Page 12 North Carolina School of the Arts
ChanceUor’s Opera To Be Spring Spectacular:
In 1966, after Vittorio Giannini, the first president of the school, had
died, Robert Ward was appointed as President. Other than the fact that
he won the Pulitzer Prize for the “Crucible”, what do we know about
him; this man who comes to school by day and leaves by night; this
man of a thousand faces; this veritable enigma of human design; what,
in truth, do we know about him?
Absolutely nothing. (Well, naturally, with even the best of intentions
one can exaggerate.) Luckily, this poor, underpaid reporter was able,
while staying well within the confines of the law, to scrape up a few
facts of less than doubtful repute regarding our mentor. Here they are:
Ward was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on Sept. 13, 1917. From the
Cleveland public schools he went to the Eastman School of Music
where he studied composition under Bernard Rogers and Howard
Hanson. Then, at the Juilliard Graduate School, he studied composition
with Frederick Jacobi and conducting with Albert Stoessel Schenk-
In 1942, after working with Aaron Copland at the Berkshire Music
Center, he entered the Army and became leader of the 7th Infantry
Division band, with which he spent several years in the Pacific. He was
awarded the bronze star for his service in the army.
While stationed in Hawaii, he met Mary Raymond Benedict, a high
school teacher of speech, dramatics, and English literature, who had
gone to the Pacific as a Red Cross worker. They were married in
Hawaii. Mrs. Ward has collaberated with husband on the texts of some
of his choral works.
After his Army service. Ward taught at Columbia and then at the
Juilliard School, where he was assistant to the president from 1954-56.
In the latter year he became Executive Vice- President of Galaxy
Music Corp., a position that brought him a wide acquaintance among
composers, conductors and performers all over the world.
These teaching and publishing activities, however, did not keep him
from composing. Many of Ward’s works were written on commission,
during his two years as a Guggenheim fellow, or under a grant from
the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In addition to being the
conductor of the Doctor’s Orchestral Society for five years, Ward has
been a guest conductor with many orchestras in the United States and
abroad, and he was the first American composer ever to conduct a
premiere of his opera in a German opera house. This occurred when
“The Crucible” was presented at the Heissisches - Staats Theater in
Wiesbaden in 1963.
When the New York City Opera gave the premiere of “The Crucible”
on October 25,1961, the New York Times critic was cool, the Herald-
Tribune critic enthusiastic.
After hearing the opera a second time, Winthrop Sargent wrote in the
New Yorker magazine:
“Again, the beauty, nobility, skill, power and utter sincerity of Mr.
Ward’s music bowled me over. If a finer opera has been written since
the days of Strauss and Puccini, I have not heard it... “The Crucible” is
comparable to the great masterworks of the classic repertory, and I
like to think of its also as an example of the true music of the future. It
is, in short, music of the most inspired sort, written by a master of his
craft.” The opera won not only the Pulitzer Prize but also the New
York Music Critics Circle Citation.
Ward’s other opera is “He Who Gets Slapped”. It is in three acts and
is based on a play by Andreyev. Ward has also written an operetta,
“The Lady From Colorado”.
Ward has also written music for young folks. He wrote “Jonathon
and the Gingery Snare” for the New York Young People’s concerts.
When the New York Philharmonic played it in 1950, Philip Hamburger
in The New Yorker called it a “fetching novelty”.
Some of his more recent works include a string quartet, a cantata for
chorus, orchestra and narrator, and his first concerto for piano and
orchestra which has been recorded by the Stuttgart Orchestra with
Marjorie Mitchell as soloist. He is at present working on a new opera,
commissioned by the New York City Opera, The plot will be taken from
Henrik Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” but instead of occurring in Norway, it
will take place in Charleston, S.C. after the Civil War. It will be called
“Claudia Lagare” and if we’re lucky, it should be ready for per
formance by next season.
Ward’s music has been called typically American. This is because he
has a deep interest in folk song and jazz. But he also acknowledges a
considerable debt to the classic masters and the revolutionary com
posers of the present century.
“Now as in the past,” he says about his own musical outlook, “ a
composer must find a way to express some part at least of the society
into which it has been his fate to be bom... Hence, whether we like it or
not, my generation will have the task of reworking the materials which
the revolution has given us while at the same time reapplying the basic
p-inciples which have again been clarified.”