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Female graduate student wins Pulitzer Prize for music

Caroline Shaw, a graduate student in composition at Princeton University, has won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for music for Partita for 8 Voices.

Shaw, 30, a violinist from the age of two, is a member of Roomful of Teeth, a vocal quartet for whom she wrote the “Partita.” The work was released last October by New Amsterdam Records. Full story here.

caroline shaw

Also on the shortlist were  Aaron Jay Kernis’s Pieces of Winter Sky, premiered on November 15, 2012 at Lincoln Theater, University of Hartford, CT; and Wadada Leo Smith’s Ten Freedom Summers, recording released May 22, 2012 on Cuneiform Records.

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  1. Why are american composers always so uncompromised? When is the 1980s going to arrive to american classical music?

    • Haven’t Heard this before? In Berio’s Sinfonía for eight voices and orchestra (1968!!!!!), for example.

  2. Will Duffay says:

    Out of interest, why do you mention her gender? Surely the significant aspect is that a student won the prize, not a female student.

  3. Out of interest, do you know by what criteria the Pulitzer for music is judged?

    The piece reminded me a little bit of Giles Swayne’s “Cry” (1980) which I like very much, and which goes much further down a similar-ish road, I think.

    The video you have linked is “Passacaglia”, movement 4 of the complete “Partita”. The other movements are “Allemande”, “Sarabande”, and “Courante” (no “Prelude” or “Gigue”, for fans of the “pacsog” suite form…)

    You can hear the whole piece here:
    (IMHO the rest of it sounds a lot less like Swayne! It’s undeniably a very attractive piece, it’s no Stimmung for sure, but who cares. The “Sarabande” in particular is very cool I think although the “Courante” I found a bit tiring, but perhaps that was deliberate in the “panting” writing!)

    • The criteria are the personal tastes of the 4 or 5 judges in the music category. They select a handful of nominees, then give the nominees to a larger panel that’s usually made up of journalists and the like (since it is primarily an award for journalism, with arts and letters something of an afterthought.) All of the judges are listed on the website.

  4. I agree. Seems you have joined ( good riddance!) the wide spread gentrification of the society. And for that reason you, the old male, are fired from my daily readings.

    • Yoanna – classic left-wing behaviour. if you don’t like something, you ban it entirely.
      as a woman, I think it’s important to draw attention to every success we have in a field so entirely dominated by men. (composition that is)

  5. Emil Archambault says:

    Why not “graduate student”?

  6. Very beautiful. Love the effects at the end of phrases. A great accomplishment for such a young person, male or female. I guessing if it was a male grad student who had won, no mention would have been made of his gender in the headline.

  7. Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    Here’s my vote for the headline: “Young composer from Princeton wins Pulitzer Prize for Music” She is obviously a professional musician who is taking advanced study at Princeton. The gory details (grad student, women, violinist, lives in NYC) can be enumerated in the body of the article. She is probably ABD and needs the doctorate to compete in the academic world. Maybe this was her dissertation. She is in good company with other young composers who have achieved this honor. The Berio Sinfonia did come immediately to mind upon hearing the work’s swing(le).

  8. Come on, folks, let’s not be so precious about gender neutrality.

    Despite the fact that we’re moving in the right direction, most of us acknowledge that women are still under-represented – meaning under-recognized, really – among the top ranks of composers and conductors.

    I’m sure Norman’s headline was meant to celebrate yet another step on the path to correcting that imbalance. That’s certainly how I read it.

    The day we feel like we can quit fussing about the under-representation of female composers and conductors is the day we can start fussing about headlines like this one.

  9. I cant help it, but I find this piece of music quite disappointing. Its what I would call a “Wald- und Wiesen”- piece. Neither original, nor particularly skilled or exciting. This is not meant to be negative, its just that from the header I expected much more.

    • This proves that the Pulitzer has no meaning. Please listen to Samuel Barber, Walter Piston, or Elliott Carter’s music (a few past winners) to understand how low a level of work this is. What can we expect when composers are no longer judging the contest? There are a hundred composers who could have legitimately won this prize, but this student is not one.

  10. Okay – many composers across the country are sucking sour grapes over Caroline Shaw winning this year’s Pulitzer in music composition – claiming the judging has been dumbed down, other composers were more worthy, etc… One former professor of mine griped that “her teacher hasn’t won a Pulitzer” – Now, there are many elements in this piece, overtone singing, nasal “Bulgarian-type” singing, tape repetition spoken word effects, and more. These have existed for many years as single entities. Something not so avant garde is the current trend of simple harmonies that has evolved beyond minimalism. Ms. Shaw integrates them all as a live performance piece… others may have done it on tape, but can you really imagine performing this yourself? Also, Mozart didn’t do anything “new” in his time – he just picked the best, most interesting notes and chords in his compositions time after time, chord after chord, note after note – creating memorable beauty. Ms. Shaw did this in her Partita for Eight Voices. Listen to the whole piece… not the beginning of each movement, the whole piece. If you are a trained composer you can analyze what you are hearing in this piece. At first I was jealous, but knowing the piece, I can’t grudge her. I only wish that she hasn’t “shot her wad” with this composition. Perhaps someone in the “Atlanta School” (other than Jennifer Higdon…) will wind next…

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