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Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

Publisher: AMP

Passages (for voice and orchestra) (1982)
Text Writer
A. R. Ammons
Margun Music
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Year Composed
25 Minutes
Programme Note
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich Passages (for voice and orchestra) (1982)
Passages was commissioned by the Boston Musica Viva, Richard Pittman, conductor, who premiered the work in January 1982 with Janice Felty as the soprano soloist. Scored for flute doubling alto flute and piccolo, clarinet doubling bass clarinet, violin, viola, cello, piano and percussion (marimba, vibraphone, orchestra bells, crotales, hand bell, tuned gongs, large gong, suspended cymbal, sizzle cymbal, tam tam, tom toms, pedal bass drums, timpani, and mark tree). Passages is based on poems by A.R. Ammons.

A.R. Ammons's poetry holds profound meaning for me. The six poems I chose for this cycle are short, simple and direct, each having, I felt, room for music to grow and contribute weight and meaning. I aimed to achieve in my settings of those simple texts, something of the complexity and richness of Ammons' longer poems.

Beginning with the opening line of "Eyesight" ('It was May before my attention came to spring...') and concluding with the last line of the final poem, "Way To Go," ('this is the world we have: take it') the entire cycle represents a kind of existential encounter in which the poet, singer and musicians confront various forms of the passage of time; the passing of life and reflection on its meaning. Passages (my title) was conceived as a dramatic whole with the six poems and three interludes leading up to and away from the central poem, "Consignee," the poet's encounter with death.

In the three Interludes, the second of which is as long as any of the poem settings and is dramatically crucial in setting up the poem "Consignee," the singer performs wordlessly (on syllables from the international phonetic alphabet), assuming an "instrumental" function. While the instrumentalists, throughout the work, are not only involved in the musical development of ideas, they are used dramatically as well, evoking images found in the poems; sometimes recalling key ideas or images; occasionally anticipating the text, somewhat in the manner of a Greek Chorus. What I feel as the music inherent in Ammons' poetry, I have tried to mirror in opening my music to dramatic impulses.

--Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's Passages for soprano and chamber ensemble glowed with affection for A.R. Ammons' poetry, with instruments buoyantly sustaining and connecting its verbal rhythms, its images intensified by a bright, concise, resilient use of timbre. It is music with a soundly argued quality, steeped in a craftmanship one instinctively trusts.
Richard Buell, The Boston Globe,01/01/0001
It's a setting of six A.R. Ammons lyrics, with interludes in which the voice becomes an eighth instrument. It's fresh, bright, charming, intimate — a small recital in itself. Hearing it was like making a new friend who is at once the poet, the composer, and the singer.
Andrew Porter, The New Yorker,01/01/0001
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