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Charles Wuorinen, Uncompromising Modernist Composer, Dies at 81

In Other Minds News

Charles Wuorinen, a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and formidable advocate for modernist music, high culture and the composer’s worth, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 81.

His publicist, Aleba Gartner, said the cause was complications of a fall sustained in September.

Mr. Wuorinen, who won the Pulitzer in music in 1970 at age 31, composed works for major orchestras, including the Boston and San Francisco Symphonies, while maintaining a prickly yet charming public persona.

He received a surge of attention in 2004, when the New York City Opera premiered his opera “Haroun and the Sea of Stories,” based on a novel by Salman Rushdie. That was followed by a commission to compose an opera based on Annie Proulx’s short story “Brokeback Mountain,” which was also the basis of the 2005 movie of the same name.

Mr. Wuorinen gained a reputation as a combative proponent of 12-tone composition, a cerebral idiom he mastered in hundreds of eloquent works. His combativeness extended to his inveterate defense of Western classical music against what he saw as the threat of popular culture.

Mr. Wuorinen was part of a generation of postwar modernists who found a new home in the academy, uncompromising avant-gardists who saw themselves as inheritors of the European tradition.

“If my friends and I decide today that there will be no orchestras, there won’t be in 50 years,” he said in 1973. “Our influence is long-range. We are the future.”

 NY Times obituary

Charles Wuorinen interview with Charles Amirkhanian, 1985

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