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Biography of

Vincent Persichetti

6 jun 1915 (Philidelphia) - 14 aug 1987 (Philidelphia)
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Vincent Ludwig Persichetti (June 6, 1915 – August 14, 1987) was an American composer, teacher, and pianist. An important musical educator and writer, Persichetti was a native of Philadelphia. He was known for his integration of various new ideas in musical composition into his own work and teaching, and for training many noted composers in composition at the Juilliard School.

His students at Juilliard included Philip Glass, Kenneth Fuchs, Richard Danielpour, Peter Schickele, Robert Witt and Thelonious Monk.[citation needed] He also taught composition to conductor James DePreist at the Philadelphia Conservatory.



Persichetti was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1915, and remained a resident of that city throughout his life. Though neither of his parents were musicians, his musical education nonetheless began early. Persichetti enrolled in the Combs College of Music at the age of five, where he studied piano, organ, double bass and later music theory and composition with Russel King Miller, whom he considered a great influence. By the time he reached his teens, he was paying for his own education by accompanying and performing; he continued to do so throughout high school, adding church organist, orchestral player and radio staff pianist to his experience. His first public performance of his own original works came at the age of 14. In addition to his musical talents, the young Persichetti attended art school and remained an avid sculptor until his death. He attended Combs for his undergraduate education as well; after receiving his bachelor's degree in 1936 he was immediately offered a teaching position.

By the age of 20, Persichetti was simultaneously head of the theory and composition department at Combs, a conducting major with Fritz Reiner at the Curtis Institute and a student of piano (with Olga Samaroff) and composition at the Philadelphia Conservatory. He earned a master's degree in 1941 and a doctorate in 1945 from Philadelphia, as well as a conducting diploma from Curtis. In 1941, while still a student, Persichetti headed the theory and composition department as well as the department of postgraduate study at Philadelphia. In 1947, William Schuman extended an offer of professorship at Juilliard, where his students included Einojuhani Rautavaara, Leonardo Balada, Steven Gellman, Peter Schickele (P.D.Q. Bach), Michael Jeffrey Shapiro, Larry Thomas Bell, Claire Polin, Toshi Ichiyanagi, Robert Witt (who also studied with Persichetti at the Philadelphia Conservatory) and Philip Glass. He became Editorial Director of the Elkan-Vogel publishing house in 1952.


Persichetti is one of the major figures in American music of the 20th century, both as a teacher and a composer. Notably, his Hymns and Responses for the Church Year has become a standard setting for church choirs, and high school and college students' introductions to contemporary music are often made by way of his numerous compositions for wind ensemble. His early style was marked by the influences of Stravinsky, Bartók, Hindemith, and Copland before developing into his own distinct voice in the 1950s.

Persichetti's music draws on a wide variety of thought in 20th century composition as well as Big Band music. His own style was marked by use of two elements he refers to as "graceful" and "gritty": the former being more lyrical and melodic, the latter being sharp and intensely rhythmic. He frequently used polytonality and pandiatonicism in his writing and his music could be marked by sharp rhythmic interjections, but his embracing of diverse strands of musical thought makes characterizing his body of work difficult. This trend continued throughout his compositional career; his music lacked sharp changes in style over time. (Persichetti once proclaimed in an interview in Musical Quarterly that his music was "...not like a woman, that is, it does not have periods!").[cite this quote] He frequently composed in his car, sometimes taping staff paper to the steering wheel.

His piano music forms the bulk of his creative output, with a concerto, a concertino, twelve sonatas, and a variety of other pieces written for the instrument, virtuosic pieces as well as pedagogical and amateur-level compositions; Persichetti was an accomplished pianist. Persichetti wrote many pieces suitable for less mature performers, considering them too to have serious artistic merit. Persichetti is also one of the major composers for the concert wind band repertoire, with his 14 works for the ensemble; the Symphony No. 6 for band is of particular note as a standard larger work. He wrote one opera, entitled The Sibyl; the music was noted by critics for its color, but the dramatic and vocal aspects of the work were found by some to be lacking. He wrote nine symphonies, of which the first two were withdrawn (as were the first two symphonies by two other American composers of the late thirties and early forties, William Schuman and Peter Mennin), and four string quartets. Many of his other works are organized into series. One of these, a collection of primarily instrumental works entitled Parables, contains 25 works, many for unaccompanied wind instruments (complete listing below), and his 15 Serenades include such unconventional combinations as a trio for trombone, viola, and cello as well as selections for orchestra, for band, and for duo piano.

