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Vincent Persichetti: "Symphony for Band"

Vincent Persichetti's "Symphony No. 6" is certainly a work that has become a cornerstone of the wind band repertoire. For Persichetti, whose contributions to the wind medium cannot be understated, this is probably his most significant work for winds. The next blog posts will focus on the music of Persichetti (since we have yet to post on his music) so stay tuned for more posts on this incredibly influential and significant composer for winds.

Vincent Persichetti, Symphony for Band (Symphony No. 6) Cincinnati Wind Symphony, Eugene Corporon, conductor

These program notes below are from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Symphony for Band

Vincent Persichetti was one of America’s most respected 20th century composers. His contributions enriched the entire music literature; his influence as a conductor, teacher, scholar, and keyboard virtuoso is universally acknowledged. In addition to well-known works for a variety of other media, Persichetti composed 16 major concert works for band.

Vincent Persichetti was the first of three children. His parents were immigrants from Italy and Germany. He began studying piano at the age of five and gradually added organ, double bass, tuba, theory, and composition to his music studies. By the age of 11 he was performing professionally as an accompanist, radio staff pianist, and church organist. He composed the five-movement Serenade No. 1 for Ten Winds at 14, and at 16 he began a 20-year tenure as organist at the Arch Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He earned degrees at Combs College of Music (BM, 1935), the Curtis Institute (conducting diploma, 1939), and the Philadelphia Conservatory (MM, 1941; DMA, 1945).

Persichetti conducted the orchestra and taught theory and composition at Combs College (1937), headed the composition department at the Philadelphia Conservatory (1941-1961), and also taught at the Juilliard School of Music as composition teacher (1947) and chairman (from 1963). In 1952 he became editorial assistant and, later, director of publications of the Elkan-Vogel Co. His manuals, Twentieth-Century Harmony: Creative Aspects and Practices and his Essays on Twentieth-Century Choral Music, are widely known. In 1954 he published a biography of his colleague William Schuman. Persichetti was the recipient of many prestigious fellowships and honors

Nicolas Slonimsky described Persichetti’s music as being “remarkable for its polyphonic skill in fusing the seemingly incompatible idioms of classicism, romanticism, and stark modernism…(with) Italianate diatonicism, in a lyrical manner.” Approximately 120 of Persichetti’s works have been published; over half were commissioned. Compositions include 16 band scores, nine symphonies, four string quartets, two piano sonatas, choral works, an opera, and much chamber music. His music has been recorded by a number of university and professional bands in the U.S. and Japan.

The Symphony for Band was commissioned and premiered by Clark Mitze and the Washington University Band at the MENC Convention in St. Louis on April 16, 1956. According to the composer, it could have been titled Symphony for Winds, following, as it did, his Symphony No. 5 for Strings. Persichetti, however, did not wish to avoid the word “band,” which he felt no longer had the connotation of a poor quality of music. In the autumn 1964 Journal of Band Research, he wrote, “Band music is virtually the only kind of music in America today (outside the ‘pop’ field) which can be introduced, accepted, put to immediate and wide use, and become a staple of the literature in a short time.” According to Jeffrey Renshaw, “The Symphony for Band…was in many ways such a departure from the established concepts of band works that it influenced the attitudes of generations of composers.”

The four movements (Adagio allegro, Adagio sostenuto, Allegretto, and Vivace) have forms with traditional implications. The opening horn call and a following scale-wise passage in the slow introduction become the two principal themes (in reverse order) in the subsequent Allegro. The standard exposition, development, and recapitulation of sonata form are in the Allegro, although the traditional key relationships are not completely retained. The slow second movement is based on “Round Me Falls the Night,” from the composer’s Hymns and Responses for the Church Year. The third movement, in trio form, serves as the traditional dance movement and is followed by a finale in free rondo form, which draws thematic material from the preceding movements and concludes with a chord containing all 12 tones of the scale.

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