Robert Ward, 95, won Pulitzer for ‘Crucible’

NEW YORK — Robert Ward, an American composer whose best-known work, an operatic setting of Arthur Miller’s drama ‘‘The Crucible,’’ won the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for music, died Wednesday at his home in Durham, N.C. He was 95.

His son Mark confirmed the death.

An opera in three acts with a libretto by Bernard Stambler, Mr. Ward’s ‘‘Crucible’’ was an adaptation of Miller’s Tony Award-winning stage play of 1953, an allegory about the McCarthy witch hunts set amid the historical witch hunts of colonial New England.


Mr. Ward’s opera was given its world premiere by the New York City Opera on Oct. 26, 1961. Conducted by Emerson Buckley, it starred Norman Kelley, Debria Brown, Patricia Brooks, and Spiro Malas.

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Reviewing the premiere, The New York Herald Tribune wrote, ‘‘The sense of life Mr. Ward can inject into even static situations is often remarkable, the result being highly charged, efficient and absorbing musical theater driving relentlessly to a climax.’’

Musically, Mr. Ward was an unapologetic traditionalist, writing lyrical, melodic, and accessible scores that pushed against midcentury’s prevailing atonal tide. Many of his compositions — he wrote seven other operas, as well as orchestral, choral, and chamber works — bore a distinctly American stamp, suffused with the influence of folk songs and jazz.

Robert Eugene Ward was born in Cleveland on Sept. 13, 1917; as a youth, he sang and played the piano. He earned a bachelor’s degree in composition from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, where he studied with the distinguished composer Howard Hanson; he also studied at Tanglewood with Aaron Copland.

After Army service in the Pacific as the conductor of the Seventh Infantry Division Band, Mr. Ward did graduate work in composition and conducting at the Juilliard School.


He became the president of the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem (now the University of North Carolina School of the Arts) in 1967 and was later its chancellor.

Mr. Ward also taught at Juilliard, Duke University, and elsewhere; in the 1950s he was the music director of the Third Street Music School Settlement in New York.

His wife, the former Mary Benedict, died in 2006. Besides his son Mark, he leaves two other sons, Jonathon and Timothy; two daughters, Melinda and Johanna Crecelius; 11 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

In 2011, Mr. Ward was a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Opera Honors award.

His other operas include three with Stambler: ‘‘Pantaloon,’’ given its premiere by the Columbia University Opera Workshop in 1956 and performed by City Opera three years later under the title ‘‘He Who Gets Slapped”; ‘‘The Lady From Colorado,’’ whose first performance was at the Central City Opera House in Colorado in 1964; and ‘‘Claudia Legare,’’ based on Ibsen’s ‘‘Hedda Gabler,’’ first performed by the Minnesota Opera in 1978.