Symphony No. 4 ("The Gardens")

for Mixed Chorus, Children's Chorus and Orchestra

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

Performing Ensemble: Chorus with Orchestra
Duration: 28:00
Publisher: Merion Music, Inc.
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

I. Introduction: Litany of Endangered Plants (Chorus and Orchestra)
The text of the first movement consists of the Latin names of some threatened or endangered plants in the exhibit in the W. J. Beal Botanical Garden. This garden provides a living example of our human urge to plant and nurture as well as our capacity to uproot and destroy, and I found myself thinking about it long after the day of my visit to the gardens on the campus of Michigan State. When we understand the symbiotic relationship of humans and plants, as exemplified by ancient medicinal remedies derived from the forest, and our contemporary pharmacology (I was reminded of recent headlines about Taxol being discovered in the bark of a "worthless" tree), it would seem that our human insensitivity to the destruction of our natural heritage is repaid by a terrible foreclosure. Might not the next plant species we allow to vanish forever hold the key to curing a dread human disease? Perhaps this is why, at the musical peak of the first movement it was most natural to let the Latin word ?latifolia? evolve into the word "follia!," recognizable as the source of our English word "folly," and why the end of the movement emphasizes the word "fragilis!" (fragile).

II. Meditation on Living Fossils (Orchestra)
I found the "Living Fossils" exhibit in the Beal garden particularly moving and exciting - the magnificence of the ancient trees; the notion of rebirth; the living continuity with the deep past; the mystery of it all. This inspired a purely musical and personal meditation that became the second movement.

III. A Pastoral Journey (Orchestra, Chorus, Children Playing Handbells)
Rather than a depiction of the many magnificent gardens at Michigan State University, the third movement simply offers a musical celebration of them. For me, this became a kind of spiritual journey parallel to the musical one. Freely adapted from a line in the bible, the text serves as an integral part of the musical exploration.

IV. The Children's Promise (Orchestra, Children's Chorus, Chorus)
The final movement was inspired by the Michigan 4-H Children's Garden, a place of powerful beauty (the replica of Monet's garden at Giverny) and delightful education (the A,B,C garden; the Pizza Garden). I was moved by the care given to helping children understand their need to cherish and preserve the natural world they inherit. I asked Erik LaMont for a short and simple text freely interpreting a Native American lyric for the children's chorus, and used Latin names of plants in the Children's Garden for the adult chorus.

This work was commissioned by Michigan State University in honor of John D. and Dortha J. Withrow. I would like to offer special thanks to the Michigan State University community - especially Will Carlson, Leon Gregorian, Deborah Kinney, Eric Schultz, Jane Taylor, Frank Telewski, and Kathy Walsh. Above all, I would like to thank James Forger, director of the School of Music, and the Withrows for making this all happen, and, not least, for our friendship that has grown in the course of it. My Symphony No. 4, "The Gardens" is dedicated, with affection, to Jack and Dottie Withrow.

Scores & Parts

Symphony No. 4 ("The Gardens") - Full Score - Study

Additional Information

Commission Commissioned by John and Dortha Withrow.
Composition Date 1999
Orchestration SATB Chorus, Children's Chorus; 3(Picc.) 3(E.H.) 3(B.Cl.) 3(Cbsn.) - 4 3 3(B.Tbn.) 1; Timp. 3Perc. Str.
Premiere February 5th, 2000. Michigan State University Orchestra, Choral Ensembles & Children?s Chorus, Leon Gregorian, Conductor. Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan.


I. Introduction: Litany of Endangered Plants
II. Meditation on Living Fossils
III. A Pastoral Journey
IV. The Children's Promise

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