From Wind Repertory Project
Joseph Schwantner

Joseph Schwantner

General Info

Year: 1979
Duration: c. 17:40
Difficulty: (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Schott Music
Cost: Score and Parts - Rental   |   Score Only (print) - €49.50


Full Score
C Piccolo/Flute
B-flat Soprano Clarinet
Percussion, including:

  • Bass Drum
  • Glockenspiel
  • Small Gong (2)
  • Suspended Cymbal
  • Tam-tam
  • Timbales
  • Triangle (2)
  • Tubular Bells
  • Vibraphone

Violin (doubling Antique Cymbals)
Viola (doubling Antique Cymbals)
Violincello (doubling Antique Cymbals)
Instrumental Players singing


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

Sparrows was commissioned by the Washington, D.C.-based Twentieth Century Consort under a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. American soprano Lucy Shelton sang the premiere performance, which was conducted by Christopher Kendall.

Schwantner has described the work as a series of “dream states” and a “sympathetic response to the strength and simplicity of its text,” which comprises 15 haiku selected from The Autumn Wind by Issa Kobayashi (1763–1828), widely regarded as one of four great masters of the Japanese poetic art and the one most closely identified with Buddhist philosophy. The order of the haiku represents the cyclic pattern of nature, moving from day to night and ultimately to a new day.

- Program Note from University of California, Los Angeles, Wind Ensemble concert program, 2 March 2016

Sparrows was written in 1979 for the Twentieth Century Consort. The text consists of fifteen haiku by the eighteenth-century Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa. Instead of reproducing the aesthetic of the haiku, with its sharply outlined images, Schwantner’s music absorbs the meaning and character of these naturalistic and universalist images and expresses them in a comprehensively lyrical musical form. He thus creates a series of what might be called dream-stages. These stages reach from exuberant harmonies, harsh dissonance, effusiveness finally to gentle hope.

Schwantner draws freely from fully varied stylistic precursors to represent the poetic imagery. Reminiscences of Renaissance dances and baroque polyphony can be heard. By the process of reconciling contrasting musical styles with the continuity of the work, Schwantner successfully makes these styles his own. The wide range of atmospheres and colours is created by a setting whose acoustical possibilities are used in a most profound and creative way. The voice is supported by three instrumental groups, woodwind, strings (tuned a semitone lower, to add a particular fullness to the whole ensemble), and a combination of piano, harp and percussion. The sound of the percussion is strengthened by the strings, which strike the crotales or antique cymbals with their bows, evoking an otherworldly sound to accompany The River of Heaven. The instrumentalists must also sing at various key points in the whole work. This chorus element accompanies the references to sparrows at the beginning and end of the text. On the first occasion this exotic effect produces a mysterious atmosphere of threatening danger, while at the end this effect is particularly intimate, touching and even soothing.

- Program Note from liner notes for Naxos CD "Schwanter: Sparrows/Music of Amber"


State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


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Works for Winds by This Composer