Vincent Persichetti

From Academic Kids

Vincent Ludwig Persichetti (June 6, 1915August 14, 1987) was an American composer, teacher, and pianist. An important musical educator and writer, Persichetti, a native of Philadelphia, was known for his integration of various new ideas in musical composition into his own work and teaching. His students at the Juilliard School included Philip Glass and Thelonious Monk.



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, where upon 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, Thelonious Monk, Leonardo Balada, Peter Schickele (P.D.Q. Bach), and Philip Glass. He became Editorial Director of the Elkan-Vogel publishing house in 1952.

Persichetti married his wife, Dorothea, when he was 25, and had two children with her, a daughter and a son. Having composed over 166 works over his lifetime, he was diagnosed with lung cancer at age 71 and died at age 72.


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 while remaining in his own distinct voice. His own style is 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 uses polytonality and pandiatonicism in his writing, and his style is 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 is not marked by 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!" He also frequently composed in the car, sometimes taping staff paper to the steering wheel.)

His piano music forms the bulk of his creative output, with a concerto, a concertino, several 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. Unlike many composers who restrict the mature output to heavier compositions, 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, which was a flop; the music was noted for its color, but the dramatic and vocal aspects of the work were found lacking. He wrote eight symphonies 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 solo wind instruments, 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 music theory textbook Twentieth Century Harmony: Creative Aspects and Practice (ISBN 0393095398) as well as coauthoring a monograph William Schuman.


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Selected works

  • The Hollow Men, for trumpet and string orchestra, Op.
  • 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
  • Mass for a capella mixed chorus, Op. 84
  • Pageant, Op. 59
  • Parable IX for Band, Op. 121
  • Psalm for Band, Op. 53
  • 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


  • Walter G. Simmons: "Vincent Persichetti". Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy, accessed 22 Apr 05.
  • 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, accessed 22 Apr 05.
  • Larry Bell, review of Vincent Persichetti: The Louisville Orchestra for [1] (

External links


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