[JPL] Did Ornette Deserve His Prize?

Lazaro Vega wblv.wblu.fm at gmail.com
Tue May 1 10:51:49 EDT 2007

Former Chicago Tribune writer Larry Kart's response to Teachout's
article (as published at Organissimo.org):

Teachout gets some things wrong: He writes, "prior to 2004, Pulitzer
[music] juries consisted of four composers and a critic," but even
though that's what it says on the Pulitzer website, from the inception
of the Pulitzer music award in 1943 until the early 1990s (more about
that later), Pulitzer music juries consisted almost exclusively of
composers (usually three of them). The only exceptions to this, I
believe, were, on one occasion each, critic Irving Kolodin and
conductor-writer Robert Craft. Second, to say that "the Pulitzer Prize
had ... a bad reputation among music professionals" is a statement so
baldly incomplete as to border on being back-ass-wards. The problem
with the music Pulitzers from the very first until recent tinkerings
were undertaken -- and one can argue about how much of a problem it
was and what the solution to that problem might or should have been --
is that the music Pulitzer juries consisted ENTIRELY of music
professionals of a certain sort or sorts: American composers whose
works were being paid attention to by other American composers of
so-called "serious" concert music. Within this bag, there were
fluctuating waves of fashion over the years -- Copland-esque
Americanists, university-based serialists, etc. -- but Pulitzer music
juries, again, consisted for better or for worse entirely, given the
nature of the world or worlds of American classical composition, of
people can only be called professional composers. So who were
Teachout's music professionals with whom the music Pulitzers had a bad
reputation? Professional composers by the standard mentioned above who
were not in tune with the compostional in-group of a particular time
-- say Samuel Barber-esque neo-Romantics during the height of the
academic serialist phase? Or by "music professionals" does Teachout
mean professional performers and conductors? If so, that would be a
whole differerent matter, and a whole different set of considerations
would have to be brought to bear. (For one thing, how many performers
and conductors are able or willing to become familiar with the current
state of American composition. In practice, in my experience, the
performers and conductors who do that are no less, or even more so, a
group of specialists than the composers who have been on all those
Pulitzer juries over the years.) In any case, before we go any
further, here is a list of the Pulitzer music winners from 1943 to
2001 (though as I'll explain in a minute, things began to get weird
behind the scenes in 1992):

William Schuman (b. 1910). Secular Cantata No. 2: A Free Song for full
chorus of mixed voices, with accompaniment of orchestra.
Howard Hanson (1896-1981). Symphony no. 4, op. 34.
Aaron Copland (1900-1990). Appalachian Spring.
Leo Sowerby (1895-1968). The Canticle of the Sun.
Charles Ives (1874-1954). Symphony no. 3.
Walter Piston (1894-1976). Symphony no. 3
Virgil Thomson (1896-1989). Louisiana Story. (Score for a documentary film.)
Gian-Carlo Menotti (b. 1911). The Consul. (Opera.)
Douglas Moore (1893-1969). Giants in the Earth. (Opera.)
Gail Kubik (1914-1984). Symphony Concertante.
Not awarded.
Quincy Porter (1897-1966). Concerto Concertante for Two Pianos and Orchestra.
Gian-Carlo Menotti (b. 1911). The Saint of Bleecker Street. (Opera in
three acts.)
Ernst Toch (1887-1964). Symphony no. 3.
Norman Dello Joio (b. 1913). Meditations on Ecclesiastes.
Samuel Barber (1910-1981). Vanessa. (Opera.)
John La Montaine (b. 1920). Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, op. 9.
Elliott Carter (b. 1908). Second String Quartet.
Walter Piston (1894-1976). Symphony no. 7.
Robert Ward (b. 1917). The Crucible. (Opera.)
Samuel Barber (1910-1981). Piano Concerto no. 1, op. 38.
Not awarded.
Not awarded.
Leslie Bassett (b. 1923). Variations for Orchestra.
Leon Kirchner (b. 1919). Quartet no. 3 for strings and electronic tape.
George Crumb (b. 1929). Echoes of Time and the River.
Karel Husa (b. 1921). String Quartet no. 3.
Charles Wuorinen (b. 1938). Time's Encomium.
Mario Davidovsky (b. 1934). Synchronisms no. 6.
Jacob Druckman (1928-1996). Windows.
Elliott Carter (b. 1908). String quartet no. 3.
Donald Martino (b. 1931). Notturno.
Dominick Argento (b. 1927). From the Diary of Virginia Woolf.
Ned Rorem (b. 1923). Air Music.
Richard Wernick (b. 1934). Visions of Terror and Wonder.
Michael Colgrass (b. 1932). Deja Vu for Percussion and Orchestra.
Joseph Schwantner (b. 1943). Aftertones of Infinity.
David Del Tredici (b. 1937). In Memory of a Summer Day.
Not awarded.
Roger Sessions (1896-1985). Concerto for Orchestra.
Ellen Zwilich (b. 1939). Three Movements for Orchestra. (Symphony no. 1.)
Bernard Rands (b. 1934). Canti del Sole.
Stephen Albert (1941-1992). Symphony RiverRun.
George Perle (b. 1915). Wind Quintet no. 4, for flute, oboe, clarinet,
horn, and bassoon.
John Harbison (b. 1938). The Flight into Egypt.
William Bolcom (b. 1938). 12 New Etudes for Piano.
Roger Reynolds (b. 1934). Whispers Out of Time.
Mel D. Powell (1923-1998). Duplicates: A Concerto.
Shulamit Ran (b. 1947). Symphony.
Wayne Peterson (b. 1927). The Face of the Night.
Christopher Rouse (b. 1949). Trombone Concerto.
Gunther Schuller (b. 1925). Of Reminiscences and Reflections.
Morton Gould (1931-1996). Stringmusic.
George Walker (b. 1922). Lilacs for soprano and orchestra.
Wynton Marsalis (b. 1961). Blood on the Fields. Oratorio.
Aaron Jay Kernis (b. 1960). String Quartet No. 2, Musica Instrumentalis
Melinda Wagner. Concerto for Flute, Strings, and Percussion.
Lewis Spratlan. Life is a Dream, opera in three acts: ACT II, Concert Version.
John Corigliano. Symphony No. 2 for String Orchestra.