In addition to his frequent appearances as lecturer on college campuses, in which he was noted for his witty and engaging manner, he wrote the famous music theory textbook Twentieth Century Harmony: Creative Aspects and Practice as well as coauthoring a monograph, with Flora Rheta Schreiber, on William Schuman.


Selected works

  • Celebrations, for Chorus and Wind Ensemble, Op. 103
  • Chorale Prelude: So Pure the Star, Op. 91
  • Chorale Prelude: Turn Not Thy Face, Op. 105
  • Divertimento For Band, Op. 42
  • Masquerade for Band, Op. 102
  • Masques for violin and piano Op. 99
  • Mass for a capella mixed chorus, Op. 84
  • Pageant, Op. 59
  • Parable IX for Band, Op. 121
  • Pastorale for Wind Quintet, Op. 151
  • Psalm for Band, Op. 53
  • Symphony No. 6 For Band
  • The Hollow Men, for trumpet and string orchestra, Op. 25
  • The Sibyl: A Parable of Chicken Little (Parable XX): An Opera in One Act, Op. 135
  • Winter Cantata, Op. 97 for Women’s Chorus, Flute, and Marimba

Complete listing of parables

  • Parable [I] for Flute, Op. 100 (1965)
  • Parable II for Brass Quintet, Op. 108 (1968)
  • Parable III for Oboe, Op. 109 (1968)
  • Parable IV for Bassoon, Op. 110 (1969)
  • Parable V for Carillon, Op. 112 (1969)
  • Parable VI for Organ, Op. 117 (1971)
  • Parable VII for Harp, Op. 119 (1971)
  • Parable VIII for Horn, Op. 120 (1972)
  • Parable IX for Band, Op. 121 (1972)
  • String Quartet No. 4 (Parable X), Op. 122 (1972)
  • Parable XI for Alto Saxophone, Op. 123 (1972)
  • Parable XII for Piccolo, Op. 125 (1973)
  • Parable XIII for Clarinet, Op. 126 (1973)
  • Parable XIV for Trumpet, Op. 127 (1973)
  • Parable XV for English Horn, Op. 128 (1973)
  • Parable XVI for Viola, Op. 130 (1974)
  • Parable XVII for Double Bass, Op. 131 (1974)
  • Parable XVIII for Trombone, Op. 133 (1975)
  • Parable XIX for Piano, Op. 134 (1975)
  • The Sibyl: A Parable of Chicken Little (Parable XX): An Opera in One Act, Op. 135
  • Parable XXI for Guitar, Op. 140 (1978)
  • Parable XXII for Tuba, Op. 147 (1981)
  • Parable XXIII for Violin, Cello, and Piano, Op. 150 (1981)
  • Parable XXIV for Harpsichord, Op. 153 (1982)
  • Parable XXV for Two Trumpets, Op. 164 (1986)

