Wayne Peterson, a prolific composer whose fraught successful of the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 stirred debate about whether or not consultants or common listeners had been one of the best judges of music, died on April 7 in San Francisco. He was 93.
His son Grant confirmed the dying, in a hospital, which he mentioned got here simply seven weeks after that of Mr. Peterson’s companion of a long time, Ruth Knier.
Mr. Peterson gained the Pulitzer for his composition “The Face of the Night, the Heart of the Dark,” however solely after the 19-member Pulitzer committee rejected the recommendation of the three-member music jury, which initially really useful that Ralph Shapey’s “Concerto Fantastique” obtain the prize.
The jury was made up of composers, who had the power to check the scores of works into consideration, whereas the committee members, principally journalists, had no specific experience in music. The dust-up started when the jury submitted just one piece, Mr. Shapey’s, in its suggestion to the committee, moderately than three candidates, as was conventional.
The committee despatched the advice again, demanding a minimum of another identify. When the jury responded with Mr. Shapey’s work and Mr. Peterson’s, whereas indicating that Mr. Shapey’s work was its first selection, the committee awarded the prize to Mr. Peterson as a substitute. The jurors responded with a sharply worded grievance that mentioned, partly, “Such alterations by a committee without professional musical expertise guarantees, if continued, a lamentable devaluation of this uniquely important award.”
The incident produced appreciable hand-wringing over whether or not consultants or a extra common panel ought to decide the winner of the music prize, a problem the Pulitzers had confronted earlier than in different genres. The dispute was puzzling as a result of, as music critics for The New York Times wrote within the aftermath, it was not essentially a case of Mr. Peterson’s work being extra listener-friendly than Mr. Shapey’s — each males wrote atonal works. Some writers steered that the matter was merely the Pulitzer committee asserting its dominance over the jury.
In any occasion, the controversy left Mr. Peterson in an ungainly place, since he knew the jury members who had faulted the choice, and since he professed admiration for Mr. Shapey’s works.
“He would have been thrilled to get second place,” Grant Peterson mentioned.
“There was no bad blood,” he added. “It was just kind of a bummer because it wasn’t of his making.”
Mr. Peterson himself acknowledged that the dispute left him with combined emotions.
“I had sent the work in as a lark, and I didn’t think I had even a remote chance of winning,” he advised The Times in 1992. “I have won other awards, but the prestige of the Pulitzer is greater than that of the others. The controversy has made it a little different. I just hope the pall that it has cast will not jeopardize what the Pulitzer could mean in helping circulate my music.”
Grant Peterson mentioned that, in that regard, the episode proved to be a plus — the prize, he mentioned, did increase his father’s identify recognition, and it introduced him extra profitable commissions.
Wayne Turner Peterson was born on Sept. 3, 1927, in Albert Lea, Minn. His father, Leslie, was “a victim of the Depression,” he advised The Associated Press in 1992, who “bounced around from one thing to another”; his mom, Irma (Turner) Peterson, died when he was younger, and he lived together with his grandmother after that, his son mentioned.
His musical potential, which he mentioned got here from his mom’s facet of the household, manifested itself early.
“I became very interested in jazz piano and was a professional jazz musician from the age of 15 on,” he mentioned. “I put myself through college by playing jazz, through three degrees at the University of Minnesota” — a bachelor’s, grasp’s and doctorate, all earned within the 1950s.
He grew to become a professor of music at San Francisco State University in 1960, and taught composition there for greater than 30 years. He lived in San Francisco at his dying.
Mr. Peterson’s profession as a composer started in 1958 with the efficiency of his “Free Variations” by the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (now the Minnesota Orchestra). He composed for orchestras, chamber ensembles and different groupings, typically uncommon ones. “And the Winds Shall Blow,” which had its premiere in Germany in 1994, was described as a fantasy “for saxophone quartet, winds and percussion.” There was additionally his Duo for Viola and Violoncello.
“A nervous, effectively written piece, filled with dark melodies well suited to these lower string instruments, the duo builds to a fast and exciting climax,” Michael Kimmelman wrote in The Times when the work was carried out on the 92nd Street Y in 1988.
Mr. Peterson thought it vital for a composer to take heed to others’ works, throughout a variety.
“I don’t limit myself to any one group of composers,” he advised The San Francisco Chronicle in 1991. “I try to listen to everything, and if I hear anything I like, it gets distilled in my psyche and comes out somewhere in my music.”
His love of jazz additionally discovered its approach into his compositions, together with “The Face of the Night, the Heart of the Dark.”
“There’s a lot of syncopation you can associate with jazz,” he mentioned of that work, “but this isn’t a jazz piece.”
It was given its premiere in October 1991 by the San Francisco Symphony. George Perle, the chairman of the Pulitzer jury that really useful the Shapey piece, took pains to reward Mr. Peterson’s composition even amid the controversy.
“It is absolutely worthy of a Pulitzer Prize,” he mentioned in 1992. “But the Pulitzer Prize is supposed to be for the single best work of the year, and on this occasion we felt that there was a work that was more impressive.”
Even Mr. Shapey, who died in 2002 and was identified for being outspoken, got here to view his missed prize with a contact of humor.
“A critic in Chicago started calling me ‘Ralph Shapey, the non-Pulitzer Prize winner,’” he told The Times in 1996. “They’ll have to put that on my tombstone.”
Mr. Peterson’s marriage to Harriet Christensen resulted in divorce within the 1970s. In addition to his son Grant, he’s survived by three different sons, Alan, Craig and Drew, and two grandchildren.
Grant Peterson mentioned that since his father’s dying he had been going via his papers and had been astonished at his productiveness — not simply his roughly 80 completed compositions, however the numerous fragments.
“There’s the stuff that’s bound and finished and published,” he mentioned, “but mixed in with that is the chicken-scratch on yellow tablets. The guy was a music machine.”