Wolf Prize Laureate in Music 2018
Sir Paul McCartney
“The Orpheus of our era”
Sir Paul McCartney is one of the greatest songwriters of all time. His versatility underlies an extraordinary wingspan, from the most physical rock to melodies of haunting and heartbreaking intimacy. His lyrics have an equally broad range, from the naive and the charming to the poignant and even desperate. He has touched the hearts of the entire world, both as a Beatle and in his subsequent bands, including Wings. Like all great art, his melodies are both of their time and beyond time: today a third generation finds itself under the spell of his invidious imagination. There is little doubt that his songs, like those of the great classical masters Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Fauré, Debussy and Ravel, and like those of his more modern predecessors (among them Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and George Gershwin) will be sung and savored as long as there are human beings to lift up their voices.
On July 6, 1957, Paul McCartney met John Lennon at Woolton Village Fete and joined his skiffle group, the Quarrymen, which, after several name changes, became the Beatles. McCartney and Lennon quickly established themselves as songwriters for the group, and, by the time the Beatles signed with EMI-Parlophone in 1962, they were writing most of their own material. By their third album the group stopped recording covers. Lennon and McCartney’s songwriting partnership was very important to them, both financially and creatively; even in 1969, when they were estranged over business matters and supposedly not on speaking terms, Lennon brought McCartney his song The Ballad of John and Yoko. Their music transcended personal differences.
Though usually associated with ballads and love songs, McCartney also was responsible for many of the Beatles’ harder rock songs, such as Lady Madonna, Back in the USSR, and Helter Skelter (all 1968), but above all he has an extraordinary gift for melodies and sometimes tags an entirely new one on to the end of a song, as he did with Hey Jude (1968).
The Beatles ceased playing live shows in 1966. After their breakup in 1970, McCartney recorded two solo albums, McCartney (1970) and Ram (1971), before forming the band Wings with his wife Linda (formerly Linda Eastman). Wings toured the world and became the best-selling pop act of the 1970s, with an astonishing 27 U.S. Top 40 hits and five consecutive number one albums, including the highly acclaimed Band on the Run (1973) and Wings at the Speed of Sound (1976).
Critics loved his 1989 album, Flowers in the Dirt, which coincided with his return to live performance. In 1997 McCartney was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for services to music.
In 2001 a volume of his poetry, Blackbird Singing, which also included some song lyrics, was published. McCartney celebrated his 62nd birthday in Russia in 2004, playing his 3,000th concert to an audience of 60,000 people in St. Petersburg.
With some 60 gold records and sales of more than 100 million singles in the course of his career, McCartney is arguably the most commercially successful performer and composer in popular music. The 1965 Beatles track Yesterday (wholly written by McCartney and performed alone with a string quartet) has been played some six million times on U.S. radio and television, far outstripping its nearest competitor. Moreover, with over 3,000 cover versions, it is also the most-recorded song ever. In 2009 the U.S. Library of Congress announced that McCartney would be awarded its Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
More than a rock musician, McCartney is now regarded as a British institution; an icon like warm beer and cricket, he has become part of British identity