Poems for piano

  • Volume 1, Op. 4:
  1. Unroll the flicker's rousing drum (Louis Untermeyer First Words Before Spring)
  2. Soft is the collied night (James Elroy Flecker Fountains)
  3. Gather for festival bright weed and purple shell (William Watson Songs from Cyprus)
  4. Wake subtler dreams, and touch me nigh to tears (William Watson The Frontier)
  5. Ravished lute, sing to her virgin ears (Robert Fitzgerald Song after Campion)
  6. Whose thin fraud I wink at privily (William Watson The Mock Self)
  • Volume 2, Op. 5:
  1. And warms winds spilled fragrance into her solitudes (Edmond Kowalewski Change)
  2. To whose more clear than crystal voice the frost had joined a crystal spell (Léonie Adams Home Coming)
  3. Sleep, weary mind; dream, heart's desire (Edna St. Vincent Millay There are no islands any more)
  4. Dust in sunlight, and memory in corners (T. S. Eliot A Song for Simeon)
  5. Make me drunken with deep red torrents of joy (John Gould Fletcher Autumnal Clouds)
  • Volume 3, Op. 14:
  1. Rear its frondings sighing in aetherial folds (Hart Crane Royal Palm)
  2. Listen! Can you hear the antic melody of fear those two anxious feet are playing? (Walter Prude)
  3. Puffed out and marching upon a blue sky (Amy Lowell Lilacs)
  4. And hunged like those top jewels of the night (Léonie Adams Twilit Revelation)
  5. Each gay dunce shall lend a hand (John Trumbull The Country Clown)

Piano sonatas

  1. Op. 3
  2. Op. 6
  3. Op. 22
  4. Op. 36
  5. Op. 37
  6. Op. 39
  7. Op. 40
  8. Op. 41
  9. Op. 58
  10. Op. 67
  11. Op. 101
  12. Op. 145 (Mirror Sonata)

