Wuorinen, Charles

Charles Wuorinen (June 9, 1938 – March 11, 2020) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning contemporary classical music composer who lived in New York City. In addition, he was a pianist and conductor who played his pieces and other 20th-century music. He wrote around 270 works, spanning symphonic and chamber music, solo instrumental and vocal compositions, and operas like Brokeback Mountain. He has worked with Salman Rushdie and Annie Proulx. Serialist has been applied to Wuorinen's work, but he has come to dismiss the label as useless. His sole wholly electronic piece, Time's Encomium, won the Pulitzer Prize for Music. Wuorinen also taught at Columbia University and the Manhattan School of Music, among other places. Wuorinen was born in New York City, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. John H. Wuorinen, the chair of Columbia University's history department, was a prominent Scandinavian affairs scholar who worked for the Office of Strategic Services and wrote five books about his native Finland. Alfhild Kalijarvi, his mother, has a master's degree in biology from Smith College. Wuorinen excelled academically, graduating as valedictorian from Trinity School (New York City) in 1956; he went on to Columbia University to earn a B.A. (1961) and an M.A. (1963) in music. Jacques Barzun and Edgard Varèse were early supporters. Wuorinen's works include Haroun, the Sea of Stories, and Brokeback Mountain operas. He has been described as "completely dedicated" to twelve-tone music, citing Schoenberg, late Stravinsky, and Babbitt as significant influences. However, he referred to serialism as "virtually meaningless in later years."

Much of Wuorinen's music is technically challenging, necessitating high virtuosity on the player's part, with large jumps, severe dynamic contrasts, and quick pitch changes. Fractals and Benoit Mandelbrot's mathematical theories are also essential elements of his approach, as evidenced by pieces like Bamboula Squared and the Natural Fantasy for organ. Wuorinen's music has impacted other composers. For example, he was a significant influence on Robert Black's style. Black also recorded Wuorinen's New York Notes. Dave Douglas, a jazz trumpeter, noted, "Simple Composition by Charles Wuorinen was discovered at the Brooklyn Public Library in 1992. 'At long last!' I exclaimed. 'All of my problems have come to an end!' They were only getting started. I had no idea... The book greatly impacted me and inspired a new way of writing for small improvisational groups." Charles Wuorinen: A Celebration at 80, a Festschrift released by Perspectives of New Music in 2019, including analytical papers and compositions by Wuorinen's friends and colleagues prepared for the occasion. Following the issue's publication (Volume 56, Number 2, Summer 2018), the Eastman School of Music hosted an 80th birthday celebration that included a master class, a symposium, and music concerts and compositions dedicated to him.

Violin Compositions of Charles Wuorinen | Animato Strings


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