MacArthur Fellows Program

Ralph Shapey

Composer and Conductor | Class of 1982

Composer and Conductor
Chicago, Illinois
61 at time of award
June 13, 2002
Published August 1, 1982

Ralph Shapey was a composer, a conductor, and a teacher.

Shapey wrote atonal music of a vivid and intense character, often compared to abstract expressionism in the visual arts.  Composing for orchestra, voice, and various chamber ensembles, he wrote and published more than 200 works, including Praise (1962-71), an oratorio for bass-baritone solo, double-chorus and chamber group; Symphonie Concertante (1985), commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra; Centennial Celebration (1991), commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; and Goethe Songs, Soprano and Piano (1995).  Shapey conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Jerusalem Symphony, and other ensembles, and led the London Sinfonietta in a recording of his Rituals for Orchestra.  His compositions, performances, and recordings were chronicled in, A Catalogue of the Works of Ralph Shapey (1996) by Patrick D. Finley.  He won many awards and also wrote the book, A Basic Course in Music Composition (2001).

Shapey was a professor emeritus of music at the University of Chicago and the music director of the Contemporary Chamber Players, which he founded at the university.  He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1994) and to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (1999).

Shapey studied violin with Emanuel Zetlin and composition with Stefan Wolpe.

Last updated January 1, 2005.

Select News Coverage of Ralph Shapey
June 17, 2002
"Avant-Garde Composer Who Dared to Be Difficult"
The Guardian
Ralph Shapey , 1982 MacArthur Fellow
June 14, 2002
"Obituary: Ralph Shapey, 81, Composer Evoking Conflicting Impulses"
The New York Times
Ralph Shapey , 1982 MacArthur Fellow
April 19, 1992
"Classical View; In the Fracas Over a Prize, No One Won"
The New York Times
Ralph Shapey , 1982 MacArthur Fellow
June 16, 1985
"Music Notes; Ralph Shapey Returns"
The New York Times
Ralph Shapey , 1982 MacArthur Fellow
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