top of page

R.I.P. Professor Lewis Spratlan

I was sorry to learn of the passing of my Amherst College music professor, Lewis Spratlan, who was a great composition teacher as well as a Pulitzer Prize winner.

He died in February but I only learned yesterday from the Amherst alumni magazine.

His partner in the Pulitzer-winning opera project was Professor James Maraniss, who died last year. I emailed “Lew” at that time, to say hello and offer my condolences at the loss of his friend, and he wrote back right away and remembered who I was.

I was pretty hopeless as a composition student (or musician, in general) but I studied music because I thought it was responsible, as the publisher of Film Score Monthly, to have a background in it.

I had Professor Spratlan for several semesters and he was terrific: clear, and witty, and entertaining, and always so forthright. We all adored him.

And he was a hell of a composer. Here is one of his pieces:

Sounds pretty big, doesn’t it? It’s for only six pieces.

Another one:

A couple of memories...

One time in our composition seminar he brought in a demo tape (cassettes, in those days) from a student who had applied to Amherst, I believe from a Latin American country. He wanted our take on it. It was very primitive and abstract—I remember it sounded like paper being shredded—but there was something “there” to the 17-year-old’s compositional voice. It actually held your attention, despite the obvious lack of resources. It was an unusual moment to get inside the head of what a great composer hears in somebody else.

Also, this is funny: one of my fellow students, a year younger, was big into musical theater. Very talented, and a super nice guy, but just had no patience or interest in the 20th century styles that Lew taught and loved.

One time this student, after a class or a presentation or something (I forget what) was grumbling how he just couldn’t stand atonal music because “there’s no melody.” Lew, standing 20 feet away, heard and, on a dime, stopped his sentence to whoever he was talking to and loudly sang the (atonal) melody across the foyer and barked, “That’s not a melody?!?”

This brings back all sorts of memories—many of them sad, I’m sorry to say, because one of Lew’s biggest fans was my roommate and best friend at Amherst, Harris Wulfson, who we lost in 2008. We both adored Lew, his wit and outspoken moments (like the above)—and, of course, his music.

Here’s a video I found of him not long before he passed:

This is more how I remember him:

Farewell to a great, great professor, composer and musician.

138 views2 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Popa Razzie71
Popa Razzie71
Jul 29, 2023

Was he inspired by the greats? Jerry John ect hear it in that war piece

Lukas Kendall
Lukas Kendall
Jul 29, 2023
Replying to

In the time I studied with him he didn't seem interested in film. Not dismissive, just didn't seem to talk about it or follow it. You're probably hearing him inspired by the same composers as the film greats you mention.

bottom of page