Vincent Persichetti (1915-1987) was a piano and organ prodigy who was supporting himself with his musical talents by age 11. A lifelong Philadelphia resident, he took full advantage of that city’s music institutions. At age 20, he was simultaneously the head of the music department at Combs College, a conducting major with Fritz Reiner at the Curtis Institute, and a piano and composition student at the Philadelphia Conservatory. His distinctly original compositions began to be recognized internationally before he was 30. His skyrocketing reputation led to his appointment at the Juilliard School, where he became the chair of the composition department at age 47. He died in 1987, leaving behind a unique body of work in almost every musical medium, including a number of masterpieces for the wind band. Among these is Pageant, written for the American Bandmasters Association.
To quote the score:
Pageant, commissioned by the American Bandmasters’ Association, was completed in January, 1953, and was [Persichetti's] third band work. It opens in slow tempo with a motive in the horn that is used throughout both sections of the piece.. The slow chordal section is succeeded by a lively “parade” section introduced by the snare drum. In the final portion of the work the principal subjects are developed simultaneously to a lively climax.
The first performance of this work took place on March 7th, 1953, at the American Bandmasters’ Association Convention in Miami, Florida. It was performed by the University of Miami Band, with the composer conducting.
The New York premiere took place on June 19, 1953, with the Goldman Band playing and the composer conducting.
Pay attention to that last factoid. Not many pieces print their New York premiere in the program notes! These days some pieces don’t even get a New York premiere…
Further to what the program note says, Pageant’s two sections use different compositional techniques, which result in remarkably different textures. The initial slow section uses the opening horn call to germinate long phrases supported by chordal harmonies. These phrases are then passed around between small choirs of instruments. The tonal center shifts as often as the instrumentation, finally settling in B-flat on the very last chord. The subsequent “parade” does indeed begin with the snare drum, which sets up the rhythmic motive for much of the material to come. This section is a study in polytonality: even the first chord is in both A-flat and B-flat at once, and the final chord has B-flat and E-flat at its core, but with an A-flat in the bass and an A-natural-E-natural perfect fifth at the top.
There is some spotty coverage on Pageant out there: the Wind Repertory Project, WindBand.org, and the OCU Band Program Notes Database all shed light on the piece. But by far the most in-depth article I’ve seen comes from David Goza, the Director of Orchestral Studies at the University of Arkansas. It’s very technical (to give you an idea, it opens with a quick refresher on the relationship of quartal and pentatonic harmony), but it should be a fun read for anyone interested in music theory.
A listen will certainly help us understand what all that stuff sounds like, so I give you the North Texas University Wind Ensemble with Eugene Corporon conducting: