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American Composers and Musicians from A to Z: X-Z (Part 1–Zwilich, Ellen Taaffe and Mana-Zucca)

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Black and white glass negative showing Mana-Zucca, or Augusta Zuckerman, wearing a large hat and looking away from the camera.
Augusta Zuckerman. Glass negative by the Bain News Service, 8/13/09. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

Greetings, music lovers! Well, we’ve reached the end of the line in our series American Composers from A to Z. This week we’ll learn about two composers who may be last in alphabetical order but are certainly neither last nor least in our estimation and appreciation. And in honor of Women’s History Month, we’ve selected composers who are women. Let’s celebrate!

Mana-Zucca (1885-1981)

Gussie Zuckermann (or Augusta, according to some sources) was born in New York City and from an early age displayed enormous talent on the piano. The pianist and teacher Alexander Lambert mentored her and in 1902 she played an arrangement of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody no. 14 (BRM35577) in a concert series for young people at Carnegie Hall. She adopted “Mana-Zucca” as a stage name and pseudonym. During her 20s, she spent several years in Europe, where she met prominent musicians, gave concert tours, and wrote vivid sketches of musical luminaries such as Teresa Carreño and Ferruccio Busoni that were published in American music magazines. She was also a talented singer and performed in Franz Lehár’s operetta Der Graf von Luxemburg in London in 1919. Among the most photographed women of her time, she was dubbed the “Cécile Chaminade of America.” In 1915 upon her return to the U.S., her attention turned to publishing her musical compositions. A catalog of her published works lists about 390 titles, including operas, concertos, 172 songs, chamber works, and pedagogical pieces. Mana-Zucca had a talent for crafting melodies, and her best-known works are the songs she wrote that were performed by notable singers of the day, including Amelita Galli-Curci. Her song “I Love Life,” for which her husband wrote lyrics, gained the most popularity. She also wrote songs with Yiddish texts that were dramatic set-pieces, and several of her orchestral works received performances by symphony orchestras during her lifetime. To learn more about this composer, visit the Mana-Zucca Collection at Florida International University.

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich (1939-)

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich began writing music at an early age and studied violin, piano, and trumpet in her younger years. After earning Bachelor and Master degrees in Music from Florida State University, from 1965-72 she played violin under the baton of Leopold Stokowski in New York City’s American Symphony Orchestra. In 1975 she became the first woman to earn a Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) in Composition from Juilliard, where she studied with American composers Elliott Carter and Roger Sessions. That same year Pierre Boulez selected her Symposium for Orchestra for performance by the Juilliard Symphony. In 1983 Zwilich rose to international prominence when she became the first female composer to receive the Pulitzer Prize in music for her Symphony no. 1. Since then her music has continued to be performed, recorded, and broadcast.

While her early compositions were characterized by jagged melodies and atonal harmony, she employed a simpler and more accessible musical language in the 1980s and 1990s as she became concerned with communicating more directly with performers and audiences. Her mature compositions have been described as neo-romantic, neo-classic, and postmodern. In Grove Music Online, K. Robert Schwarz has written, “…Zwilich has employed traditional motivic materials (triads, scales, arpeggios) within classical multi-movement structures, underpinned by recognizable thematic recurrences….Her orchestral works, the bulk of her more recent output, exude a dark-hued intensity reminiscent of Shostakovich and possess a directness of utterance that has made Zwilich popular with audiences and performers alike.” She has composed in nearly every classical genre, including works for orchestra, chorus, chamber ensembles, voice, and keyboard. She has also written concertos for less expected instruments, including trombone, bass trombone, trumpet, bassoon, and oboe.

From 1995-99, Zwilich held the inaugural Carnegie Hall Composer’s Chair and created a series of concerts and interviews with composers called “Making Music.” She recorded in-depth conversations with composers including Ned Rorem, Pierre Boulez, and Elliott Carter, and these are available to enjoy on the Library of Congress website. Zwilich herself was interviewed for the series as well.

