Lewis Spratlan Obituary
Lewis Spratlan, 82, Peter R. Pouncey Professor of Music, Emeritus, died on February 9, 2023, in Lumberton NJ from Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. His son Dan was holding his hand as music sung by his wife Melinda played at his bedside.
Lewis Spratlan was born and raised in Miami FL. As a young oboist, he gained great insight into instrumental sound by sitting with his teacher in the wind section of the Miami Symphony. He graduated from Yale College in 1962 and received his Master of Music from Yale in 1965. His composition teachers included Gunther Schuller and Mel Powell. The 1960s were full of rules about composition that Lew found restrictive. Rumor has it that a member of the degree jury almost put the kibosh on passing this upstart.
Lew taught music composition and theory, special courses on Beethoven and others, and coached chamber music for 36 years at Amherst College. He was the founding conductor of the Amherst Mount Holyoke Orchestra and acting director of the Amherst College Orchestra. Even as he taught, played oboe in various performances, and was father to three children, he managed to write at least one major composition during January break and summer vacation. When he retired from Amherst in 2006, the floodgates opened, and work after work poured from his imagination. When he and Melinda moved to the Lumberton campus of Medford Leas in February 2019 to be closer to family, his imagination leapt into another gear, and he composed over a dozen new works before his death.
A splendid teacher, Lew always encouraged his students to find their own voice, but he also insisted on their knowing what came before. Form, pacing, recognition, anticipation, rhythmic energy. A lot of listening gave his students a solid musical background on which to base their own music. It wasn't enough that it sounded nice. It had to have meaning to add to the larger context.
Even though Lew's mantra in his later years was to write what he, Lew, wanted to hear, he still instinctively followed his own rules. His music was full of passion and energy and humor. He developed his own particular harmonic language. It was certainly not tonal, but it kept you listening as he would tweak it just enough so that what you heard was often unexpected, and beautiful.
A well recognized and widely played composer, Lew received the Pulitzer Prize in music in 2000 for a concert version of Act Two of his opera "Life Is A Dream". A full production of the opera was realized at the Santa Fe Opera in 2010. Other honors included Guggenheim, Rockefeller, National Endowment for the Arts, and MacDowell Fellowships, as well as the Charles Ives Opera Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Lew is survived by his wife of 57 years, Melinda: son Jacob Spratlan of Worcester MA; daughter Lydia DeBona and her husband Matthew, and daughter Alexis of Tampa FL; and son Daniel, his wife Jacquie, and daughter Amelia of Medford NJ. A memorial service for Lew will be held in Johnson Chapel on the campus of Amherst College on May 13, 2023. Memorial gifts may be made in support of a recording of his Symphony #1 by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, under the direction of Gil Rose, to finish a CD of his music that already has his Chamber Symphony recorded and waiting. Lew finished his first symphony 4 months before he died, and it was an accomplishment very dear to his heart.
as published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, February 21, 2023