Richard Wernick has been one of the most successful American composers of his generation, having garnered a Pulitzer Prize, two Kennedy Center Friedheim first prizes, and composition grants from the Ford Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts. Wernick has written many large compositions, including symphonies, various concertos, and other orchestral works, and many film and ballet scores. He has also composed string quartets, trios, and much other chamber music, solo piano works, and various vocal and choral pieces. Wernick's music has generally been in demand, despite his uncompromising style: he has generally eschewed twelve-tone techniques, finding favor with late-Romantic forms and producing music exhibiting a sort of Romanticized post-Schoenbergian spirit. Thus, his 1984 Violin Concerto and 1990 Piano Concerto, two of his more popular scores, come across as challenging to the average listener alright, but appealing as well in their long lines and relatively uncomplicated but fresh harmonies. Wernick's works have been widely performed and recorded over the years and have been issued not only on smaller, progressive labels like Innova, Bridge, CRI, and Centaur, but on more mainstream labels like DG and Vox.
Richard Wernick was born in Boston, MA, on January 16, 1934. He enrolled at Brandeis University and had later studies at Mills College (from 1957) and at Tanglewood. His list of teachers is impressive: Aaron Copland, Ernst Toch, Boris Blacher, Irving Fine, Harold Shapero, and Leon Kirchner. While studying composition in the 1950s he also took conducting lessons from Leonard Bernstein and Seymour Lipkin and worked in film and television, producing many incidental scores. His earliest large compositions began appearing in the 1950s and included the 1954 incidental score to A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Wernick also taught music, first serving on the faculty at SUNY, Buffalo and then at the University of Chicago. From 1968-1996 he taught music at the University of Pennsylvania. During his 32-year tenure there Wernick produced his most enduring scores, including Visions of Terror and Wonder (1976), for mezzo-soprano and orchestra, which received the Pulitzer Prize the following year, and the 1993 Second Symphony.
Wernick has remained active in composition since his 1996 retirement, producing such works as Music da Camera (1999), for chamber ensemble. In 2006 Wernick received the Composer of the Year Award from the Classical Recording Foundation, funds from which subsidized the 2009 Bridge CD Music of Richard Wernick, which contained works for guitar and chamber ensemble.