A trailblazer is an innovator that carves their own path, not knowing what lies ahead, yet determined to shine a light for those who choose to follow. Welsh-born composer Hilary Tann was the embodiment of this idea, an artist that persisted in making meaningful music despite the odds, whose work went on to be performed worldwide, and to international acclaim.
Tann passed shortly before an upcoming recording session with Trio Casals, who performed two of her compositions — Nothing Forgotten and Seven Poems of Stillness — for an upcoming Navona Records album of cello-centric works inspired by poetry and art.
“An incredible tragedy, we lost Hilary Tann way too soon,” said Trio Casals cellist Ovidiu Marinescu via Twitter. “And to think that I’ve been living with her music for the last few months, her loss creates a terrible wound.”
Tann was highly regarded as a prolific composer whose work evoked a range of natural settings that she loved to visit, from the quiet reverie of the Adirondack forest to the lush valleys of her native Wales.
Reviewing a 2020 recording by the Sirius Quartet of Tann’s 2014 quartet And the Snow Did Lie, Times Union classical critic Joseph Dalton wrote, “Tann’s music is shimmering and weightless, effective and moving.” He continued, “the central portions of the piece are rich with tunes that spill out in a flow more generous than deliberate, still sweet and rapturous… reinforcing the grounded spiritual ecstasy that is Tann’s distinctive musical outlook.”
AND THE SNOW DID LIE
Released in 2020 on Navona Records, the music of AND THE SNOW DID LIE is broken into three movements, each depicting a season in the bleak northern landscape, a multimedia artwork to be appreciated by both the eyes and the ears.
Hear the Sirius Quartet perform And the Snow did Lie here:
Tann’s catalog of music with Navona Records dates back to 2017 with the release of EXULTET TERRA. Performed by Cappella Clausura, an ensemble founded by Amelia LeClair in 2004 to research, study and perform the music of women composers, Tann’s Navona Records debut drew inspiration from old texts to create ethereal choral works. Amplified by LeClair’s unique arrangements and passionate interpretations, this collaboration delivered a body of work that was supremely beautiful and unique.
With an avid love for poetry and its intersection with music, Tann chose two points of inspiration for her piece On Ear and Ear: the first few notes of Milton Babbitt’s 1950 Composition for Viola and Piano, and the poem The Sea and the Skylark by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Featured on the Fischer Duo’s 2020 VISIONS, Tann’s On Ear and Ear vividly captures the motion of both waves and flight in a hypnotic vision of the natural world.
“Tann graciously made a version for cello and piano for us, and we have embraced it fully,” said the duo. “Not only for the way in which she captures the instruments and sounds but also the way it feels when we play it, drawing us into the center of her universe.”
In conjunction with her extensive dedication to composition, Tann was a devoted educator, chairing the music department at Union College in Schenectady NY for 15 years before retiring in 2019. A year later, 1990 Union graduate Kurt Gracy established a scholarship named after Tann and her predecessor — the Hugh Allen Wilson and Hilary Tann Annual Music Fund. To this day it provides multiple students with scholarships to enrich their artistic experience and pursue their passion for music.
In celebration of Tann and her artistic legacy, we’re proud to announce the release of a new project with the composer and Cappella Clasura entitled LUMINARIA MAGNA, coming to all platforms March 24 from Navona Records.
As a published haiku poet, Tann also leaves behind an extensive collection of poetry. Enjoy these thoughtful words as we celebrate the life of Hilary Tann:
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