WorldView Episode 22: Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

     Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, the first woman ever to win a Pulitzer Prize in Music, is a postmodern composer known for the melodic structure of her large-scale works and the depth of her smaller compositions. Born in Miami, Florida in 1939, Zwilich took up violin at a young age. She studied music at Florida State University and worked with the American Symphony Orchestra before enrolling in  Julliard. One of her first major works, “Symposium for Orchestra”, was performed by the Julliard Symphony Orchestra in 1975; later that same year, Zwilich became the first woman to receive a doctorate of musical arts in composition from the school.

     The composer’s career accelerated with the publication of her first symphony—for which she earned a Pulitzer Prize in Music—in 1982. Zwilich soon began receiving commissions from the San Francisco Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and more. In 1997, she composed “Peanuts® Gallery for piano and orchestra”, a work inspired by Charles Schultz’s Peanuts cartoon and characters. With six movements focused on different characters (including Schroeder, Linus, and Peppermint Patty), the piece was included in a PBS special in 2006. Zwilich herself has featured in several Peanuts strips. 

     Many of Zwilich’s early works were defined by atonality and jagged, abrupt harmonies. However, the death of her husband in 1979 marked a shift towards more smoother melodies and simpler structures. Since then, Zwilich has been nominated for four Grammy Awards and received six honorary doctorates. She currently serves in the Krafft Distinguished Professorship at Florida State and continues to compose and receive commissions. This episode of WorldView features Zwilich’s “Septet for String Quartet and Piano”, her first work for that instrumentation. The piece was composed in 2008, and is performed by the Kalichstein Laredo-Robinson Trio and the Miami String Quartet. 


WorldView Episode Twenty-Two Playlist:

Ellen Taaffe ZWILICH, “Septet for String Quartet and Piano Trio”, {Kalichstein Laredo-Robinson Trio, Miami String Quartet} – Azica

Mel POWELL, “Recitative and Toccata Percossa”,  {Jory Vinikour (harpsichord)} – Sono Luminus

Antonio LAURO, “Suite Venezolana”, {Adam Holzman (gtr)} – Naxos

Bruce MONTGOMERY, “Concertino for String Orchestra”, {Royal Ballet Sinfonia, David Lloyd-Jones} – Naxos


WorldView is a classical music radio show featuring composers from everywhere in the world – except Western Europe. Tune in to hear works by lesser-known artists such as Gabriela Montero  and Bright Sheng, and widen your knowledge of classical music. Hinke Younger hosts each week’s episode of WorldView on Mondays at 9AM and again at 6PM on

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