PERSICHETTI: Divertimento / Masquerade / Parable IX (David Amos/ London Symphony Orchestra Wind and Percussion Ensemble) (Naxos: 8.570123)
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Vincent Persichetti (1915-1987)
Divertimento Psalm Chorale Prelude: O God Unseen Pageant
Masquerade O Cool is the Valley Parable IX
During the middle years of last century, the aggregation ofwoodwinds, brass, and percussion known as the symphonic band, along with itsless densely proportioned relative, the symphonic wind ensemble, began toflourish in the high schools and colleges of the United States. In addition tomeeting the highest standards of performance, these ensembles encouraged America's leading composers to contribute repertoire tailored specifically to the bandmedium while shunning its traditional outdoor pops-concert connotations. As themedium mushroomed, so did this repertoire, filling a voracious, receptive,unjaded appetite for new music among young musicians. Some works soon attainedthe status of classics, enjoying literally thousands of performances.
Pivotal to the development of this repertoire and perhapsits most distinguished exponent was Vincent Persichetti, who contributed 14works, many of which have become staples of the genre. Persichetti was acentral figure in many aspects of American musical life - as a member of thecomposition faculty at the Juilliard School for 40 years, as the author of awidely used composition text, Twentieth Century Harmony
, as a popularguest-lecturer at college campuses around the country, and as composer of morethan 160 works, including an opera, 9 symphonies, 12 piano sonatas, andnumerous other orchestral, chamber, choral, and vocal works. But it is throughhis works for band that his name and his music are most widely known.
Vincent Persichetti was born to an Italian father and aGerman mother in Philadelphia in 1915, where he continued to live until hisdeath in 1987. He began to study the piano at the age of five, which gavedirection to an insatiable musical interest and a talent that soon provedprodigious. He began to compose almost immediately, and during his adolescenceearned money as a church organist. After graduating from Philadelphia's CombsConservatory, he went on to complete his doctorate at the PhiladelphiaConservatory. In 1947 William Schuman invited him to join the Juilliardfaculty, and he taught there for the rest of his life. He became chairman ofJuilliard's composition department in 1963, and in 1970, of the literature and materialsdepartment.
Persichetti's career flourished during a period when Americancomposition was deeply divided among rival stylistic factions, each seeking toinvalidate the work of its opponents. In the face of this partisan antagonism, Persichettiadvocated, through his lectures and writings, as well as through his music, thenotion of a broad working vocabulary, or "common practice", based ona fluent assimilation of all the materials and techniques which had appearedduring the 20th century. His own music exhibits a wide stylistic range, fromextreme diatonic simplicity to complex, contrapuntal atonality.
Most of Persichetti's music for band falls along the simplerend of his compositional spectrum, although Parable
represents theopposite pole. This is utilitarian music, in the sense that it was written withan awareness of imminent performance in a variety of different practicalcontexts, but there is no compromise in standards of taste or quality ofworkmanship. Even the simplest pieces, such as Psalm
,have a youthful sweetness and exuberance that are utterly genuine, and displaymeticulous attention to formal values. Indeed, these qualities, along with asense of mischief and a poignant vein of nostalgia, represent the essence ofPersichetti's personality and permeate all his music, though dizzying levels ofcomplexity are manifest at times.
A fondness for wind instruments dates back to Persichetti'searly years: his Op. 1, composed at the age of fourteen, is a Serenade forTen Winds
. In an interview, however, he himself acknowledged with characteristicwhimsy the misgivings many hold about the band medium and its 'rustytrumpets, consumptive flutes, wheezy oboes, disintegrating clarinets, fumbling yetamiable baton wavers, and gum-coated park benches. If you couple theseconditions with transfigurations and disfigurations of works originally conceivedfor orchestra, you create a sound experience that is nearly as excruciating as asick string quartet playing a dilettante's arrangement of a 19th-century pianosonata. But when composers think of the band as a huge, supple ensemble ofwinds and percussion, the obnoxious fat drains off and creative ideas flourish'
During the same interview, he recalled 'composing in a log cabin schoolhousein Eldorado, Kansas, during the summer of 1949. Working with some lovelywoodwind figures, accentuated by choirs of aggressive brasses and percussionbeating, I soon realized the strings weren't going to enter, and my
began to take shape.
' Completed the following year, the work exemplifiesPersichetti's propensity for pieces comprising tiny epigrammatic movements. Theopening Prologue
displays one of the composer's most distinctive trademarks:the use of rapid duple metre as a framework for lively, playful, syncopatedrhythmic by-play. This feature can be heard throughout the works on this disc. Song
is reflective in tone, with melody and accompanimental material all basedon an undulating figure. Dance
is gentle and childlike. Burlesque
featuresthe tubas with a mocking melody in Lydian mode against raucous offbeats, framinga taunting central section. In Soliloquy
a cornet solo creates a mood ofhaunting nostalgia. March
returns to the rousing spirit of the openingmovement.
was composed in 1952 and highlights the warm sonorities of the band inchorale treatment. A solemn opening is followed by a hymn-like section that leadsinto a jubilant Allegro vivace
. After an exhilarating development, thework culminates in a fervent return of the hymn-like material. Persichetticompleted Pageant
the following year and the spirit of the two works is similarenough that the later piece might almost be regarded as a sequel. In twosections, Pageant
opens with a three-note horn motif upon which theentire work is based. The first section is again in chorale style, while thesecond is vigorous and march-like, suggesting a parade. Several thematic ideas,all based on the opening horn motif, are subjected to a development whose thoroughnessis belied by the music's exuberant, extroverted character.
Chorale Prelude: O God Unseen
is Persichetti's final piece forband. Written in 1984, it is a solemn expansion of a hymn which originallyappeared in the composer's Hymns and Responses for the Church Year
Persichetti often re-used material originally composed foranother purpose. Masquerade for Band
, dating from 1965, is a set of teningenious variations on a theme created from musical examples written for the textbookTwentieth Century Harmony
. The language is somewhat more dissonant andangular here than in the preceding works, although the expressive content reflectsmany of the composer's familiar characteristics. O Cool Is the Valley
wascomposed in 1971, inspired by a poem of James Joyce. A calm, pastoral mood is maintainedthroughout.
Parable for Band
, a work of very different character, appeared the followingyear. It is Persichetti's most complex band composition and the ninth in his seriesof 25 parables, which he described somewhat enigmatically as 'non-programmaticmusical essays about a single germinal idea. They convey a meaning indirectlyby the use of comparisons or analogies.' Using an expa