Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

born on 30/4/1939 in Miami, FL, United States

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich (born April 30, 1939, in Miami, Florida)[1] is an American composer, the first female composer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music. Her early works are marked by atonal exploration, but by the late 1980s she had shifted to a post-modernist, neo-romantic style. She has been called "one of Americas most frequently played and genuinely popular living composers."[2] She was a 1994 inductee into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.[3]


Zwilich began her studies as a violinist earning a B.M. from Florida State University in 1960. She moved to New York to play with the American Symphony Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski. She later enrolled at Juilliard, eventually (in 1975) becoming the first woman to earn the degree of Doctor of Musical Arts in composition.[2] Her teachers included John Boda, Elliott Carter, and Roger Sessions. She first came to prominence when Pierre Boulez programmed her Symposium for Orchestra with the Juilliard Symphony Orchestra in 1975.[4]

Some of her work during this period was written for her husband, violinist Joseph Zwilich. He died in 1979, after which point Taaffe Zwilich refocused her compositional efforts on "communicating more directly with performers and listeners," softening her somewhat harsh, jagged style.[2]

Her Three Movements for Orchestra (Symphony No. 1) was premiered by the American Symphony Orchestra in 1982, and it won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize, after which point her popularity and income from commissions ensured that she could devote herself to composing full-time.[2] From 1995-99 she was the first occupant of the Composer's Chair at Carnegie Hall; while there, she created the "Making Music" concert series, which focuses on performances and lectures by living composers, a series which is still in existence.[5]

She has received a number of other honors, including the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Chamber Music Prize, the Arturo Toscanini Music Critics Award, the Ernst von Dohnányi Citation, an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and four Grammy nominations. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 1999 she was designated Musical Americas Composer of the Year. She is currently a professor at Florida State University, and has served for many years on the Advisory Panel of the BMI Foundation, Inc. In 2009 she became the Chair of the BMI Student Composer Awards following Milton Babbitt and William Schuman. To date she has received six honorary doctorates.[4]

Musical career

Zwilich's compositional style is marked by an obsession with "the idea of generating an entire work large-scale structure, melodic and harmonic language, and developmental processes from its initial motives."[2] In addition to large scale orchestral works like Symbolon (1988), Symphony no.2 (Cello Symphony) (1985), and Symphony no.3 (1992), all of which were commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, she has written a number of notable, smaller-scale concertos for relatively uncommon instruments. These include works for trombone (1988), bass trombone (1989), flute (1989), oboe (1990), bassoon (1992), horn (1993) and trumpet (1994). She has also written a small number of choral works and song cycles.

Some other major works include:

  • Concerto Grosso 1985 (in commemoration of the 300th anniversary of George Frideric Handel's birth)
  • Symphony No. 1 (Pulitzer Prize for Music, 1983)
  • Celebration for Orchestra (1984)
  • Symphony No. 4 "The Gardens" for Chorus, Children's Chorus and Orchestra (commissioned by Michigan State University)
  • Peanuts Gallery (1997)
  • Millennium Fantasy, for Piano and Orchestra (2000; commissioned for Pianist Jeffrey Biegel, project featuring 27 orchestras in the USA; premiere with Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Jesus Lopez-Cobos conductor; recorded for Naxos with the Florida State University Orchestra, Alexander Jimenez conductor
  • Symphony No. 5 (Concerto for Orchestra) (commissioned by The Juilliard School (Premiere October 27, 2008, Carnegie Hall, The Juilliard Orchestra, James Conlon, conductor)
  • Episodes for Soprano Saxophone and Piano (2007)
  • Shadows, for Piano and Orchestra (2011; commissioned for pianist Jeffrey Biegel, 8 orchestras in the USA, Canada and England; premiere with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, Carlos Miguel Prieto conductor; October 28/29, 2011)


  1. Slonimsky, Nicolas (1978). Zwilich, Ellen Taafe Baker's Biographical dictionary of musicians., 6th, p. 1955, New York: Schirmer Books.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Schwartz, K. Robert. "Ellen Taaffe Zwilich." Grove Music Online. Ed. L. Macy. Accessed 20 December 2006. www.grovemusic.com.
  3. Ellen Taaffe Zwilich Florida Artists Hall of Fame
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Ellen Taaffe Zwilich." Theodore Presser Online. Accessed 20 December 2006. Available here
  5. Making Music brochure. Carnegie Hall website. Accessed 20 December 2006. Available here

External links

  • Ellen Taaffe Zwilich at All Music Guide
  • Works by or about Ellen Taaffe Zwilich in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • Ellen Taaffe Zwilich collected news and commentary at The New York Times
  • ENCOUNTERS: Ellen Taaffe Zwilich by George Sturm
  • Interview with Ellen Taaffe Zwilich by Bruce Duffie, January 13, 1986
This page was last modified 13.12.2013 07:41:28

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