry or editorial cartooning awards, for that matter), it's pretty clear that they stick to a pattern of handing it out for several years in a row to mid-career musical quietists (mainstream conservatives, and yes, I mean quietist, even when the music is loud)  and then tossing in a neglected senior figure from time to time, either someone really unavoidably significant, but never within the acceptable middleroad (Ives, Brant, Coleman) or someone very much a part of the establishment but not actually having produced a great piece (Sessions, Powell, Gould).    

Ron Silliman, from whom I cheerfully steal the E.A. Poe term "quietist", has a great post this week (here), in which he notes that in US poetry, it has only been new formalists who have made an attempt at stealing the brass ring from the quietists.  East coast 12-toners seem to have once made a serious attempt along these lines in the Music Pulitzer's, with Wuorinen and Martino each getting through, as place holders, perhaps, for Babbitt, who was eventually settled with an honorary "lifetime" award,  but the awards themselves quickly returned to the routine of less obstreperous selections.  While it may well be possible that Ben Johnston, for example, a figure who has does some bridging between the experimental and academic worlds might yet see an award, and an award for Glass  is probably only a matter of time, major American composers — all composers, in fact, whose work is understood now, in terms of concert performances and recordings, to be essential American repertoire — for whom the ring was simply never available have included Harrison, Cage, Feldman, Brown, Nancarrow, and Erickson and probably will continue to include Riley, Young, Lucier, Ashley, Oliveros.  

The bigger story about the Pulitzers is, of course, the continued slighting of online journalism.  I suspect, for better or worse, that the first such award will come in criticism, given the continuing reductions in critic positions by print journals. Fortunately, there are some blogging critics out there who have already demonstrated the perceptiveness and writing chops required as well as a command of the medium's unique possibilities to do the job imaginatively.  


*Here's my list with estimated ages of the recipients at the time of the award:

1943: William Schuman (32), Secular Cantata No. 2: A Free Song
1944: Howard Hanson (47), Symphony No. 4
1945: Aaron Copland (44), Appalachian Spring, ballet
1946: Leo Sowerby (50), The Canticle of the Sun
1947: Charles Ives (72), Symphony No. 3
1948: Walter Piston (56), Symphony No. 3
1949: Virgil Thomson (53), Louisiana Story, film score
1950: Gian Carlo Menotti (38), The Consul, opera
1951: Douglas Stuart Moore (57), Giants in the Earth, opera
1952: Gail Kubik (37), Symphony Concertante
1953: no prize awarded
1954: Quincy Porter (57), Concerto Concertante for two pianos and orchestra
1955: Gian Carlo Menotti (43), The Saint of Bleecker Street, opera
1956: Ernst Toch (68), Symphony No. 3
1957: Norman Dello Joio (44), Meditations on Ecclesiastes
1958: Samuel Barber (48), Vanessa, opera
1959: John La Montaine (41), Piano Concerto
1960: Elliott Carter (51), String Quartet No. 2
1961: Walter Piston (67), Symphony No. 7
1962: Robert Ward (44), The Crucible, opera
1963: Samuel Barber (53), Piano Concerto
1964: no prize awarded
1965: no prize awarded (See Duke Ellington)
1966: Leslie Bassett (43), Variations for Orchestra
1967: Leon Kirchner (48), Quartet No. 3 for strings and electronic tape
1968: George Crumb (38), Echoes of Time and the River
1969: Karel Husa (47), String Quartet No. 3
1970: Charles Wuorinen (31), Time's Encomium
1971: Mario Davidovsky (37), Synchronisms No. 6
1972: Jacob Druckman (43), Windows
1973: Elliott Carter (64), String Quartet No. 3
1974: Donald Martino (42), Notturno
1975: Dominick Argento (47), From the Diary of Virginia Woolf
1976: Ned Rorem (52), Air Music
1977: Richard Wernick (43), Visions of Terror and Wonder
1978: Michael Colgrass (46), Deja Vu for percussion and orchestra
1979: Joseph Schwantner (36), Aftertones of Infinity
1980: David Del Tredici (43), In Memory of a Summer Day
1981: no prize awarded
1982: Roger Sessions (85), Concerto for Orchestra
1983: Ellen Zwilich (44), Three Movements for Orchestra (Symphony No. 1)
1984: Bernard Rands (50), Canti del Sole
1985: Stephen Albert (44), Symphony RiverRun
1986: George Perle (70), Wind Quintet No. 4, for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon
1987: John Harbison (48), The Flight into Egypt
1988: William Bolcom (49), 12 New Etudes for Piano
1989: Roger Reynolds (54), Whispers Out of Time
1990: Mel D. Powell (77), Duplicates: A Concerto
1991: Shulamit Ran (41), Symphony
1992: Wayne Peterson (65), The Face of the Night, the Heart of the Dark
1993: Christopher Rouse (44), Trombone Concerto
1994: Gunther Schuller (69), Of Reminiscences and Reflections
1995: Morton Gould (81), Stringmusic
1996: George Walker (73), Lilacs, for soprano and orchestra
1997: Wynton Marsalis (35), Blood on the Fields, oratorio
1998: Aaron Jay Kernis (38), String Quartet No. 2, Musica Instrumentalis
1999: Melinda Wagner (42), Concerto for Flute, Strings, and Percussion
2000: Lewis Spratlan (60), Life is a Dream, opera (awarded for concert version of Act II)
2001: John Corigliano (63), Symphony No. 2 for string orchestra
2002: Henry Brant (88), Ice Field
2003: John Adams (56), On the Transmigration of Souls
2004: Paul Moravec (46), Tempest Fantasy
2005: Steven Stucky (55), Second Concerto for Orchestra
2006: Yehudi Wyner (76), Chiavi in Mano, (piano concerto)
2007: Ornette Coleman (77), Sound Grammar
2008: David Lang (51), The Little Match Girl Passion
2009: Steve Reich (72), Double Sextet

1 comment:

Matthew Landis said...

I think the two Elliot Carter Quartets are the only exception to your rule. However, at that time, there was plenty of polemic darting back and forth over the Atlantic about the lack of "serious" American composers and the pretension of European composers. Carter was the only one who successfully bridged the divide and garnered high marks from the classical establishment in America (Thompson, etc) and the European avant-garde (Boulez). He's an odd case at an odd moment, politically, in the life of Euro/American classical music relations.