Photo: Charles Quigg '09
Peter R. Pouncey Professor of Music
Composer, oboist, conductor and teacher Lew Spratlan has found inspiration for his musical compositions in Greek myth (Apollo and Daphne Variations, 1987); Mayan prophecy and prayer (In Memoriam, 1993); Freud’s Wolfman case (Wolves, 1988); crows gathering on a winter’s day (When Crows Gather, 1986); the 17th-century play La Vida Es Sueño, by Pedro Calderón (Life Is a Dream, 1978); and NASA’s Mars rover (Soujourner, 1999)—not to mention his mother-in-law’s love of ragtime, the Charleston and old-time gospel hymns (When Crows Gather).
Over his career as a composer, which he began at the age of eight, Professor Spratlan has explored every musical genre; from medieval chant to jazz, his influences cross cultures, forms and styles. Equally eclectic are the instruments through which he gives his compositions voice—orchestras, choruses, quartets—even the Terpsiptomaton, a string/percussion instrument that he invented using wrought-iron coils and rods, piano strings and ball bearings.
The themes that Professor Spratlan has brought to our ears have often been primordial ones—fathers and sons, fate and free will, dreams and reality—perhaps most magnificently in his opera Life is a Dream. He received the Pulitzer Prize in music in 2000 for a concert version of the second act of this piece, which he had completed 22 years before. Professor Spratlan has also been honored with Guggenheim, National Endowment for the Arts and MacDowell fellowships, among many other awards.
As a teacher, Professor Spratlan is beloved, teaching courses in beginning and advanced composition, electronic music, music theory and music literature. He was the founding conductor of the Amherst-Mount Holyoke Orchestra and has coached chamber music at Amherst since 1970. The composer Scott Wheeler ’73 observes, “Lew demonstrated that a modern concert composer can be hip, smart, engaged and philosophical. As a virtuoso oboist and conductor, he combined intellectual firepower with the flair of the performer. His quick verbal wit and his talents as a raconteur also contributed to his star quality. We all wanted to be like him.”
In his 36 years at Amherst, Lew Spratlan has struck a chord that will continue to resonate. We wish him all the best as he embarks on the next movement of his career.