There have been few more universally admired twentieth-century American composers than Vincent Persichetti. His contributions have enriched the entire musical literature and his influence as performer and teacher is immeasurable.
Born in Philadelphia in 1915, Persichetti began his musical life at age five, first studying piano, then organ, double bass, tuba, theory and composition. By the age of 11, he was paying for his own musical education and helping to support himself by performing professionally as an accompanist, radio staff pianist, orchestra member and church organist. At 16, he was appointed organist and choir director for the Arch Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, a post he held for nearly 20 years. A virtuoso pianist and organist, he combined extraordinary versatility with an osmotic musical mind, and his earliest published works, written when the composer was 14, exhibit mastery of form, medium and style.
Concurrent with these early activities, Persichetti was a student in the Philadelphia public schools and received a thorough musical education at the Combs College of Music, where he earned a Mus. B. degree in 1935 under Russel King Miller, his principal composition teacher. From the age of 20, he was simultaneously head of the theory and composition departments at the Combs College, a conducting major with Fritz Reiner at the Curtis Institute and piano major with Olga Samaroff at the Philadelphia Conservatory, in addition to studying composition with a number of important American composers. He received a Diploma in Conducting from the Curtis Institute and Mus. M. and Mus. D. degrees from the Philadelphia Conservatory.
In 1941 Persichetti was appointed head of the theory and composition departments at the Philadelphia Conservatory and in the same year married pianist Dorothea Flanagan. A daughter Lauren, was born in 1944 and a son, Garth, in 1946. In 1947 he joined the faculty of the Juilliard School of Music, assuming chairmanship of the Composition Department in 1963. Persichetti was appointed Editorial Director of the music publishing firm of Elkan-Vogel, Inc. in 1952.
Over the years, Vincent Persichetti was accorded many honors by the artistic and academic communities, including Honorary Doctor of Music degrees from Bucknell University, Millikin University, Arizona State University, Combs College, Baldwin-Wallace College, Peabody Conservatory, and honorary membership in numerous musical fraternities. He was the recipient of three Guggenheim Fellowships, two grants from the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities and one from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, of which he was a member. He received the first Kennedy Center Friedheim Award, Brandeis University Creative Arts Award, Pennsylvania Governors Award, Columbia Records Chamber Music Award, Juilliard Publication Award, Blue Network Chamber Music Award, Symphony League Award, Philadelphia Art Alliance Medal for Distinguished Achievement, Medal of Honor from the Italian Government, and citations from the American Bandmasters Association and National Catholic Music Educators Association. Among some 100 commissions were those from the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the St. Louis and Louisville Symphony Orchestras, the Koussevitsky Music Foundation, Naumberg Foundation, Collegiate Chorale, Martha Graham Company, Juilliard Musical Foundation, Hopkins Center, American Guild of Organists, Pittsburgh International Contemporary Music Festival, universities and individual performers. He appeared as guest conductor, lecturer and composer at over 200 universities. Wide coverage by the major TV and news media of the premiere of his A Lincoln Address helped to focus worldwide attention on his music.
Persichetti composed for nearly every musical medium. More than 120 of his works are published and many of these are available on commercial recordings. Though he never specifically composed "educational" music as such, many of his smaller pieces are suitable for teaching purposes. His piano music, a complete body of literature in itself, consists of six sonatinas, three volumes of poems, a concerto and a concertino for piano and orchestra, serenades, a four-hand concerto, a two-piano sonata, twelve solo piano sonatas, and various shorter works.