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Pulitzer Prize for Music

The Pulitzer Prizes
Joseph Pulitzer    •    
Pulitzer winners
Letters, Drama, and Music:
Other prizes:

The Pulitzer Prize for Music is one of the seven American Pulitzer Prizes that are annually awarded for Letters, Drama, and Music. It was first awarded in 1943. Joseph Pulitzer did not call for such a prize in his will, but had arranged for a music scholarship to be awarded each year. This was eventually converted into a full-fledged 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." Because of the requirement that the composition had its world premiere during the year of its award, the winning work had rarely been recorded and sometimes had received only one performance.[1] 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]


  • History 1
  • Criticism 2
  • Winners 3
  • Repeat winners 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


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]

The first woman to receive the award was Ellen Taaffe Zwilich who won in 1983. Zwilich was also the first woman to receive a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in composition at the Juilliard School of Music.[8]

In 1992 the music jury, which that year consisted of 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. 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]

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.'"[9] 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 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.”[10]

Subsequently, in 2006, a posthumous "Special Citation" was given to jazz composer Thelonious Monk,[11] and in 2007 the prize went to Ornette Coleman, a free jazz composer.


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."[12]

John Harbison, Mario Davidovsky, and Bernard Rands. Gann concluded that since all of these composers are white men, and generally have same "narrow Eurocentric aesthetic" that the prize has been unfairly biased.[13]

After winning the award 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]

Concerning the 2004 changes, Gunther Schuller said, "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." Other former winners disagreed. Stephen Hartke publicly criticized the changes, and John Harbison called them "a horrible development."

Lewis Spratlan (who won the Prize in 2000) also showed concern at this change, but not because of its incorporation of previously-neglected styles. (Many of Spratlan’s own works fundamentally incorporate a variety of styles, including jazz-like idiosyncrasies.)[14][15] Rather, Spratlan protests the equation of musical songwriting and movie scoring with academic composition, believing them to be incapable of functioning as unique and influential works. He expressed his concern that equating the music of musicals and movies with the exploratory endeavors of academic composers is to pervert the prestige and original intent of the Pulitzer Prize:

“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...musicals and movie scores, no matter how excellent, is to undermine the distinctiveness and capability for artistic advancement....”[16]


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.[17]

Additional citations -- 1974: Duke Ellington (1899–1974, posthumous); 2006: Thelonious Monk (1917–1982, posthumous); 2007: John Coltrane (1926–1967, posthumous); 2008: Bob Dylan (born 1941); 2010: Hank Williams (1923–1953, posthumous).

Repeat winners

Four people have won the Pulitzer Prize for Music twice.


  1. ^ "NewMusicBox". NewMusicBox. 2000-06-01. Retrieved 2010-07-23. 
  2. ^ "History of The Pulitzer Prizes". The Pulitzer Prizes ( Retrieved 2010-07-23. 
  3. ^ Lang, Peter. "The Pulitzer Prize Winners for Music". Internationaler Verlag der Wissenschaften, 2010, pp. 102-103.
  4. ^ a b  
  5. ^ a b Post. "WSJ - Arts, Theatre, Film, Music, Books, Food, Wine, Fashion, Events -". Retrieved 2010-07-23. 
  6. ^ a b c "John Adams; Interviews, Articles & Essays". 2003-05-06. Retrieved 2010-07-23. 
  7. ^ "Wynton Marsalis and the Pulitzer Prize". Greg Sandow. Retrieved 2010-07-23. 
  8. ^ a b "The Pulitzer Prize in Music: 1943-2002". Retrieved 2010-07-23. 
  9. ^ "Eminem News - Yahoo! Music". Retrieved 2010-07-23. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^ Dyer, Richard (2004-06-01). "Changes to definition of Pulitzer for music spark dissonance - The Boston Globe". Retrieved 2010-07-23. 
  13. ^ "Downtown Music". Retrieved 2010-07-23. 
  14. ^ "Lewis Spratlan", Sax New Works
  15. ^ "Lewis Spratlan", Amherst College Commencement
  16. ^ "Changes to definition of Pulitzer for music spark dissonance", The Boston Globe, Richard Dyer, June 1, 2004
  17. ^ "Music". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2013-12-20.

External links

  • The Pulitzer Prize for Music: A Sonic Gallery
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