Pulitzer Prize for Music

The Pulitzer Prize for Music is one of seven Pulitzer Prizes awarded annually in Letters, Drama, and Music. It was first given in 1943. Joseph Pulitzer arranged for a music scholarship to be awarded each year, and this was eventually converted into a prize: "For a distinguished musical composition of significant dimension by an American that has had its first performance in the United States during the year." [1]

Because of the requirement that the composition have its world premiere during the year of its award, the winning work had rarely been recorded and sometimes had received only one performance. In 2004 the terms were modified to read, "For a distinguished musical composition by an American that has had its first performance or recording in the United States during the year."[2]


In 1965, the jury unanimously decided that no major work was worthy of the Pulitzer Prize. In lieu they recommended a special citation be given to Duke Ellington in recognition of the body of his work, but the Pulitzer Board refused and therefore no award was given that year.[3] Ellington responded: "Fate is being kind to me. Fate doesn't want me to be too famous too young." (He was then sixty-seven years old.)[4] Despite this joke, Nat Hentoff reported that when he spoke to Ellington about the subject, he was "angrier than I'd ever seen him before," and Ellington said, "I'm hardly surprised that my kind of music is still without, let us say, official honor at home. Most Americans still take it for granted that European-based music—classical music, if you will—is the only really respectable kind."[5]

In 1996, after years of internal debate, the Pulitzer Prize board announced a change in the criteria for the music prize "so as to attract the best of a wider range of American music."[4] The result was that the following year Wynton Marsalis became the first jazz artist to win the Pulitzer Prize. However, his victory was controversial because according to the Pulitzer guidelines, his winning work, a three-hour-long oratorio about slavery, "Blood on the Fields", should not have been eligible. Although a winning work was supposed to have had its first performance during that year, Marsalis' piece premiered on April 1, 1994 and its recording, released on Columbia Records, was dated 1995. Yet, the piece won the 1997 prize. Marsalis' management had submitted a "revised version" of "Blood on the Fields" which was "premiered" at Yale University after the composer made seven small changes.[6] When asked what would make a revised work eligible, the chairman of that year's music jury, Robert Ward, said: "Not a cut here and there...or a slight revision," but rather something that changed "the whole conception of the piece." After being read the list of revisions made to the piece, Ward acknowledged that the minor changes should not have qualified it as an eligible work, but he said that "the list you had here was not available to us, and we did not discuss it."[7]

Seven women have been awarded the Pulitzer Prize: Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, 1983; Shulamit Ran, 1991; Melinda Wagner, 1999; Jennifer Higdon, 2010; Caroline Shaw, 2013; Julia Wolfe, 2015; and Du Yun, 2017. In addition to being the first woman to receive the award, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich was also the first woman to receive a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in composition at the Juilliard School of Music.[8] Du Yun is the first woman of color who receives the award. [9] [10] [11]

In 1992 the music jury, which that year consisted of George Perle, Roger Reynolds, and Harvey Sollberger, selected Ralph Shapey's Concerto Fantastique for the award. However, the Pulitzer Board rejected that decision and chose to give the prize to the jury's second choice, Wayne Peterson's The Face of the Night, the Heart of the Dark. The music jury responded with a public statement stating that they had not been consulted in that decision and that the Board was not professionally qualified to make such 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," and they did not rescind their decision.[8]

George Walker was the first African American composer to win the Prize, which he received for his work Lilacs in 1996. Walker is a graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory which he entered at the age of fourteen, and graduated at eighteen with the highest honors in his Conservatory class. He was the first black graduate at the renowned Curtis Institute of Music, where he received an Artist Diplomas degree, and he was the first black recipient of a Doctoral degree at the Eastman School of Music.

In 2004, responding to criticism, Sig Gissler, the administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes at the Columbia University School of Journalism, announced that they wanted to "broaden the prize a bit so that we can be more assured that we are getting the full range of the best of America's music..." Jay T. Harris, a member of the Pulitzer governing board said: "The prize should not be reserved essentially for music that comes out of the European classical tradition."[5]

The announced rule changes included altering the jury pool to include performers and presenters, in addition to composers and critics. Entrants are now no longer required to submit a score. Recording will also be accepted, although scores are still "strongly urged." Gissler said, "The main thing is we're trying to keep this a serious prize. We're not trying to dumb it down any way shape or form, but we're trying to augment it, improve it...I think the critical term here is 'distinguished American musical compositions.'"[12] Reaction among Pulitzer Prize in Music winners has varied.

The Pulitzer Prize Advisory Board officially announced: "After more than a year of studying the Prize, now in its 61st year, the Pulitzer Prize Board declares its strong desire to consider and honor the full range of distinguished American musical compositions—from the contemporary classical symphony to jazz, opera, choral, musical theater, movie scores and other forms of musical excellence...Through the years, the Prize has been awarded chiefly to composers of classical music and, quite properly, that has been of large importance to the arts community. However, despite some past efforts to broaden the competition, only once has the Prize gone to a jazz composition, a musical drama or a movie score. In the late 1990s, the Board took tacit note of the criticism leveled at its predecessors for failure to cite two of the country's foremost jazz composers. It bestowed a Special Citation on George Gershwin marking the 1998 centennial celebration of his birth and Duke Ellington on his 1999 centennial year. Earlier, in 1976, a Special Award was made to Scott Joplin in his centennial year. While Special Awards and Citations continue to be an important option, the Pulitzer Board believes that the Music Prize, in its own annual competition, should encompass the nation's array of distinguished music and hopes that the refinements in the Prize's definition, guidelines and jury membership will serve that end.”[13]

Subsequently, in 2006, a posthumous "Special Citation" was given to jazz composer Thelonious Monk,[14] and in 2007 the prize went to Ornette Coleman, a free jazz composer, who won the prize two year prior. [15]

In 2018, rapper Kendrick Lamar won the award for his 2017 hip hop album Damn.[16] The recording was the first musical work not in the jazz or classical genres to win the prize.[17]


Donald Martino, the 1974 winner, said, "If you write music long enough, sooner or later, someone is going to take pity on you and give you the damn thing. It is not always the award for the best piece of the year; it has gone to whoever hasn't gotten it before."[18]

John Corigliano, the winner in 2001, said that although the prize was intended for music that meant something to the world, it had become a very different kind of award, "by composers for composers" and "mired in a pool of rotating jurors."[6]

Composer and music critic Kyle Gann complained in an essay about "The Uptown Prejudice Against Downtown Music" that the judges for the Pulitzer and other top awards for composition often included "the same seven names over and over as judges": Gunther Schuller, Joseph Schwantner, Jacob Druckman, George Perle, John Harbison, Mario Davidovsky, and Bernard Rands. Gann argued that "Downtown" composers, like himself, did not win awards because the composer-judges were all "white men, all of them coming pretty much from the same narrow Eurocentric aesthetic.... These seven men have determined who wins the big prizes in American music for the last two decades. They have made sure that Downtown composers never win."[19]

After winning the Pulitzer in 2003, John Adams expressed "ambivalence bordering on contempt" because "most of the country's greatest musical minds" have been ignored in favor of academic music.[6]

Gunther Schuller welcomed the broadening of the eligibility criteria for the prize in 2004: "This is a long overdue sea change in the whole attitude as to what can be considered for the prize. It is an opening up to different styles and not at all to different levels of quality."[18] Olly Wilson agreed that the changes were "a move in the right direction" because they acknowledge "a wider spectrum of music, including music that is not written down."[18] Some other former prize winners disagreed. John Harbison called it "a horrible development", adding, "If you were to impose a comparable standard on fiction you would be soliciting entries from the authors of airport novels."[18] According to Donald Martino, the prize had "already begun to go in the direction of permitting less serious stuff" before the 2004 changes.[18] Lewis Spratlan, who won the prize in 2000, also objected, saying "The Pulitzer is one of the very few prizes that award artistic distinction in front-edge, risk-taking music. To dilute this objective by inviting the likes of musicals and movie scores, no matter how excellent, is to undermine the distinctiveness and capability for artistic advancement."[18]


In its first 71 years to 2013, the Music Pulitzer was awarded 67 times; it was never split and no prize was given in 1953, 1964, 1965, and 1981.[20]






Indented entries are finalists after each year's winner.




Additional citations

Repeat winners

Four people have won the Pulitzer Prize for Music twice.


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ "History of The Pulitzer Prizes". The Pulitzer Prizes (pulitzer.org). Retrieved 2010-07-23.
  3. ^ Lang, Peter. "The Pulitzer Prize Winners for Music". Internationaler Verlag der Wissenschaften, 2010, pp. 102–103.
  4. ^ a b Kaplan, Fred (2006-04-19). "When will the Pulitzer Prize in music get it right? – By Fred Kaplan – Slate Magazine". Slate.com. Retrieved 2010-07-23.
  5. ^ a b "WSJ - Arts, Theatre, Film, Music, Books, Food, Wine, Fashion, Events - WSJ.com". Opinionjournal.com. Retrieved 2010-07-23.
  6. ^ a b c "John Adams; Interviews, Articles & Essays". Earbox.com. 2003-05-06. Archived from the original on 2010-10-28. Retrieved 2010-07-23.
  7. ^ "Wynton Marsalis and the Pulitzer Prize". Greg Sandow. Archived from the original on 2010-11-23. Retrieved 2010-07-23.
  8. ^ a b "The Pulitzer Prize in Music: 1943–2002". American.edu. Retrieved 2010-07-23.
  9. ^ Du Yun Awarded 2017 Pulitzer Prizefor Music|NewMusicBox
  10. ^ Du Yun's 'Angel's Bone' Wins Pulitzer Prize For Music: For The Record: NPR
  11. ^ What Du Yun's Pulitzer Win Means for Women in Classical Music|The New Yorker
  12. ^ "Eminem News – Yahoo! Music". Music.yahoo.com. Retrieved 2010-07-23.
  13. ^ [2] Archived July 5, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ [3] Archived May 9, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ Ornette Coleman Wins Music Pulitzer Prize: NPR
  16. ^ "The Pulitzer Prizes Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  17. ^ "Kendrick Lamar Wins Pulitzer Prize | Pitchfork". pitchfork.com. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  18. ^ a b c d e f Dyer, Richard (June 1, 2004). "Changes to Definition of Pulitzer for Music Spark Dissonance". Boston Globe. p. E2. ISSN 0743-1791. Archived from the original on July 7, 2004. Retrieved July 17, 2015.
  19. ^ Gann, Kyle (April 18, 1998). "Breaking the Chain Letter: An Essay on Downtown Music". Kyle Gann: Composer and Author. Retrieved July 17, 2015. In his list of writings, Gann includes this essay under the heading "On Gann's music".
  20. ^ "Music". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2013-12-20.

Further reading

External links

Air Music

Air Music is a set of ten variations for orchestra by the American composer Ned Rorem. The work was completed in 1974 and was first performed by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra on December 5, 1975. The piece won the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Blood on the Fields

Blood on the Fields is a two-and-a-half-hour jazz oratorio, by Wynton Marsalis. It was commissioned by Lincoln Center and concerns a couple moving from slavery to freedom. It received the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Caroline Shaw

Caroline Adelaide Shaw (born 1982) is an American violinist, singer, and composer. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2013 for her a cappella piece Partita for 8 Voices.

Concerto for Orchestra (Sessions)

The Concerto for Orchestra is a composition for orchestra by the American composer Roger Sessions. The work was commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and premiered October 23, 1981, with conductor Seiji Ozawa leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The concerto was Sessions's last orchestral composition and won him the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for Music. Sessions had previously won a special lifetime achievement Pulitzer Prize in 1974 "for his life's work as a distinguished American composer." The piece was honored with a performance at the closing of the 50th Tanglewood Music Festival in 2014.

Double Sextet

Double Sextet is a composition by Steve Reich scored for two sextets of flute, clarinet, violin, cello, vibraphone and piano. It won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Music, the first for the composer. With funds from the Carnegie Hall Corporation, The Abe Fortas Memorial Fund of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Liverpool Culture Company – European Capital of Culture 2008, The Modlin Center for the Arts at the University of Richmond, Orange County Performing Arts Center, The University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music – Music 08 Festival the piece was commissioned in 2007 by Eighth Blackbird who performed its premiere in 2008, at the University of Richmond in Virginia.. The Liverpool Culture Company (Gordon Ross, music programme manager) was the only non-US commissioning organisation and hosted the rest-of-the-world premiere at St. George's Concert Room, Liverpool on the 21st of November 2008 as part of Liverpool's European Capital of Culture celebrations.

From the Diary of Virginia Woolf

From the Diary of Virginia Woolf is an eight-part song cycle written by Dominick Argento in 1974 for the English mezzo-soprano Janet Baker. The work won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1975.

The text of the songs comes from A Writer's Diary: Being Extracts from the Diary of Virginia Woolf, which was published in 1954. (The five-volume diaries edited by Anne Olivier Bell were not published until 1979.)

The choice of a prose, rather than poetic, source for a text is a common theme for Argento, who did the same thing in his cycles Letters from Composers, The Andrée Expedition, and Casa Guidi. In each case, he captures the cadence and flow of these more free-form writings without sacrificing musical structure or melodic interest. The composer's original intention was to use excerpts from Woolf's novel The Waves as the basis for his cycle. But in reading her newly published diaries he discovered a source much richer in musical and expressive possibilities. The highly confessional diary texts illuminate Woolf's inner world in a more immediate way than do her literary works.

Lilacs (Walker)

Lilacs for voice and orchestra (or Lilacs) is a musical composition by George T. Walker, Jr. (1922–2018) that was awarded the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Music. The work, scored for soprano soloist and orchestra, was the unanimous choice of the Pulitzer prize jury. Walker was the first African-American composer to be awarded the prize.Walker set the 1865 poem, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd", by poet Walt Whitman. Whitman wrote the poem as an elegy to President Abraham Lincoln after his death on 15 April 1865. The composition was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra on February 1, 1996. "The unanimous choice of the Music Jury, this passionate, and very American, musical composition...has a beautiful and evocative lyrical quality using words of Walt Whitman."

Louisiana Story

Louisiana Story (1948) is a 78-minute black-and-white American film. Although the events and characters depicted are fictional and the film was commissioned by the Standard Oil Company to promote its drilling ventures in the Louisiana bayoux, it is often misidentified as a documentary film, when in fact, it is a docufiction. The script was written by Frances H. Flaherty and Robert J. Flaherty, directed by Robert J. Flaherty.

Ornette Coleman

Randolph Denard Ornette Coleman (March 9 or 19, 1930 – June 11, 2015) was an American jazz saxophonist, violinist, trumpeter, and composer. In the 1960s, he was one of the founders of free jazz, a term he invented for his album Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation. His "Broadway Blues" and "Lonely Woman" have become standards and are cited as important early works in free jazz. His album Sound Grammar received the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for music.

Sound Grammar

Sound Grammar is a live album by jazz saxophonist and composer Ornette Coleman, recorded live in Ludwigshafen, Germany, on 14 October 2005. The album was produced by Coleman and Michaela Deiss, and released on Coleman's new Sound Grammar label. It was his first new album in almost a decade, since the end of his relationship with Verve in the 1990s. It features a mix of new and old originals (some of the latter given new titles).

Critics noted Coleman's unusual use of musical quotation: his solo on the blues "Turnaround" includes snatches of Richard Rodgers' "If I Loved You" and Stephen Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer"; even more unexpectedly, the theme of "Sleep Talking" begins with the same notes as Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. Critical reception for the album was highly positive: it figured at or near the top of virtually every jazz magazine poll at the end of 2006, including Down Beat and Jazz Times.

In 2006, Sound Grammar received a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance. The following year, it won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Symphony Concertante (Kubik)

Symphony Concertante is a composition by Gail Kubik (1914–1984) for trumpet, viola, piano, and orchestra. It was premiered January 7, 1952 by its commissioner, The Little Orchestra, Thomas Scherman conducting.The work is structured as follows:

Fast, vigorously


Fast, with energy.Kubik was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1952 for the piece. The committee wrote: "The Symphony Concertante is brilliant and exuberant, full of rhythmic vitality, the orchestration both original and skillful." The piece is based on his score for C-Man.

