Silent Spring

for Orchestra

Steven Stucky

Performing Ensemble: Orchestra
Publisher: Merion Music, Inc.
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

Fifty years ago, when Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published in 1962, I was twelve. Even though the book was an overnight sensation, at that age I wouldn’t have noticed it for a year or two. But by fourteen or so, I was immersed in the intersections between science and public policy. I remember doing a big school project about smoking and lung cancer, for example, then scandalous breaking news — like the devastating effect of DDT and other pesticides on the world around us that Carson revealed in Silent Spring. And by then, I had read and been deeply influenced by her masterwork. Thus, like a whole generation, my world view was significantly shaped by her.

Fifty years later, it is time to celebrate Rachel Carson’s signal contributions. I was delighted when the Pittsburgh Symphony, in collaboration with the Rachel Carson Institute at her alma mater, Chatham College, suggested that I write a new piece reflecting on the anniversary. But I was perplexed, too. I reread Silent Spring and Carson’s other work, of course, and I reveled again in the distinctive mixture of hard science and eloquent lyricism that defines her voice. Yet Silent Spring is almost all science. How to make music about that?

Instead, I gathered together four of Carson’s titles: The Sea Around Us (Carson’s 1951 bestseller about oceanography); The Lost Woods (the title of a Carson letter published in Lost Woods: The Discovered Writings of Rachel Carson); Rivers of Death (a chapter title in Silent Spring); and the title Silent Spring itself. With these titles as cues, I could fashion a one-movement orchestral tone poem in four sections that tries to create an emotional journey from beginning to end without referring specifically to the scientific details.

The result is music at once “abstract” and “programmatic” (already two categorical and hence undependable labels). The Sea Around Us is murky water music: it rises from the depths of the orchestra until it reaches a grand but melancholy chorale evoking the vast expanses of the sea. The Lost Wood calls forth a desolate chaconne (i.e., a set of variations over a cyclic chord progression). The somber atmosphere grows more and more intense until it leads to a short, scathing scherzo, Rivers of Death. The diabolical “death scherzo” music, too, escalates until it cannot go any further, instead bursting into the ecstatic mass singing of Silent Spring. But — like the insects and birds that Rachel Carson wrote about — one by one those ecstatic orchestral voices fall silent. We are left with near-silence.

Rachel Carson’s trenchant writing gave us data, marching orders, the heart to do what is right; but, like all great writing, it also gave us the spiritual and psychological space to contemplate our own thoughts about the world around us, about our own place in that world, about our own hopes and fears. Music cannot — should not attempt to — explain, preach, proselytize, comment on real life. Its domain is emotional life, not “real” life. It is non-specific, non-semantic, non-representational. My Silent Spring is the same: a space in which to contemplate one’s own fears, hopes, and dreams.
—Steven Stucky

Available on Rental

Scores & Parts

Silent Spring - Full Score - Study

Additional Information

Commission Commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Manfred Honeck, Music Director, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson?s "Silent Spring"
Composition Date 2011
Duration 18:00
Orchestration 4(Picc., Fl.3 also Picc.1, Fl. 2 also AltoFl.); 3(E.H.) 4(E-flat Cl., B.Cl.) 3(Cbsn.) - 4 3 3 1; Timp. 4Perc. Pno.(dbl. Cel.) Hp. Str.
Premiere 17th, 18th, 19th February, 2012. Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Manfred Honeck; Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh, PA.


I. The Sea Arould Us
II. The Lost Wood
III. Rivers of Death
IV. Silent Spring

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