List of complete works

  • Concertino for Piano, op.16, 1941
  • Symphony no.1, op.18, 1942
  • Symphony no.2, op.19, 1942
  • Dance Overture, op.20, 1942
  • Fables , op.23, 1943
  • The Hollow Men , op.25, 1944
  • Symphony no.3, op.30, 1946
  • Serenade no.5, op.43, 1950
  • Fairy Tale, op.48, 195
  • Symphony no.4, op.51, 1951
  • Symphony for Strings (Sym. no.5) , op.61, 1953
  • Symphony no.7 ‘Liturgical’, op.80, 1958
  • Piano Concerto, op.90, 1962
  • Introit, op.96, 1964
  • Symphony no.8, op.106, 1967
  • Symphony no.9 ‘Sinfonia janiculum’, op.113, 1970
  • Night Dances, op.114, 1970
  • A Lincoln Address, op.124, 1972
  • Concerto for English Horn and Strings, op.137, 1977
  • Band:
    • Divertimento, op.42, 1950
    • Psalm, op.53, 1952
    • Pageant, op.59, 1953
    • Symphony for Band (Sym. no.6), op.69, 1956
    • Serenade no.11, op.85, 1960
    • Bagatelles, op.87, 1961
    • So Pure the Star, chorale prelude, op.91, 1962
    • Masquerade, op.102, 1965
    • Turn not thy Face, chorale prelude, op.105, 1966
    • O Cool is the Valley (Poem for Band), op.118, 1971
    • Parable IX, op.121, 1972
    • A Lincoln Address, op.124a, nar, band, 1973
    • O God Unseen, chorale prelude, op.160, 1984
  • Vocal
    • Choral:
      • Mag and Nunc, op.8, SATB, pf, 1940
      • Canons, op.31, SSAA/TTBB/SATB, 1947
      • 2 Cummings Choruses (e.e. cummings), op.33, 2vv, pf, 1948
      • Proverb, op.34, SATB, 1948
      • 2 Cummings Choruses, op.46, SSAA, 1950
      • Hymns and Responses for the Church Year (W.H. Auden and others), op.68, 1955
      • Seek the Highest (F. Adler), op.78, SAB, pf, 1957
      • Song of Peace (anon.), op.82, TTBB/SATB, pf, 1959
      • Mass, op.84, SATB, 1960
      • Spring Cantata (Cummings), op.94, SSAA, pf, 1963
      • Stabat mater, op.92, SATB, orch, 1963
      • Te Deum, op.93, SATB, orch, 1963
      • 4 Cummings Choruses, op.98, 2vv, pf, 1964
      • Winter Cantata (11 Haiku), op.97, SSAA, fl, mar, 1964
      • Celebrations (cant., W. Whitman), op.103, SATB, wind ens, 1966
      • The Pleiades (cant., Whitman), op.107, SATB, tpt, str, 1967
      • The Creation (Persichetti), op.111, S, A, T, Bar, SATB, orch, 1969;
      • Love (Bible: Corinthians), op.116, SSAA, 1971
      • Glad and Very (Cummings), op.129, 2vv, 1974
      • Flower Songs (Cant. no.6) (Cummings), op.157, SATB, str, 1983
      • Hymns and Responses for the Church Year, vol. 2, op.166, 1987
    • Solo:
      • 2 Chinese Songs, op.29, 1945
      • e.e. cummings Songs, op.26, 1945, unpubd
      • 3 English Songs (17th century), op.49, 1951, unpubd
      • Harmonium (W. Stevens), song cycle, op.50, S, pf, 1951
      • Carl Sandburg Songs, op.73, 1957, unpubd
      • Emily Dickinson Songs, op.77, 1957
      • Hilaire Belloc Songs, op.75, 1957
      • James Joyce Songs, op.74, 1957
      • Robert Frost Songs, op.76, 1957, unpubd
      • Sara Teasdale Songs, op.72, 1957, unpubd
      • A Net of Fireflies (Jap., trans. H. Steward), song cycle, op.115, 1970
  • Chamber and Solo Instrumental
    • 3 or more instruments:
      • Serenade no.1, op.1, 10 wind, 1929
      • Str Qt no.1, op.7, 1939
      • Concertato, op.12, piano quintet, 1940
      • Serenade no.3, op.17, violin, cello, piano, 1941
      • Pastoral, op.21, woodwind quintet, 1943
      • String Quartet no.2, op.24, 1944
      • King Lear, op.35, woodwind quintet, timpani, piano, 1948
      • Serenade no.6, op.44, trombone, viola, cello, 1950
      • Piano Quintet, op.66, 1954
      • String Quartet no.3, op.81, 1959
      • Parable II, op.108, brass quintet, 1968
      • String Quartet no.4 (Parable X), op.122, 1972
      • Parable XXIII, op.150, violin, cello, piano, 1981
    • 1–2 instruments:
      • Sonata, op.10, violin, 1940
      • Suite, op.9, violin, cello, 1940, unpubd
      • Fantasy, op.15, violin, piano, 1941, unpubd
      • Serenade no.4, op.28, violin, piano, 1945
      • Vocalise, op.27, cello, piano, 1945
      • Sonata, op.54, cello, 1952
      • Little Recorder Book, op.70, 1956
      • Serenade no.9, op.71, 2 recorder, 1956
      • Serenade no.10, op.79, flute, harp, 1957
      • Infanta marina, op.83, viola, piano, 1960
      • Serenade no.12, op.88, tuba, 1961
      • Serenade no.13, op.95, 2 clarinets, 1963
      • Masques, op.99, violin, piano, 1965
      • Parable [I], op.100, flute, 1965
      • Parable III, op.109, oboe, 1968
      • Parable IV, op.110, bassoon, 1969
      • Parable VII, op.119, harp, 1971
      • Parable VIII, op.120, horn, 1972
      • Parable XI, op.123, alto saxophone, 1972
      • Parable XII, op.125, piccolo, 1973
      • Parable XIII, op.126, clarinet, 1973
      • Parable XIV, op.127, trumpet, 1973
      • Parable XV, op.128, English horn, 1973
      • Parable XVI, op.130, viola, 1974
      • Parable XVII, op.131, double bass, 1974
      • Parable XVIII, op.133, trombone, 1975
      • Parable XXI, op.140, guitar, 1978
      • Parable XXII, op.147, tuba, 1981
      • Serenade no.14, op.159, oboe, 1984
      • Parable XXV, op.164, 2 trumpet, 1986
  • Keyboard
    • Piano:
      • Serenade no.2, op.2, 1929
      • Poems, vols.1–2, opp.4–5, 1939
      • Sonata no.1, op.3, 1939
      • Sonata no.2, op.6, 1939
      • Sonata, op.13, 2 pianos, 1940
      • Poems, vol. 3, op.14, 1941
      • Sonata no.3, op.22, 1943
      • Variations for an Album, op.32, 1947
      • Sonata no.4, op.36, 1949
      • Sonata no.5, op.37, 1949
      • Sonata no.6, op.39, 1950
      • Sonata no.7, op.40, 1950
      • Sonata no.8, op.41, 1950
      • Sonatina no.1, op.38, 1950
      • Sonatina no.2, op.45, 1950
      • Sonatina no.3, op.47, 1950
      • Concerto, op.56, 4 hands, 1952
      • Parades, op.57, 1952
      • Serenade no.7, op.55, 1952
      • Sonata no.9, op.58, 1952;
      • Little Piano Book, op.60, 1953
      • Serenade no.8, op.62, 4 hands, 1954
      • Sonatina no.4, op.63, 1954
      • Sonatina no.5, op.64, 1954
      • Sonatina no.6, op.65, 1954
      • Sonata no.10, op.67, 1955
      • Sonata no.11, op.101, 1965
      • Parable XIX, op.134, 1975
      • 4 Arabesques, op.141, 1978
      • Little Mirror Book, op.139, 1978
      • Reflective Studies, op.138, 1978
      • Mirror Etudes, op.143, 1979
      • 3 Toccatinas, op.142, 1979
      • Sonata no.12, op.145, 1980
      • Winter Solstice, op.165, 1986
    • Other:
      • Sonatine, op.11, organ pedals, 1940
      • Harpsichord Sonata no.1, op.52, 1951
      • Organ Sonata, op.86, 1960
      • Shimah b'koli, op.89, organ, 1962
      • Drop, Drop Slow Tears, chorale prelude, op.104, organ, 1966
      • Parable V, op.112, carillon, 1969
      • Parable VI, op.117, organ, 1971
      • Do Not Go Gentle, op.132, organ pedals, 1974
      • Auden Variations, op.136, organ, 1977
      • Dryden Liturgical Suite, op.144, organ, 1980
      • Harpsichord Sonata no.2, op.146, 1981
      • Harpsichord Sonata no.3, op.149, 1981
      • Song of David, op.148, org, 1981
      • Harpsichord Sonata no.4, op.151, 1982
      • Harpsichord Sonata no.5, op.152, 1982
      • Harpsichord Sonata no.6, op.154, 1982
      • Parable XXIV, op.153, harpsichord, 1982
      • Harpsichord Sonata no.7, op.156, 1983
      • Little Hpd Book, op.155, 1983
      • Harpsichord Sonata no.8, op.158, 1984
      • Serenade no.15, op.161, harpsichord, 1984
      • Give Peace, O God, chorale prelude, op.162, organ, 1985
      • Harpsichord Sonata no.9, op.163, 1985

