Partita for 8 Voices by Caroline Shaw has been awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Music. The 26-minute four-movement work composed between 2009-2012 was recorded by the vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth for New Amsterdam Records (released on October 30, 2012). The prize is for a “distinguished musical composition by an American that has had its first performance or recording in the United States” during the previous calendar year and comes with a cash award of ten thousand dollars. The jury described Shaw’s composition as “a highly polished and inventive a cappella work uniquely embracing speech, whispers, sighs, murmurs, wordless melodies and novel vocal effects.”
The fourth and final movement (Passacaglia) of Caroline Shaw’s Partita for 8 Voices performed by A Roomful of Teeth from the June 2009 premiere at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.
Also nominated as finalists in this category were Aaron Jay Kernis’s Pieces of Winter Sky (published by Associated Music Publishers, Inc.), premiered on November 15, 2012 at Lincoln Theater, University of Hartford, CT, a luminous work that takes listeners into a mystical realm marked by taut expressive control and extraordinarily subtle changes of tone, texture and nuance; and Wadada Leo Smith’s Ten Freedom Summers, recording released May 22, 2012 on Cuneiform Records, an expansive jazz work that memorializes 10 key moments in the history of civil rights in America, fusing composed and improvised passages into powerful, eloquent music.
Pulitzer Prizes have been awarded annually since 1919. The Music Prize was added in 1943 when William Schuman’s Secular Cantata No. 2, “A Free Song” received the first honor. Past prize winning works include Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring (1945), Charles Ives’s Symphony No. 3 (1947, awarded 30 years after its composition), Samuel Barber’s opera Vanessa (1958), Elliott Carter’s String Quartets Nos. 2 (1960) and 3 (1973), Charles Wuorinen’s electronic music composition Time’s Encomium, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s Symphony No. 1 – Three Movements for Orchestra (1983), Wynton Marsalis’s oratorio Blood on the Fields (1997), John Adams’s On The Transmigration of Souls (2003), Ornette Coleman’s recording Sound Grammar (2007), and Jennifer Higdon’s Violin Concerto (2010).
As is the case with all Pulitzer prize-winners, the awarded pieces of music are chosen through a two panel process. Each year a different jury (consisting of five professionals in the field and which usually includes at least one previous winner of the award) is convened and selects a total of three finalists from works received for consideration. (Anyone–not only the composer or publisher of the work–can submit a work provided it is accompanied by a $50 entry fee and meets the qualifications of being composed by an American and having had its first performance or recording in the United States during the previous calendar year.) The three finalists are then submitted to the 20-member Pulitzer board, consisting mostly of major newspaper editors and executives as well as a few academics. (The board elects its own members who individually serve three-year terms.) The winner is determined by a majority vote of the board. It is possible for the jury not to choose any of the finalists–as was the case for the Music award in the years 1964, 1965, and 1981 resulting in no prize being given. The board can also demand that the jury selects a different work, as was the case in 1992 when the only work the jury submitted to the board was Ralph Shapey’s Concerto Fantastique. (The work which was ultimately awarded the prize that year was Wayne Peterson’s The Face of the Night.)
The jurors for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Music were: Jeremy Geffen, director, artistic planning, Carnegie Hall, New York City (Chair); Muhal Richard Abrams, pianist and composer, New York City; Gerald Levinson, Jane Lang Professor of Music, department of music and dance, Swarthmore College; Carol Oja, William Powell Mason Professor of Music, Harvard University; and Howard Reich, jazz critic, Chicago Tribune.