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Category Archives: Persichetti-Vincent

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:

You can find out more about Persichetti himself at Theodore Presser, Wikipedia, and his own Society’s website.

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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 the Divertimento for Band, op. 42, written for the Goldman Band.

There are many articles out there about the Divertimento: the Wind Repertory Project, The Concord Band, BandDirector.comThe Claremont Winds, and the OCU Band Program Notes Database all shed light on the piece.  But the authority on all of Persichetti’s wind music, as with all other composers, is Frederick Fennell, whose chapter on the piece in the book A Conductor’s Interpretive Analysis of Masterworks for Band brims with scholarship and creative, interpretive insight.  To paraphrase: Persichetti started writing this piece with an orchestra in mind in 1949.  He began with a prologue that featured the brass section tossing the woodwinds back and forth.  Midway through this movement, he realized that the strings were never going to enter – thus began this master’s impressive oeuvre of sophisticated, accessible wind music.  The Divertimento showcases Persichetti’s lyricism, playfulness, harmonic daring, and superb orchestration skills, all while remaining accessible to the player and listener.  A listen will certainly help us understand, so I give you the North Texas University Wind Ensemble with Eugene Corporon conducting:

And for variety, our friends at the Manhattan Wind Ensemble:

You can find out more about Persichetti himself at Theodore Presser, Wikipedia, and his own Society’s website.

Vincent Persichetti 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.

Several different program notes on Psalm construct a full picture of the piece and its place in the repertoire.  The US Air Force Band gives us some basic facts about the piece:

Psalm for Band was comissioned by the Alpha Chapter of Pi Kappa Omicron Nation Band Fraternity at the University of Louisville, and was premiered in 1952 by the University of Lousiville Concert Band with the composer conducting.  In the title, Persichetti refers to a poem of worship that was, in ancient times, sung or accompanied by harp.  Using a single musical idea as a foundation for the entire piece, Persicheti explores different facets of the psaml–worship, reflection and celebration.

CD review by Steve Schwartz on classical.net gives further description and context:

Persichetti is a major player in contributing to the modern repertoire for wind band, as opposed to the occasional dabbler, with several large works, including at least one symphony, for this ensemble. The Psalm appeared a year after Mennin’s Canzona. Why Persichetti called it a “psalm” I have no idea. It certainly doesn’t use the conventional idioms of religious music, and it doesn’t call to mind any particular psalm. The solemn opening Persichetti calls a “chorale,” but it’s definitely a chorale filtered through Stravinsky. Persichetti lays out the work in three large sections, each in a noticeably faster tempo, culminating in a brilliant, electrifying allegro molto, which at the very end recapitulates themes from throughout the work. It clocks in at a hefty 8 minutes, but it also takes you on a thrill ride. Like a really good roller coaster, it makes you want to ride again as soon as it’s over.

According the Oklahoma City University Program Note Resource for Band Directors, the composer himself had something to say about the piece:

The composer supplied the following note on the score:  “Psalm for Band is a piece constructed from a single germinating harmonic idea.  There are three distinct sections — a sustained chordal mood, a forward-moving chorale, followed by a Paean culmination of the materials.  Extensive use is made of separate choirs of instruments supported by thematic rhythms in the tenor and bass drums.”

More on Persichetti’s life and works are available at Wikipedia, Theodore Presser, and Naxos.  There is also a Vincent Persichetti Society with a web presence.

Onto a performance: this YouTube video shows a Catholic high school undertaking an excellent performance of Psalm.  The audio quality is not the best, and that is reflected in the relatively limited dynamic range of the video – one can only guess that the live performance was even more thrilling!