Charles Wuorinen

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Charles Wuorinen in the 1980s

Charles Peter Wuorinen (born June 9, 1938 in New York City ; † March 11, 2020 there ) was an American composer , pianist and conductor . He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1970 and was one of the leading contemporary composers in the United States.


Wuorinen was born in New York in 1938 as the son of Finnish immigrants. His father was a historian and worked for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II . He began composing at the age of five and won the New York Philharmonic's Young Composer Award in 1954 . From 1955 to 1956 he worked as an organist at Saint Paul's Church in Gardner. In 1956 he graduated from Trinity School . From 1956 to 1957 he managed the Columbia University Orchestra and sang as a countertenor in the Church of the Heavenly Rest and the Church of the Transfiguration in Manhattan . From 1957 to 1959 he studied conducting with Rudolf Thomas at Columbia University in New York. From 1958 to 1959 he was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow personal assistant to Vladimir Ussachevski ibid. His composition teachers also included Otto Luening and Jack Beeson . He was also supported by Edgar Varèse and Jacques Barzun . In 1961 he received a Bachelor of Arts and in 1963 a Master of Arts. He then taught at Columbia University. In 1962 he was one of the founders of the Group for Contemporary Music together with Harvey Sollberger and Nicolas Roussakis .

In 1970 he received the Pulitzer Prize for Music for the work Time's Encomium (composed at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center ). From 1967 to 1968 he was visiting professor at Princeton University and from 1968 to 1971 at the New England Conservatory of Music . This was followed by lectureships at the University of South Florida , the Manhattan School of Music and the University of California, San Diego . He was then professor of composition at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Lecture tours took him through the USA. He was composer in residence at Chamber Music Northwest , Grand Teton Music Festival , Cabrillo Music Festival , Louisville Symphony Orchestra, and San Francisco Symphony . He was also a board member of the American Composers Alliance and the American Music Center . He founded the American Society of University Composers .

In 1970 he was invited by President Richard Nixon to the State Banquet at the White House . In the 1970s he became enthusiastic about the mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot and composed at Bell Labs in New Jersey. Wuorinen worked from 1985 to 1989 at the American Academy in Rome and from 1989 to 1994 as a consultant for new music for the music director Herbert Blomstedt in San Francisco. In 1975 Igor Stravinsky's widow gave him the last scores for A Reliquary for Igor Stravinsky . He was the first composer to compose for the Cleveland Orchestra under Christoph von Dohnányi and for Michael Tilson Thomas . His compositions were u. a. Recorded for Naxos, Col legno and Albany Records (Charles Wuorinen Series). He also worked with the writers Salman Rushdie and Annie Proulx , who created the libretto for his opera Brokeback Mountain .

As a pianist he played a. a. with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra , New York Philharmonic and Chicago Symphony Orchestra . He has conducted the leading orchestras in the United States ( Cleveland Orchestra , Chicago Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and American Composers Orchestra ). He conducted the US premiere of Morton Feldmans Neither .

Wuorinen was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters . He died in New York in March 2020 at the age of 81.

Prizes, awards and honors

  • New York Philharmonic's Young Composer Award (1954)
  • Bennington Composer's Conference Scholarship (1956–1960)
  • Woodrow Wilson Fellowship (1958)
  • Joseph H. Bearns Prize (1958, 1959, 1961)
  • Alice M. Ditson Fellowship (1959)
  • BMI Student Composer Awards (1959, 1961, 1962, 1963)
  • MacDowell Colony Fellowship (1960)
  • Arthur Rose Teaching Fellowship (1960)
  • Member of the Phi Beta Kappa (1960)
  • Henry Evans Traveling Fellowship (1961)
  • Lili Boulanger Memorial Award (1961, 1962)
  • Regents College Teaching Fellowship (1961, 1962)
  • Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1967)
  • Guggenheim Fellowship (1968, 1972)
  • Ingram Merrill Fellowship (1969)
  • Koussevitzky International Recording Award (1970)
  • Pulitzer Prize for Music (1970)
  • Brandeis University Creative Arts Award (1970)
  • Honorary Doctorate from Jersey City State College (1971)
  • Phoebe Ketchum Thorne Honorary Award (1973)
  • National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship (1974, 1976)
  • Creative Artists Public Service Award (1976)
  • Rockefeller Fellowship (1979, 1981, 1982)
  • MacArthur Fellowship (1986)

Works (selection)

Wuorinen composed over 200 works, including symphonies and other orchestral works, instrumental concerts and numerous chamber music works as well as pieces for electronic musical instruments. Most of his compositions are published by Edition Peters .

With regard to his style, Wuorinen was considered an “unabashedly complex modernist”. In an obituary he was also described as “a real avant-garde of new music, of which there were and are very, very few in America,” whose conception of art stood across from the catchy mainstream of the USA.

  • Into the Organ Pipes and Steeples , 1956
  • Orchestral and Electronic Exchanges , 1965
  • The Politics of Harmony: A Masque , Opera, 1967
  • Grand Bamboula for string orchestra, 1971
  • A Reliquary for Igor Stravinsky , 1975
  • The W. of Babylon , Opera, 1975
  • Percussion Symphony , 1976
  • Tashi , 1976
  • Two Part Symphony , 1978
  • The Celestial Sphere , Oratorio, 1980
  • Third Piano Concerto , 1983
  • Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra , 1983
  • The Golden Dance , 1986
  • Five: Concerto for Amplified Cello and Orchestra , 1987
  • Genesis , 1989
  • A Winter's Tale , 1991
  • Missa Brevis , 1991
  • Concerto for Saxophone Quartet and Orchestra , 1992
  • The Mission of Virgil ( Dante trilogy part 1), ballet, 1993
  • Windfall , 1994
  • The Great Procession ( Dante trilogy part 2), ballet, 1995
  • The River of Light ( Dante trilogy part 3), ballet, 1996
  • Symphony 7 , 1997
  • Cyclops , 2000
  • The Haroun Songbook , 2002
  • Fourth Piano Concerto , 2003
  • Haroun and the Sea of ​​Stories , opera based on Salman Rushdie , world premiere in 2004
  • Eighth Symphony (Theologoumena) , 2006
  • Time regained for piano and orchestra, 2008
  • Brokeback Mountain , opera based on Annie Proulx , first performed in 2014
  • Eros and Nemesis for orchestra, 2016
  • Second Percussion Symphony , 2019


  • Simple composition . Edition Peters, New York a. a. 1994, ISBN 0-938856-06-5 (first edition New York 1979).



Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ William Robin: Charles Wuorinen, Uncompromising Modernist Composer, Dies at 81. In: . March 13, 2020, accessed on March 14, 2020 .
  2. 1970 Pulitzer Prize for Time's Encomium
  3. ^ Anthony Tommasini: Operatic Cowboys in Love, Onstage. In: The New York Times. January 29, 2014, accessed on March 20, 2020 (English, review of the world premiere of the opera Brokeback Mountain in Madrid): “Mr. Wuorinen, 75, built his reputation as and remains an unabashedly complex Modernist. "
  4. Jörn Florian Fuchs: On the death of US composer Charles Wuorinen. In: Culture Today. Deutschlandfunk, March 16, 2020, accessed on February 19, 2020 (radio broadcast as streaming and mp3 download).