A delightful story I encountered while researching Ellen Taaffe Zwilich was how she composed a concerto for piano and chamber orchestra inspired by the Peanuts comic strip. The cartoonist Charles Schulz became a fan of Zwilich and published a Peanuts comic in 1990 that expressed support for her as a female composer. Later, when Zwilich was composer in residence at Carnegie Hall, she decided to write a Peanuts-inspired work for a children’s concert. The Peanuts Gallery concerto has movements such as “Snoopy Does the Samba” and “Peppermint Patty and Marcie Lead the Parade.”

To borrow any of the following titles related to this post, you may either download them from BARD or request a hard copy through the mail. Please contact the NLS Music Section to borrow hard copies of braille music, talking books on digital cartridge, or large-print music. Call us at 1-800-424-8567, or e-mail us at [email protected] for assistance.

Audio: Talking Books

To keep the celebration of Women’s History Month going, the following is a list of music appreciation talking books about composers and musicians who happen to be women. The NLS Music Section recently added these programs to its collection in cooperation with the Library of Congress Music Division.

A Leading Role: A Conversation on Women in the Music World. A panel discussion from 2015 featuring Jane Chu, Margaret Lioi and Astrid Schween. Astrid Schween is cellist with the Juilliard String Quartet. Margaret Lioi is CEO of Chamber Music America. Jane Chu is chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Arts. The conversation was moderated by Anne McLean of the Music Division, Library of Congress. (DBM04290)

Iola Brubeck . Iola Brubeck was a radio broadcaster, actress and journalist who studied at the College of the Pacific and married Dave Brubeck in 1942. She worked as Dave’s manager and publicist, wrote lyrics to many of his songs and collaborated with him on writing “The Real Ambassadors,” a musical theater piece starring Louis Armstrong and Carmen McRae. (DBM04292)

Nightcap Conversation with Meredith Monk. The visionary artist Meredith Monk’s groundbreaking exploration of the voice as an instrument expands the boundaries of musical composition, creating landscapes of sound that unearth feelings, energies, and memories for which there are no words. (DBM04288)

Preconcert Interview with Jennifer Higdon. Composer Jennifer Higdon discusses her viola concerto, which was commissioned in part by the Library of Congress. (DBM04289)

Women Composers Hiding in Plain Sight. Melissa Wertheimer explores the careers and Library primary sources related to composers Amy Beach, Gena Branscombe, Phyllis Fergus, Ethel Glenn Hier, Mary Turner Salter and Harriet Ware, who were photographed in Washington, D.C., during the League of American Pen Women’s biennial convention. (DBM04291)

An Introduction to the Music of Clara Schumann. David Plylar discusses the music of Clara Schumann and the ways in which it intersects at times with the music of her husband, Robert. (DBM04225)

Braille Music Scores

In addition, the following braille music scores are related to this post:

Liszt, Franz. Complete Hungarian Rhapsodies. For piano in bar over bar format (BRM35577)

Lehár, Franz. Mädel klein, Mädel fein: Lied für eine Singstimme mit Klavierbegleitung aus der operette Der Graf von Luxemburg. For voice and piano in paragraph format. (BRM25027)

Lehár, Franz Luxemburg-Walzer: nach Motiven der Operette Der Graf von Luxemburg. For piano in section by section format. (BRM27545)

Sessions, Roger. From My Diary. For piano in bar over bar format. (BRM22014)

Sessions, Roger. Scherzino. For piano in bar over bar format. (BRM28894)

Rorem, Ned. O you whom I often and silently come. For high voice and piano in line by line and bar over bar formats. (BRM27322)

Rorem, Ned. Poems of Love and the Rain: Song Cycle for Mezzo Soprano and Piano. Line by line and bar over bar formats. (BRM25256)

Rorem, Ned. Women’s Voices: Eleven Songs for Soprano and Piano. Line by line and bar over bar formats. (BRM26480)

Zwilich, Ellen Taaffe. Symphony no. 1, First Movement. See volume 20 of BRM36037.

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