Partitia for 8 Voices, a composition performed by an a cappella group, has won the Pulitzer Prize for Music. This is the first time in the prize’s history that the award has been given to an a cappella group. Caroline Shaw, who is also the youngest person to ever receive the Pulitzer Prize for Music at just 30 years old, composed the four-part work.
Partitia for 8 Voices is performed by Shaw and her a cappella group, Roomful of Teeth. While the suite includes some traditional elements of a cappella music, it is largely experimental. It has four movements: “Allemande,” “Sarabande,” “Courante,” and “Passacaglia,” which also happen to be the names of four Baroque dances. In the movements, Shaw combines harmonies and melodies with other vocalization, including spoken word, whispers, gasps, sighs, grunts, and more.
Shaw is a violinist, vocalist, and composer. Partitia for 8 Voices does not include “lyrics,” though its movements do include narration. Its musical score is also experimental, and a preview of the score for “Allemande” reveals the absence of a key signature and clef, with spaces on the staff blanked out to include narration. In the intro for the third movement, “Courante,” there is even a lack of traditional notes as we understand them, having instead been replaced by different symbols based on type of vocalization. The tempo is listed as “silk shoes gliding over marble mosaic,” which gives the music reader an artistic, ethereal sense of the music’s feel.
According to Shaw, Partitia for 8 Voices was “born of a love of surface and structure, of the human voice, of dancing and tired ligaments, of music, and of our basic desire to draw a line from one point to another.” All that and more are readily apparent upon listening to the four-part suite.
It’s no surprise that groups like Roomful of Teeth, who are experimental and stunning by design, are beginning to be in higher demand among musically inclined intellectuals. Music like Shaw’s composition is strange, arresting, and beautiful, and it seems people are ready to hear more.
Partitia for 8 Voices is available for free streaming on Spotify. Free previews can be found on Amazon and iTunes, while the full 26-minute suite is available for purchase.