The Grawemeyer Award is one of the world’s most prestigious prizes for music composition, and Columbia has more Grawemeyer Award–winning alumni than any other university in the world.

The Grawemeyer is a big deal because it’s international in scope, it honors just one composer each year, and its worth $200,000 (increased from $150,000 in 2000). Perhaps just as significant is the philosophy behind the award: it’s benefactor, H. Charles Grawemeyer, wanted his initial endowment of $9 million to go toward honoring ideas rather than lifetime achievement: He said that great ideas should be accessible to people with general knowledge and not be the “private treasure of academics.”

In the last thirteen years, more than a half-million dollars in Grawemeyer money has gone to composers who are Columbia alumni—Chinary Ung ’74SOA in 1989 for his orchestral tone poem Inner Voices, Joan Tower ’65GSAS ’78SOA in 1990 for her three-part orchestral work Silver Ladders, John Corigliano ’59C in 1991 for his renowned Symphony No. 1, subtitled Of Rage and Remembrance, and Tan Dun ’93SOA in 1998 for his opera Marco Polo.

Though we can’t hope to name all of the important composers who hold Columbia degrees, the following chronology highlights some of the most distinguished Columbia alumni composers—as well as some of the prominent faculty composers who influenced their work.

In 1896, the preeminent American composer Edward Alexander MacDowell became the first professor in Columbia’s new Department of Music—one of the first of its kind in the country. During the next half century, the department would welcome many other extraordinary composers, including Douglas Moore ’63HON, Henry Cowell, Otto Luening ’80HON, and Jack Beeson, who would become the MacDowell Professor of Music in 1965. (Composer and former music department chair George Edwards currently holds the MacDowell professorship.)

The great Hungarian composer Béla Bartók ’40HON was at Columbia from 1941 to 1942 to transcribe a collection of Serbo-Croatian folk melodies; he later left much of his work from that decade to Columbia’s music library, now the Gabe M. Wiener Music and Arts Library.

One of Luening’s many gifted students was Marvin David Levy ’56GSAS, now a distinguished opera composer. Levy’s adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra—commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, where it premiered in 1967—is widely regarded as a masterpiece of American opera. Levy has composed several orchestral, choral, and chamber works, but is known primarily for his operas, which also include The Tower, a comic biblical fable; Sotoba Komachi, based on a Japanese Noh play; and Escorial, based on the tragicomedy of Michel de Ghelderode.

Experiments in electroacoustic music
In 1959 Luening and his former student Vladimir Ussachevsky founded the Columbia Experimental Music Studio (which evolved into today’s Computer Music Center). One of the world’s major studios for electronic music, the center gave many eletroacoustic music pioneers their start, including Alice Shields ’65GS ’67GSAS ’75SOA, one of the first women in the field. Shields, currently at work on a biography of Ussachevsky with Isabelle Emerson ’56BAR ’77GSAS, wrote some of the first electronic operas, including Apocalypse, Shaman, and Mass for the Dead, premiered by the American Chamber Opera Company in 1993. Last year she premiered a computer piece, Dust, composed in ragas with rhythmic patterns from traditional Indian dance-drama.

Computer music began gathering momentum at Columbia in the mid-to-late 1960s largely because of composer Charles Dodge ’66 ’70GSAS, who was a student of Luening and Chou Wen-chung ’54GSAS and taught in the music department from 1970 until 1980. His Speech Songs startled the new music world in 1972 with its use of synthetic speech. He has continued the practice of incorporating live, recorded, and synthesized voices in his work, the most celebrated of which is Any Resemblance Is Purely Coincidental, a piece that confronts the rift between technology and the musical expression of human feeling. Dodge is a past president of the American Composers Alliance and the American Music Center. Now a visiting professor at Dartmouth College, he co-authored the top textbook in the field, Computer Music: Synthesis, Composition, and Performance.

Chamber music and disco collages
In 1962, Harvey Sollberger ’64GSAS along with his colleague Charles Wuorinen ’61C ’63GSAS co-founded the Group for Contemporary Music in New York, one of the country’s most prestigious ensembles dedicated to performance of new chamber music. In addition to cultivating a new generation of performers and commissioning and premiering hundreds of new works, the group has been a model for many similar organizations that have appeared in the United States.

Sollberger studied under Luening and Beeson and taught at Columbia himself for nearly twenty years. In addition to two Guggenheim fellowships, Sollberger has received awards and commissions from the Koussevitzky Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the San Francisco Symphony, and Music from Japan. His works have been performed by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and Speculum Musicae.

Wuorinen, who has composed more than 200 works and has been recorded on nearly a dozen labels, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1970 for his electronic composition Time’s Encomium and was awarded a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 1986. His opera based on Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories will premiere at the New York City Opera this fall. During his time on the Columbia faculty, Wuorinen taught Eve Beglarian ’83GSAS and influenced the early serial work of Joan Tower.

