Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra plays Zwilich - First Movement from Symphony No06:57

Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra plays Zwilich - First Movement from Symphony No. 1

Taaffe-Zwilich won the Pulitzer Prize for her Symphony No. 1. She was the first female composer to earn her doctorate in composition from Julliard. Her music is often more traitional, operating under postmodernistic characteristics at times. In many ways, her music is seen as accessible to an audience (Britannica 2014). She kept both the performer and audience in mind when composing, thinking about it like a circle between audience, performers, and composer. Within her music, one may instantly recognizing it as her, identifying her optimism and humanistic qualities.


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Symphony No. 1 is primarily based on a motive or one main musical idea that is constantly developed. It starts at the very beginning of the composition and lasts for around fifteen measures. Taaffe-Zwilich creates this large scale work, in great part, through replication and variation of this original theme. Variation of originial material to create form and a larger work is very common in modern era music. She also uses older principles like pitch reoccurence and contrasting sections to create form. The second and third movement, in particular, follow older forms, song form and rondo form. She uses rich colors, done primarily through sparse selective orchestration. She also pushes players abilities in this piece and her music in general, something common for modern composers due to increasing abilities of musical instruments and musicians. This particular work sounds very much like a movie soundtrack. Chromaticism abounds throughout. 


Meredith Monk's "On Behalf of Nature" uses variation in developing an original theme or pattern, just the same as Taaffe-Zwilich. However, several key differences exist. Monk is clearly within modern ideals, using extended technique for voice and instruments a great deal. She combines different styles and all different mediums for a holistic experience of art. Though both works are very different, they both draw the audience in, though Taaffe-Zwilich's symphony feels more approachable from a traditional standpoint. The color created in both works are very interesting and clearly manipulated to fit the composers desires and mood of the piece.


I really enjoy listening to Taaffe-Zwilich's music. I find her use of rhythm, harmony, and melody very enjoyable to listen to. Though piece uses contant material, simply with variations, she nevertheless succeeds in making it very interesting. I also appreciate that one of her desires, as a composer in the modern period, was for her music to be accessible to an audience.

Works CitedEdit

"Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra Plays Zwilich- First Movement."  YouTube video, 6:56. Posted by "MB7classical." upload November 6, 2011.

Ellen Taaffe Zwillixh. (2014). In Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from

Taaffe-Zwilich, Ellen. (1982). "Symphony No. 1". [Musical Score]

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