Awards and honors

  • In honor of Persichetti's vast influence on American music, on May 19, 1984 he was awarded the prestigious University of Pennsylvania Glee Club Award of Merit.[1] Beginning in 1964, this award "established to bring a declaration of appreciation to an individual each year that has made a significant contribution to the world of music and helped to create a climate in which our talents may find valid expression."
  • Persichetti was an honorary brother of the Omicron Chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi at West Virginia University. He was initiated into the fraternity on November 17, 1967.

Further reading

  • Persichetti, Vincent (1961). Twentieth-century Harmony: Creative Aspects and Practice. New York: W. W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-09539-8. OCLC 398434. 


  • Walter G. Simmons: "Vincent Persichetti". Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy, (subscription access) accessed 22 April 2005.
  • Donald L. and Janet L. Patterson: "Vincent Persichetti: A Bio-Biography". Westport, Conn. Greenwood Press, 1988.
  • James P. Cassaro: "Vincent Persichetti". Grove Music Online (OperaBase), ed. L. Macy (subscription access), accessed 22 April 2005.
  • Larry Bell, review of Vincent Persichetti: The Louisville Orchestra for [1]
  • Burleson, Geoffrey "Vincent Persichetti and the Piano Sonata". Liner notes to Vincent Persichetti: Complete Piano Sonatas. New World Records.


External links



This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Vincent Persichetti. Allthough most Wikipedia articles provide accurate information accuracy can not be guaranteed.
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