As it happens, I'm familiar with a fair number of those works and
think of the following Pulitzer winners as either outright masterworks
or very notable pieces: Copland's Appalachian Spring, Ives' Sym. No.
3, the two Piston symphonies, the two Carter String Quartets, Barber's
"Vanessa" and his Piano Concerto, Thomson's "Louisiana Story,"
Kirchner's String Quartet No. 3, Powell's Duplicates, Perle's Wind
Quintet, Sessions' Concerto for Orchestra, Del Tredici's In a Memory
of Summer Day, Toch's Sym. No. 3, and Martino's Notturno. Schuman is a
talented composer, but I don't know his Pulitzer-winning work. I also
don't know the Husa String Quartet No. 3, though I admire other works
by him. So that's a success rate, by my own subjective standard, of
about thirty per cent -- which I don't think is too bad for an award
that is constrained by its annual nature (that is, if a number of
major works crop up in say, 1959, only one going to win) . Also, FWIW,
the stylistic range of the pieces I've just listed is pretty darn
wide, no?

Now all that needs to be modified by a list of the great or notable
works that didn't get Pulitzers. Leaving aside for a bit the question
of the kinds of music that arguably ought to get into the Pulitzer mix
that haven't or didn't over the years, I'd have to think about this
for a while to be sure, but the only names that leap to my mind right
now are John Adams (and he did get a Pulitzer in 2003 for his 9/11
piece "On The Transmigration of Souls"), John Cage, and Morton
Feldman. Teachout's list probably would include Adams, but not Cage or
Feldman. Who else he feels has been unjustly left out I don't know,
unless and until we open the music of other kinds bag -- though when
it did in fact get opened or begin to get opened in in the Pulitzer
world in 1992, it was inextricably part of a bureaucratic power
struggle that would lead directly to the IMO infamous arm-twisting
award to Blood On The Fields.

Here's the visible, widely reported story of the 1992 music Pulitzers:

"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."

A whole lot more went on being the scenes here, about which I can't
comment in public. But suffice it to say that Pulitzer music juries
have been more or less packed (in a new and quite deliberate manner)
since '92 (this is when journalists were added to the jury), and that
it was one such journalist, Howard Reich of the Chicago Tribune, who
engineered the award to Blood on the Fields, in conjunction with
felllow jury member John Lewis, recipient of a commission from J at LC.
Reich BTW has writen quite freely about how he accomplished this.

The problem here is that while some jazz works are works in the sense
that the Pulitzer music prize outlines, many of the most important
acts of jazz creation are not works in that sense but more sequential
affairs that call for if not a literal lifetime achievement award,
something of that sort. Just think of Lee Konitz, for one. Obviously
ineligible by strict Pulitzer standards, but...

Back now to Ornette's Pulitzer and Teachout's piece. After what
occurred in '92, which initiated the jury-packing process that first
bore the fruit it was designed to bear with Blood On The Fields, I'd
say that
most if not all bets are off here, and that that is the real story
with the music Pulitzers. So Ornette's award is a lifetime achievement
award in disguise, and Sound Grammar was a fine album IMO but not
a work as the music Pulitzer defines a work. Well, if that's the
standard, we'd get very few jazz-related "orthodox" Pulitzers ever,
only actual lifetime achievement awards or such awards in disguise.
And if that's what Ornette's Pulitzer really is, I don't have any
problem with it, although I will freely admit that the music Pulitzers
are more or less fixed now, even when they go to someone who arguably
is deserving. On the other hand, I'd be just as happy, maybe even
happier, if there were no jazz-related Pulitzers given unless they
fell under the orthodox Pulitzer standards. If that means Bob
Brookmeyer gets one, that would be nice. But I'm afraid it would go to
Maria Schneider -- either that or, once other claques are heard, it
would be, as Teachout the neo-Mencken says, prizes for everyone.

(End quoted text)

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