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NYWC Spotlight: Hilary Tann

We are excited to continue our collaboration with the New York Women Composers. This month, we spotlight Hilary Tann.

Hilary Tann

Composer Hilary Tann. Photo courtesy Hilary Tann, copyright Javier Monjas.

Bio from Hilary Tann’s website:

Welsh-born composer, Hilary Tann, lives in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains in Upstate New York where she is the John Howard Payne Professor of Music Emerita at Union College, Schenectady. Her compositions have been widely performed and recorded by ensembles such as the European Women’s Orchestra, Tenebrae, Lontano, Marsyas Trio, Thai Philharmonic, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, and BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Composer-residencies include the 2011 Eastman School of Music Women in Music Festival, 2013 Women Composers Festival of Hartford, and 2015 Welsh Music Center. Praised for its lyricism (“beautiful, lyrical work” – Classical Music Web) and formal balance (“In the formal balance of this music, there is great beauty …” – Welsh Music), her music is influenced by a strong identification with the natural world. She is a published haiku poet and a deep interest in the traditional music of Japan has led to private study of the shakuhachi and guest visits to Japan, Korea, and China. A recent review of her string quartet, And The Snow Did Lie, states “Tann’s music is shimmering and weightless, effective and moving … it reinforces the grounded spiritual ecstasy that is Tann’s distinctive musical outlook” (J. Dalton, Albany Times Union, 5/24/20).

Featured Work: On Ear and Ear …” for cello and piano

Originally, Tann wrote this for viola and piano but told us: “I’ve come to love the cello and piano version.”


  • Title: “On Ear and Ear …”
  • Composer: Hilary Tann
  • Year of Composition: 2011
  • Instrumentation: cello and piano
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: 9’
  • Number of Measures: 175
  • Number of pages: 12 plus frontmatter
  • Tempo: quarter note = 84
  • Difficulty Level: advanced/professional
  • Highest Position Reached: thumb
  • Techniques Employed: double stops; treble, tenor, and bass clefs; harmonics; 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4 meters
  • Publisher: Rowanberry Music
  • Where to Purchase the Score:
  • Cost of Score*: Free as a PDF

RECORDING by violinist Sini Virtanen and pianist Eunmi Ko

Get the album:

Performance Notes from Hilary Tann

“Be lyrical! (flessibile)”

Program Notes

““On Ear and Ear …” takes its cue from the opening few measures of Milton Babbitt’s 1950 Composition for Viola and Piano. Heard in slow motion, there is something so tender about the timbral and registral choices in the first four measures and these become reference points for this homage.

The title is from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ sonnet, “The Sea and the Skylark.”  The two “ears” become those of the composer and her mentor at Princeton (Milton Babbitt); the two instruments (piano and viola or cello); and the sea (“low lull-off or all roar”) and lark (“his rash-fresh rewinded new-skeinèd score”). On Ear and Ear …” was composed in June/July 2011 for the Perspectives of New Music/Open Space memorial tribute to Milton Babbitt.” – Hilary Tann

Hilary Tann’s Other Works with a Prominent Cello Part

  • Seven Poems of Stillness for cello and narrator, OUP.

  • The Cresset Stone for unaccompanied cello, Rowanberry Music. Read Erica’s Postcard about this piece.

  • The Walls of Morlais Castle for piano trio, OUP.
  • In the Theater of Air for flute, cello, and piano, Rowanberry Music

  • Llef for flute and cello, OUP.

  • Nothing Forgotten for piano trio, OUP.

  • Anecdote, soliloquy for cello and orchestra, OUP.

  • Kilvert’s Hills, Rowanberry Music. Originally for bassoon, revised for cello in 2012.

How to Follow, Support, and Contact Hilary Tann

A Collaboration with the New York Women Composers (NYWC)

The NYWC series at the Cello Museum was created to showcase its members who have composed various pieces for cello, informing cellists seeking new music to add to their repertoire, and helping listeners find new favorites. Many thanks to the NYWC for this wonderful collaboration.

Read other installments in the series here.

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