Charles Peter Wuorinen ( /ˈwɔːrɪnən/; June 9, 1938 – March 11, 2020) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer of contemporary classical music based in New York City. He performed his works and other 20th-century music as pianist and conductor.
He composed more than 270 works, including works for orchestra, operas such as Brokeback Mountain, chamber music, as well as solo instrumental and vocal works. Salman Rushdie and Annie Proulx have collaborated with him. Wuorinen's work has been described as serialist, but he came to disparage that term as meaningless. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music for Time's Encomium, his only purely electronic piece. Wourinen was also an academic teacher at several institutions including Columbia University and Manhattan School of Music.
Wuorinen has been described as totally committed to twelve-tone composition, with Schoenberg, late Stravinsky, and Babbitt as primary influences. However, in later years he has come to disparage the term serialism as being "almost without meaning".
Much of his music is technically complex, requiring extreme virtuosity by the performer, including wide leaps, extreme dynamic contrasts, and rapid exchange of pitches. Fractals and the mathematical theories of Benoit Mandelbrot are also important aspects of Wuorinen's style, as can be seen in works such as Bamboula Squared and the Natural Fantasy for organ.
Writings and lectures
Wuorinen is the author of Simple Composition. He describes the book as
- written by a composer and ... addressed to other composers — intending or actual, amateur or professional. Thus it is similar in intent to certain older books on the subject like Thomas Morley's A Plain and Easie Introduction to Practical Musicke (1597), for instance.... It outlines present practice, and while it can be used for purely didactic purposes, it can also be employed in composing "real" music.
Wuorinen has lectured at universities throughout the United States and abroad, and has served on the faculties of Columbia, Princeton, and Yale Universities, the University of Iowa, University of California (San Diego), Manhattan School of Music, New England Conservatory, State University of New York at Buffalo, and Rutgers University. He wrote the introduction to Joan Peyser's To Boulez and Beyond.
Wuorinen's works have influenced a number of other composers. Robert Black cited him as a particular influence on his own style. Black also recorded Wuorinen's New York Notes. Jazz trumpeter Dave Douglas has written "Around 1992 I found Charles Wuorinen’s book, Simple Composition, in the Brooklyn Public Library. I thought, “At last! My problems are over!” Little did I know, they were just beginning… The book had a profound effect on me and spurred a whole new approach to composing for improvising small groups.