Death of a Pulitzer-winning composer

Death of a Pulitzer-winning composer


norman lebrecht

April 16, 2021

We have been notified of the death of Wayne Peterson, winner 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Music for The Face of the Night, the Heart of the Dark, premiered by the San Francisco Symphony with David Zinman.

It caused him great distress. Fifteen years later he wrote:

Winning the Pulitzer has meant nothing for the piece that won. Back when Blomstedt was at the San Francisco Symphony, David Zinman conducted it and did a beautiful job. But they never did it again and nobody else has ever played it. It’s a very difficult piece. I write chromatic music and chromatic music is not in vogue at the moment. I think that has not helped things. The Prize has benefited me in other ways, however. You get a lot of notoriety out of it. My commissions have soared and everything I have written since that time has been published. And I am fortunate enough to have some of the best musicians in the world playing my chamber music, which has led to a CD that has just come out.

Wayne was a professor of music at San Francisco State University from 1960 – 1991. He was 94 at his death.


  • japecake says:

    RIP. In viewing the Pulitzers from a historical standpoint, it’s very clear that, not unlike Best Picture Oscar winners, the percentage of winning composers who ended up having significant and enduring musical influence (outside of academic careers) or place in the repertoire is very small. It has become, alternately, a de facto lifetime achievement award and a way of sticking it to the “establishment.”

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Wayne Peterson also played credible jazz piano – I remember playing some casual gigs with him in the 1970s or 80s.
    RIP, Mr. Peterson.

  • John Borstlap says:

    The symphony of the video above did not seem very interesting to me, in spite of the busy surface. His pulitzer piece is considerably more interesting and expressive – music saturated with chromaticism, close to the edge of atonalism:

    As for ‘difficult music’: according to Charles Rosen this music should have much more endurance than easy music (Glass? Bernstein?). But Rosen did not take into account the decline in seriousness in the musical world.

  • The View from America says:

    There is a fine recording of Peterson’s Free Variations for Orchestra by Antal Dorati and the Minnesota Orchestra, which premiered the work in the late 1950s.

  • Tod Brody says:

    The comment about the Pulitzer was a low-key observation, not at all indicative of “great distress.” I knew Peterson pretty well, as a frequent performer of his music — recorded a couple of his chamber pieces and performed a dozen or so — and he was just fine with the Pulitzer and with his career.