Pulitzer-winning composer Ward dies

Apr. 03, 2013 @ 06:40 PM

Robert Ward, whose opera “The Crucible” won the Pulitzer Prize for music, and who helped bring a production of the opera “Carmen” to Brightleaf Square in 1985, died early Wednesday. He was 95.

In the 1980s, the Durham Arts Council asked Ward for assistance in putting on a street opera. He looked around Durham, and thought that the commons area in Brightleaf would be a good place to stage the opera. Ward directed the 1985 production, with assistance from many local arts organizations.

He wrote music for varied types of ensembles. He wrote symphonies and other orchestral works (“Prairie Overture,” “Jubilation Overture”), choral works, chamber music and operas.

His operas include “He Who Gets Slapped,” “Claudia Legare,” and “The Crucible.” The latter piece, based on Arthur Miller’s play, received the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1962, along with the New York Music Critics’ Circle Citation Award.

He was an influential North Carolina music educator. From 1967 to 1975, he was chancellor of the N.C. School of the Arts. He was a professor in Duke University’s Music Department from 1975 to 1987, and the faculty of the music department issued a statement expressing sadness about his passing.

“I considered him to be many things for me,” said William Henry Curry, director of the Durham Symphony Orchestra. “He was a mentor, because he took the time to study my compositions, was very encouraging and gave me many tips.”

Under Curry’s direction, the symphony began emphasizing music by American composers, and local composers, and the orchestra performed several works by Ward, including a brass fanfare and an opera selection. Ward came to the rehearsals “It was amazing to get great advice from a living composer,” Curry said.

About composing, Curry said Ward once told him, “You’re not writing for colleagues... The idea is to say something clearly that has some poetry and power behind it.”

Ward recently received opera honors for his lifelong work from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Ward was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on Sept. 13, 1917.  He studied theory, orchestration and piano and began composing in high school. His early musical influences were Debussy, Ravel, Hindemith, Stravinsky and jazz. Ward studied composition with Bernard Rogers and Howard Hanson at the Eastman School of Music from 1935 through 1939. He then studied composition with Frederick Jacobi and conducting with Albert Stoessel and Edgar Schenkman at The Juilliard School from 1939 through 1941.

Additional studies in composition occurred with Aaron Copland at the Tanglewood Music Festival in 1940 before he entered the military as a bandleader in the U.S. Army from 1942 through 1946.

After the war he returned to The Juilliard School and received his Artist Certificate in 1946. Ward taught at Juilliard from 1947 to 1956, where he also headed its development office, and at Columbia University from 1946 to 1958.

He received three Guggenheim Fellowships (1950, 1951, 1966), and was director of the Third Street Music Settlement from 1952 to 1955.