With over 200 compositions to his credit, Charles Wuorinen is one of the most prolific contemporary American composers. Born in 1938, he studied at Columbia University, where he worked with Otto Luening, Vladimir Ussachevsky, and Jack Beeson. A major presence in American music for over four decades, Wuorinen has taught at numerous schools, including Columbia, Princeton, the New England Conservatory, the Manhattan School of Music, Yale, and SUNY Buffalo. He has been on the faculty of Rutgers University since 1984. He has won numerous awards, such as the Lili Boulanger Memorial Award, the 1970 Pulitzer Prize (for Time's Encomium), and a McArthur Fellowship, to name a few.
Wuorinen's music is uniquely serial, and primarily 12-tone in nature. His major influences are the modernist European school, namely Schoenberg, though the influence of late Stravinsky and Babbitt are also unmistakable. Much of his music requires extreme virtuosity on the part of the performer, such as his Chamber Concertos, which typically include wide leaps, extreme dynamic contrasts, and a rapid exchange of pitches. Fractal geometry and the mathematical theories of Benoit Mandelbrot have influenced works such as Bamboula Squared and the Natural Fantasy for organ.
However, Wuorinen's later music begins to demonstrate tonal relationships, though to a limited degree, such as pitch-centered openings and conclusions, octave doublings, and timbral transpositions of thematic ideas. His music also evolved to include clear rhythmic relationships -- his earlier works avoided this characteristic -- and his melodies also became more conjunct in nature.
Wuorinen's music continues to evolve, with later works such as the Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra and New York Notes containing further rhythmic clarity, more recognizable melodic structures and clearer orchestration. Clearly this is not the style of the same composer as was found in his earlier works. His most recent works include Symphony Seven, a Piano Quintet for Ursula Oppens, and a Percussion Quartet.
Wuorinen is also the author of Simple Composition a useful text for composers who are beginning to use 12-tone techniques. Wuorinen has also been active as a pianist and has conducted his own works, as well as those of other contemporary composers, with many of major orchestras in the United States. In 1962, Wuorinen co-founded The Group for Contemporary Music, an ensemble dedicated to the performance of new chamber music. With his already impressive resume, extremely prolific output, and evolving but unique style, it is sure that Charles Wuorinen will be remembered for his numerous contributions to music, serialism and beyond.