Winner of the 1983 Pulitzer Prize in Music
Symphony No. 1 grew out of several of my most central music concerns. First, I have long been interested in the elaboration of large-scale works from the initial material. This 'organic' approach to musical form fascinates me both in the development of the material and in the fashioning of a musical idea that contains the 'seeds of the work to follow.'
Second, in my recent works I have been developing techniques that combine modern principles of continuous variation with older (but still immensely satisfying) principles, such as melodic and pitch recurrence and clearly defined areas of contrast.
Finally, Symphony No. 1 was written with great affection for the modern orchestra, not only for its indescribable richness and variety of color, but also for the virtuosity and artistry of its players.
The first movement begins in a contemplative mood, with a 'motto': three statements of a rising minor third, marked accelerando. Each time the 'motto' appears in the first movement, an accelerando occurs, prompting slight evolutions of character until an Allegro section is established. After the Allegro, the movement subsides in tempo and ends as quietly as it began.
Unlike the first movement, the second and third movements are cast in traditional molds, song form and rondo form, respectively. The material is, however, subject to continuous variation.
Throughout the entire Symphony, the melodic and harmonic implications of the first fifteen bars of the first movement are explored. My aim was to create a rich palette and a wide variety of melodic gestures, all emanating from a simple source.
— Ellen Taffe Zwilich