Vincent Persichetti //
Philadelphia Conservatory of Music AlumnusComposer and teacher
Philadelphia Conservatory of Music: Master's in Music, 1941; Doctorate, 1945.
Philadelphia Conservatory of Music faculty member, 1939-1962
At left, Persichetti as pictured in the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music 1950 yearbook, Variations (© University of the Arts). The caption reads: "Dr. Vincent Persichetti's Composition in 'C' Class gives PCM students who are majoring in Applied Music a chance to try their hand at composing. Dr. Persichetti's innate ability to bring out latent talent is evidenced by the fact that the first Class assignment is a four or five measure phrase; the last, a Sonatina for Piano." Persichetti is at the left leaning over the student at the piano.
According to his biography in the 1941-42 Philadelphia Conservatory of Music (PCM) catalog, page eight, Persichetti "received his early traning at the Combs College of Music, majoring in Composition under Russell King Miller. Later he graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music in Conducting under Fritz Reiner. In addition to this he has held scholarships at The Philadelphia Conservatory of Music in piano under Madame Olga Samaroff, at the same time studying composition with Paul Nordoff. He won first honors in the National Federation of Music Clubs contests in composition and piano and has been awarded prizes for organ playing by the American Guild of Organists."
Persichetti first appears as a PCM faculty member in the catalog for 1939/40. Holding only a bachelor's degree, he is listed under the Department of Theory and Composition; his colleagues are Paul Nordoff and Kathryn R. Grube. In 1942, now possessing a master's degree, he was appointed head of theory and composition and post-graduate study at PCM. In 1947 he joined the faculty of The Juilliard School and taught there and at PCM through the 1961/62 school year when he became the chair of composition at Juilliard, where he stayed until 1970. It is a common misconception that when Persichetti took the position at Juilliard he left PCM, but he did not do so until 1962.
University of the Arts School of Music faculty member Dr. Donald Chittum, who studied and taught with Dr. Persichetti at PCM, recalled in 1997 that Persichetti was "a person who had musical skills beyond anything I've ever seen in my life." Those skills included the ability to read, analyze, compose, and assimilate music. Persichetti would compose in his head during his drive from Philadelphia to New York and back, and write it down when he got home. Dr. Chittum also recalled that Persichetti always encouraged students to develop their own personal voice and style rather than imposing his own.
Nicolas Slonimsky's essay on Persichetti in Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians (Schirmer, 8th ed.,1996) states that Persichetti was a "remarkable American composer whose finely amalgamated instrumental and symphonic music created an image of classical modernity. ... His music is remarkable for its polyphonic skill in fusing the ostensibly incompatible idioms of Classicism, Romanticism, and stark modernism, while the melodic lines maintain an almost Italianate diatonicism in a lyrical manner." Persichetti received more than 200 commissions for work, among them nine symphonies, although his creations for piano are usually deemed his most important contribution. According to The New Grove Dictionary of American Music (Macmillan, 1986), "Persichetti has made substantial contributions to most musical genres; worthy of particular mention are his piano works, which provide a microcosmic representation of his entire compositional output while offering a comprehensive survey of contemporary piano techniques. Also important are his works for wind band, which reveal a natural affinity for the medium and have given many students an accessible yet sophisticated introduction to contemporary music."
See the UArts Music Library "Reading Room Notes" No. 3.1 (2000/2001) newsletter for an interview with School of Music Professor Donald Chittum, also an alumnus of the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music, on his days at PCM with Persichetti and other well-known faculty.
Theodore Presser Company Online: Vincent Persichetti
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Last updated 13 April 2006 sjm