Concerto Grosso 1985

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            Zwilich is one of today’s most popular and listenable composers.  She initially studied at Florida State University and then went on to Juilliard, where she worked with luminaries Roger Sessions and Elliot Carter.   She was the first to receive the DMA degree in composition there, and her early works quickly garnered critical acclaim.  Eight years after she was graduated, she became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in music.  While her earlier style was, shall we say, “difficult,” with its emphasis upon dense motivic textures, angular melodies, and atonal harmonies—all typical of “academic” composers of that time—she moved on to a much more accessible style.  Her mature style—while definitely contemporary in technique and expression—is nevertheless direct, appealing, and infused with many elements that are associated with the musical past:  classicism and romanticism.

            Concerto Grosso 1985 obviously stems from that year, and its title refers to the orchestral genre of the 17th and 18th centuries wherein a group of soloists within the orchestra is contrasted with the whole.  Subtitled “to Handel’s Sonata in D for violin and continuo,” Zwilich’s work takes a bit of a melody from Handel’s composition as the basis for all five-movements.  Many listeners will most easily spot the allusions to Handel’s music in the slow movements.  The work was commissioned by the Washington Friends of Handel in commemoration of the 300th anniversary of Handel’s birth.  So, yet again, the evergreen principle in art of “old wine in new bottles” is renewed.

--Wm. E. Runyan

© 2015 William E. Runyan