Dr. Robert E. Ward
The University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) family is mourning the loss of Dr. Robert E. Ward, the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer who was among the founders of the school and served as its President (and later, Chancellor) from 1967-74.
Ward died in the early morning hours of April 3, 2013, at his home in Durham. He was 95.
A composer of music in a wide variety of genres, Ward’s most enduring and well-known work is The Crucible, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1962. In 2011, he received a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Opera Honors, the nation’s highest award in opera.
Ward was UNCSA’s second top administrator, becoming President upon the death of Vittorio Giannini. During his tenure, he oversaw the integration of the School of the Arts into the University of Carolina system. At that point, his title changed to Chancellor.
“UNCSA owes a fundamental debt to Robert Ward,” said Chancellor John Mauceri. “The school was only a year and a half old when Vittorio Giannini passed away. It was left to Robert Ward to make the idea a functioning reality, which is exactly what he did.”
Ward initiated UNCSA’s International Music Program and International Dance Program, both of which endured for years. He oversaw the creation of the School of Design and Production and the high school Visual Arts Program. He helped lay the foundations for Piedmont Opera, which remains closely tied to UNCSA. While he was Chancellor, Ward taught composition in the School of Music. He continued to teach from 1975-79, after stepping down as Chancellor.
Longtime friend Chancellor Emeritus Alex C. Ewing said, “It was the great good fortune of the North Carolina School of the Arts that Dr. Robert Ward was here to become its first Chancellor after President Giannini died.
“Bob Ward was a wise, compassionate, energetic leader, as well as an eminent composer and champion of the arts,” Ewing continued. “We all still look up to him as a founding father and pillar of the school.”
Mauceri said Ward’s legacy lives on not only in the unique school that he nurtured, but throughout the world, whenever his symphonies, chamber music, and operas are performed. “The musical language the world has come to understand as American is due in part to the music and tireless work of Robert Ward,” Mauceri said. “Ward’s operas, performed around the world, continue to tell American tales in an American voice: Robert Ward’s voice.”
Trustee Emeritus and UNCSA founder Thomas S. Kenan, III, recalled that he saw Ward in February, when the North Carolina Symphony performed the composer’s works at Memorial Hall in Chapel Hill. “He was on the front row, stood up and took a bow and was greeted by many after the performance,” Kenan said. “He truly loved UNCSA and his time spent as Chancellor. An era has passed.”
Faculty-artist Kenneth Frazelle, who studied under Ward as a high school student in the School of Music, said his mentor “had the courage and commitment to write the music he loved, despite the critical or academic trends of the time. His music is direct, deeply felt, and profoundly American, and will endure in its fine craftsmanship and generous open-heartedness.
“Ward’s artistry and insight are alive everywhere that one of his students teaches,” Frazelle continued. “Just yesterday in my classes I passed on words of wisdom from Bob Ward no less than three times.”
Frazelle noted that the four years he spent studying with Ward “will always remain among my fondest and most musically illuminating memories.”
Ward is survived by his five children. His wife of 62 years, Mary Ward, died in 2006.
Robert E. Ward, composer, conductor, administrator, educator, and publishing executive, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on Sept. 13, 1917.
He studied theory, orchestration, and piano as a youth and began composing in high school where his early musical influences included Debussy, Ravel, Hindemith, Stravinsky, and jazz. Ward studied composition with Bernard Rogers and Howard Hanson at the Eastman School of Music from 1935 through 1939. He then studied composition with Frederick Jacobi and conducting with Albert Stoessel and Edgar Schenkman at The Juilliard School from 1939 through 1941.
Additional studies in composition occurred with Aaron Copland at the Tanglewood Music Festival in 1940 before entering the military as a bandleader in the US Army from 1942 through 1946.
While serving in the Pacific theater of operations, Ward met Mary Benedict, his wife of 62 years with whom he had five children.
After the war he returned to The Juilliard School and received his Artist Certificate in 1946. Ward taught at Juilliard from 1947 to 1956 where he also headed its development office, and at Columbia University from 1946 to 1958.
He received three Guggenheim Fellowships (1950, 1951, 1966), and was director of the Third Street Music Settlement from 1952 to 1955.
He was a composer of music in a wide variety of musical genres. His most enduring and well-known work, The Crucible, (1961) won the Pulitzer Prize for Music and the New York Music Critics’ Circle Citation Award in 1962 and was composed during his tenure as Executive Vice President/Managing Editor of Galaxy Music Corporation, a position he held from 1956 to 1966.
Ward served on numerous boards of directors, and was a member of various organizations such as the American Symphony Orchestra League, the National Opera Institute, the Rockefeller Fund for Music, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Pulitzer Prize for Music.
Ward was president of the then-North Carolina School of the Arts from 1967 to 1974 and was the Mary Duke Biddle Professor of Music at Duke University from 1979 to 1989. His achievements in composition have garnered four honorary doctorates: from the Peabody Conservatory, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Duke University, and North Carolina State University.
Ward’s catalog of compositions includes eight operas, seven symphonies, three concertos, numerous shorter works for orchestra, music for wind ensemble, compositions for a variety of instrumental chamber groups, two cantatas, various genres for vocal ensembles, and songs for solo voice with accompaniment, among others. His eclectic compositional methods facilitate musical comprehension and reflect various styles used throughout the history of Western art music and, especially in his vocal works, Ward derived both melodic and rhythmic constructions by adapting the syntactic properties of the texts. In this way he achieved a synthesis or internal union of the various expressive elements, thus creating a singular artistic voice within a unified musical structure. Ward’s music is consciously nationalistic and expresses concerns for social and political issues and his interpretation of American idealism.
* Duke Chronicle: Robert Ward remembered as 'vibrant force' in American Music
* UNCSA Press Release: UNCSA Mourns the Loss of Founder Robert Ward
* Winston-Salem Journal: Robert Ward,
former UNC School of the Arts chancellor, dies
* Raleigh News & Observer: Composer, educator Robert Ward dies in Durham
* Durham Herald-Sun: Prize-winning composer Ward dies
* WUNC: Acclaimed NC Composer Robert Ward Dies
* Duke Today: Robert Ward (1917-2013)
* National Public Radio: Remembering Pulitzer Prize-Winning Composer Robert Ward
* New York Times: Robert Ward, Composed Prizewinning 'Crucible' Opera, Dies at 95
*Winston-Salem Journal: Editorial: Art school's founding figure, Robert Ward, will be remembered for his many contributions
NCSA 40th Anniversary Founders Forum (April 22, 2006)
Photographer: Allen Aycock
Special Thanks to the UNCSA Archives for providing many of the photos seen on this page.
Visit the UNCSA Image Archives or the UNCSA Flickr account to see more pictures of Dr. Ward.