Symphony No. 1 (Albert)

Symphony No. 1 RiverRun is an orchestral symphony in four movements by the American composer Stephen Albert. The piece was completed in 1983 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1985. The title comes from the novel Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, whose literature served as inspiration for the work.

Symphony No. 3 (Ives)

The Symphony No. 3, S. 3 (K. 1A3), The Camp Meeting by Charles Ives (1874–1954) was written between 1908 and 1910. In 1947, the symphony was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music. Ives is reported to have given half the money to Lou Harrison, who conducted the premiere.

The Canticle of the Sun (Sowerby)

The Canticle of the Sun is a musical composition by Leo Sowerby (1895–1968) setting Matthew Arnold's English translation of Francis of Assisi's "Canticle of the Sun" for chorus and orchestra in 1945; the work was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music the following year. The first performance was in New York at Carnegie Hall by the Schola Cantorum and the New York Philharmonic on April 16, 1945. The first recording of it by Chicago's Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus under Carlos Kalmar was released in June 2011. The piece was commissioned by the Alice M. Ditson Fund.The 1946 Jury Report is lost and thus the other finalists are unknown for that year, however the jury consisted of Chalmers Clifton, Aaron Copland, and Howard Hanson.

The Consul

The Consul is an opera in three acts with music and libretto by Gian Carlo Menotti, his first full-length opera.

The Crucible (opera)

The Crucible is an English language opera written by Robert Ward based on the play The Crucible by Arthur Miller. It won both the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for Music and the New York Music Critics Circle Citation. The libretto was lightly adapted from Miller's text by Bernard Stambler.

Ward received a commission from the New York City Opera to write the opera. Arthur Miller was involved in selecting Ward. It is one of the most performed operas by an American composer.

The Flight into Egypt (Harbison)

The Flight into Egypt is a composition for solo soprano and baritone, chorus, and chamber orchestra by the American composer John Harbison. The work was commissioned by the Cantata Singers and Ensemble, of which Harbison was a former music director. The piece won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Time's Encomium

Time's Encomium (Jan. 1968-Jan. 1969, 31'43") is an electronic, four channel, musical composition by Charles Wuorinen for synthesized and processed synthesized sound. Commissioned by Teresa Sterne for Nonesuch Records, it was awarded the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for Music, and was realized on the RCA Mark II Synthesizer at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, NYC. At the time Wuorinen was the youngest composer ever to win the Pulitzer. The piece is also the first electronic piece to win the prize.

Time's Encomium is the title because in this work everything depends on the absolute, not the seeming, length of events and sections. Being electronic, Time's Encomium has no inflective dimension. Its rhythm is always quantitative, never qualitative. Because I need time, I praise it; hence the title. Because it doesn't need me, I approach it respectively; hence the word 'encomium'.

According to the composer, the primary concern of the piece appears to be rhythmic, since only pure quantitative duration, as opposed to qualitative performance variable inflection, is available to one in the electronic medium, though, "the basic materials are the twelve tempered pitch classes, and pitch-derived time relations," (due to the constraints of the synthesizer). As such, he composed, "with a view to the proportions among absolute lengths of events -- be they small (note-to-note distances) or large (overall form) -- rather than to their relative 'weights,'....conform[ing] to the basic nature of a medium in which sound is always reproduced, never performed."However, Wuorinen rescored the piece for standard orchestra, titled Contrafactum published by C.F. Peters. The original piece was remastered and rereleased on Tzadik Records.

Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Learson Marsalis (born October 18, 1961) is an American virtuoso trumpeter, composer, teacher, and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center. He has promoted classical and jazz music, often to young audiences. Marsalis has been awarded nine Grammy Awards and his Blood on the Fields was the first jazz composition to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music. He is the son of jazz musician Ellis Marsalis Jr. (pianist), grandson of Ellis Marsalis Sr., and brother of Branford (saxophonist), Delfeayo (trombonist), and Jason (drummer). Marsalis is the only musician to win a Grammy Award in jazz and classical during the same year.

Pulitzer Prize for Music

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