What’s in a prize? The Pulitzer Prize for Music?

Pulitzer Prize Medal
Pulitzer Prize Medal

The Pulitzer prize for music is an award that started out as a way to recognize an American composer in the later half of the 20th century who was composing “excellent” music in the tradition of Classical European music. The Wikipedia article on the music Pulitzer prize reveals its  challenged American journey to figure out exactly what is “excellent American serious music” (my quotations). Please read the article.  In this blog, we take the most recent two years of Pulitzer prize winners and finalists  in music and discuss if it means anything to be a winner, the best, the acclaimed composer, the selected work.  Please look at the entire list and see if you know one of the pieces!?  Certainly it is an honor to be recognized, yet as with all criticism in art, for every aspect that has been considered  there are many that are overlooked.  For example, jazz was excluded for many years, African-American composers were recognized extremely late in the game, highly experimental music is barely recognized and on and on we could go.  Yet, each of the pieces for 2016 and 2015 have much to recommend them.  They truly are serious, well-composed works that have moved the hearts and minds (might this be the definition of serious?) of the committee and others.  Listen to either the three works from 2016 or the three from 2015 (see links below) and develop your criteria on how a significant work of music should be evaluated.  What makes a piece of music an important contribution to its current culture?  Keep your list brief, explain your list  and then apply a few (say three) of your criteria to either year.  Discuss the finalists compared to the winners.  If a work is particularly long, then listen to it over several sessions, keep some notes and be fearlessly honest. In the end, we all, each of us must decide what we listen to, shouldn’t we have our own reasons?   Enter a reply and then later come back and make four comments to replies already entered.  Before listening and writing do a bit of research on the composer and piece.


In for Penny, In for a Pound

The Blind Banister


Anthracite Fields 

The Aristos

Memories of Xiaoziang (for tape and Saxophone instead of orchestra and Saxophone)