Joan Tower's Violin concerto : an organic approach to composition

Date
2002-05
Authors
Crawford, Heather A.
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Joan Tower (b. 1938) is a prominent contemporary composer. Her compositional style has evolved slowly over the years, starting with serialism in the 1960s and developing into a more impressionistic style in the 1970s. In 1969, Tower founded the Da Capo Players, which consisted of five instruments: flute, piano, clarinet, violin and cello. She composed many solo and chamber works for the group’s members, working closely with them and learning the possibilities and limitations of the instruments. In 1981, Tower composed her first orchestral piece, Sequoia. In the wake of its success, she was offered the position of composer-inresidence with the St. Louis Symphony in 1985, where she strove to bridge the gap between the composer and performer. Tower won the Grawemeyer Award in 1991 for her piece, Island Prelude, and was the first American and first woman to win the award. Currently she is the composer-in-residence for the orchestra of St. Luke’s, a three-year position that she began in 1999. Even though Joan Tower has won many prestigious awards, her works are not programmed and performed as often as one would expect. This neglect is perhaps due to a lack of information about her and her compositional style. To remedy this lack of information, this treatise presents a biography and surveys the influences on her compositions, including the music of Messiaen, Beethoven, Bartók, Stravinsky and Schoenberg, as well as imagery, poetry and her South American background. The focus then turns to Tower’s Violin Concerto, demonstrating her organic style of writing by showing how the music presented in the first fifteen measures of the piece changes and grows into the material for the entire piece. This treatise concludes with an analytical overview to the Violin Concerto, highlighting specific and important aspects of Joan Tower’s compositional style. The concerto exemplifies Tower’s organic approach to composition not only in developing the particular musical material, but also in unifying all her experiences and influences into an organic whole.

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