Robert Ward, Composer of The Crucible, Dies at 95

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Robert Ward, whose operatic adaptation of Arthur Miller's The Crucible won a Pulitzer Prize in 1962, died Wednesday in Durham, NC. He was 95 and had been in failing health.

Though a longtime Durham resident, Ward spent the first two decades of his career living in New York City and later Nyack, having attended and later taught at Juilliard. Ward was also on the faculty of Queens College for a period in the 1950s.

New York City Opera gave the premiere in 1961 of The Crucible, which used the Salem witch trials as a metaphor for the McCarthy hearings. With a libretto by Bernard Stambler, its musical style was largely neoromantic, with echoes of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. An immediate critical success, it went on to become one of the most performed operas by an American composer and won all manner of awards.

Tim Page, the former Washington Post classical music critic, wrote in 1999 of The Crucible: “Ward is a skillful and somewhat conservative craftsman, expertly mingling the lyrical and the declamatory with a sure sense of theatrical vector, with only the occasional dissonance and some high, deliberately strenuous vocal writing likely to dismay the timid listener.” He went on to praise its “moral force, structural unity and intellectual probity.”

Ward received a National Endowment for the Arts Opera Honors award in 2011, which recognizes artists for their contributions to opera in the U.S. Along with The Crucible, he wrote another seven operas, seven symphonies and numerous chamber-music and ceremonial pieces. He taught at Duke University from 1979-1987.

Mary Ward, his wife of 62 years, died in 2006. He is survived by his five children.