The 97th annual class of Pulitzer Prize winners was announced late yesterday, and the Pulitzer Prize for Music has been awarded to a composition for unaccompanied voices for what appears to be, according to a Pulitzer spokesperson, the first time in the its 70-year history. Caroline Shaw's winning work Partita for 8 Voices is, well... tough to characterize—maybe the best way to describe it would be "music as we know it, and then some."
In its four movements—"Allemande," "Sarabande," "Courante," and "Passacaglia," named for Baroque dances—the partita combines rich, closely stacked harmonies with elements of spoken narration and atonal vocalization patterns like whispers, grunts, croaks, sighs, and gasps. (A heads-up about the vaguely NSFW third movement: Even though Shaw's melodies don't have lyrics, keep some headphones handy if you're cubicle-bound!)
Shaw, a 30-year-old violinist, vocalist, and composer, is the youngest-ever recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music, and she composed the suite for and with her a cappella group Roomful of Teeth.
Here's a live performance—the group's first show together as Roomful of Teeth—of Partita's fourth and final movement, "Passacaglia":
Shaw's surprisingly gorgeous, sometimes jarring collection of mouth noises often doesn't sound like music in the conventional sense—and it doesn't look like it, either. The score for Shaw's Partita, excerpts of which can be viewed on her website, offer a glimpse into how exactly a non-traditional work like this one comes together.