Beglarian, daughter of composer Grant Beglarian, was trained in serial techniques at Columbia, but her work has since evolved to incorporate elements of rock and performance art. Called “one of new music’s truly free spirits” by Kyle Gann in The Village Voice, Beglarian has produced a diverse body of work that includes computer-altered disco collages, postminimal and numerically structured synthesizer pieces, and electric theater pieces, notably typOpera, based on Kurt Schwitters’s Ur Sonata. She has recorded two CDs, one solo and one with keyboardist Kathleen Supové, her partner in the duo Twisted Tutu, formed with the goal of injecting “physicality, spirituality, and sexuality” into the new music scene.

Tower, whose Silver Ladders won the Grawemeyer Award, is currently composer-in-residence with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s in New York City and is also the Asher B. Edelman Professor of Music at Bard College. Along with National Endowment for the Arts, the MacDowell Colony, and Guggenheim Foundation fellowships, she also has received commissions from the Koussevitsky, Fromm, Jerome, and Naumburg foundations. Her most recent recording is Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman (Koch International Classics 1999) with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.

Columbia professors Chou Wen-chung of China and Mario Davidovsky of Argentina have served as beacons to Columbia for composers from around the world.

Davidovsky won the Pulitzer in 1971 for Synchronisms No. 6 for Piano and Electronic Sound. He taught many of today’s most successful Columbia alumni composers during his tenure from 1960 to 1993, including Pablo Ortiz ’86GSAS ’92SOA, who traveled to New York from Argentina to study with Davidovsky. Ortiz currently is on the faculty at the University of California at Davis. He was named a Charles Ives Fellow by the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1996 and received a Koussevitzky commission in 1999. His works include chamber and solo music, as well as vocal, orchestral, and electronic compositions.

Students of Chou Wen-chung
Chou was a student of Luening and of Edgard Varèse, who lectured at Columbia in 1948 and is considered the father of electronic music. After Varèse died in 1973, Chou became the musical executor of the Varèse estate. He completed the unfinished work Nocturnal and prepared new editions of other Varèse works. Chou founded the Fritz Reiner Center for Contemporary Music and The Center for U.S.–China Art Exchange, and also was the first Fritz Reiner Professor of Musical Composition at Columbia. (Composer Fred Lerdahl, who now heads Columbia’s composition program, currently holds the title.) Chou influenced stars like Chinary Ung, Tan Dun, Bright Sheng ’93SOA, Chen Yi ’93SOA, and Zhou Long ’93SOA, all of whom blend Eastern and Western sounds in their music—thus, Chou was referred to in Newsday as “the aesthetic godfather for a generation of Asian fusioneers.”

Chinary, who was born in Cambodia, was the first American to receive the Grawemeyer. The winning work, Inner Voices, combined Cambodian folk melodies and Western composition techniques. Chinary has received fellowships and commissions from the the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim, Koussevitsky, Ford, Rockefeller, and Barlow foundations. Last fall, the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra premiered the interlude from his large work Rising Light. He teaches at the University of California at San Diego.

Sheng, a professor at the University of Michigan, has received many prizes in China and the U.S. Last year, he became the fifth composer to be named a MacArthur Fellow since the advent of the program in 1981. The award gives him an unrestricted fellowship of $500,000 over five years. Major ensembles and soloists around the world have performed his music, which bridges East and West, lyrical and dissonant styles, and historical and contemporary themes. His first full-length opera, Madame Mao, will be presented at the Santa Fe Opera in 2003. His best known work is the critically acclaimed H’un (Lacerations): In Memoriam 1966–76, a dramatic orchestral portrait of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

Tan, who also grew up in China during the Cultural Revolution, is fulfilling a commission for the Metropolitan Opera, to premiere in 2005. His Grawemeyer-winning opera, Marco Polo, was named Opera of the Year by the German magazine Oper, which also named him Composer of the Year in 1996. The New York Times named him Classical Musician of the Year in 1997. His score for the acclaimed film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won the 2001 Oscar and a Grammy Award in 2002, and his work has been performed by leading orchestras across North America, Europe, and Asia.

Other former students of Chou’s include Chen Yi and her husband, Zhou Long. Chen is the first woman to have earned a master’s degree in music composition in China. In 2000, she received a Charles Ives Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which awards her $225,000 over three years. She won the first prize at the China National Composition Competition, the Lili Boulanger Award from the Women’s Philharmonic, and grants from the Koussevitzky, Fromm, Ford, and Rockefeller foundations. Some of her signature works include an octet, Sparkle, and sextet, Near Distance.

A work that Zhou was commissioned to write for the Tokyo Philharmonic premiered last fall and he is working on a commission for the upcoming Ireland Music Festival. A recording that featured works by both Zhou and Chen entitled Colors of Love by the classical vocal ensemble Chanticleer won a Grammy Award in 1999.

These are just a few of the extraordinary Columbia alumni composers making important contributions to serious contemporary music here in New York, across the country, and around the world.