Today (Mar. 7) composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich (b. 1939) is being inducted by the Society for American Music as its newest Honorary Member, in a ceremony taking place at the Society’s annual conference. The New Grove Dictionary of Music describes Zwilich “one of America’s most frequently played and genuinely popular living composers.” When I taught music appreciation in the early 1990s, I was delighted to include her as I spanned music history from (Hildegard of) Bingen to Zwilich, and I know others as well who included her on their syllabi.
In 1983, Zwilich was the first woman to receive a Pulitzer Prize in music, for her Symphony No.1. The New York Philharmonic commissioned Zwilich’s Symphony No.3 in celebration of its 150th anniversary. Among her many commissions are ones from the San Francisco Symphony, the 92nd Street Y, and the Library of Congress. Her earlier musical style was more jagged and angular, reminding you that one of her teachers was Elliot Carter. Later pieces have become more accessible and melodic, and her music is always concerned with motivic unity and cohesive formal structure. Zwilich holds a doctorate from Juilliard School, and has received honorary doctorates from many institutions. She is a Professor at Florida State University.
Charles Schultz recognized Zwilich as a pioneering woman in his Peanuts comic strip. Zwilich returned the compliment by writing “Peanuts Gallery” in 1996, immortalizing six characters in music for piano and orchestra. Schultz responded with a Sunday strip that recognized the piece. In the words of Peppermint Patty,
GOOD GOING, ELLEN!
And here is a link to excerpts from Zwilich’s rousing concerto for Clarinet and Chamber Orchestra.