I. Vincent Persichetti
The place where men meet to seek the highest is holy ground.
The statement above—inscribed over the stage at the Philadelphia Ethical Society—is quoted by Persichetti in an interview in Perspectives of New Music. This movement is inspired by three pieces by Persichetti, all of which reflect his profound spirituality: Parable XII for piccolo (which Lois recorded on her CD, Take Wing); “Christmas Hymn” (on which the parable is based); and a piccolo solo from the Andante movement of his 7th symphony. The movement begins with a solo cadenza, developing two short motives from the parable. It later quotes two short phrases from the hymn and symphony mentioned above (used by permission of Theodore Presser Company).
Folio expertly sets Persichetti’s quotes while putting her own signature on this movement. The Parable, 7th Symphony and Portrait are crafted by master composers.
THE PERSICHETTI MOVEMENT
Email from Cynthia to Lois: “I think that your idea of quoting was a good one. The two passages are like jewels that I have had the opportunity to set. (This is similar to what Bartok said about harmonizing folk songs.)”
As a musician, it is a wonderful experience to be a part of the creation and dissemination of a new work. In the case of this movement, it was the collaboration between two composers—with Cynthia Folio, as plans were formulating for Philadelphia Portraits through to the final rehearsal the evening prior to the premiere performance, and with Vincent Persichetti in preparation for performances of his quoted works. I worked alongside him in preparing for performances of his 7th Symphony and his Piccolo Parable and have very fond memories of this time together.
My story behind the quoted material
Persichetti’s Litergical Symphony
My story began with my performance of Persichetti’s 7th symphony with the New School of Music orchestra in Philadelphia. It was my sophomore year of college and up until this point I was very self-conscious about how I fit within the orchestra as a piccolo player, particularly with tuning. In my freshman years I had a difficult time when I was given a piccolo solo in the American premiere of Delius’s Sleigh Ride. I wasn’t sure how to “tame the beast”, as piccoloists call it, and both my private teacher Deborah Carter Smith and the orchestra conductor, her husband William Smith, took on the challenge of helping me control significant problems with individual note tuning before the performance. Luckily I improved greatly, but not before I received demeaning yet well-intended advice from my peers.
My next solo experience came only one year later with the 7th symphony under Mr. Persichetti’s baton. This has an elegant and melodious piccolo solo that requires the soloist to play a very long phrase in one breath. When I played for Mr. Persichetti, he stopped the rehearsal to compliment me on my performance. Not only was it the first time that a conductor complimented me in rehearsal, but it was the first time that I received a coveted foot stomping by my peers, which was just as significant to me. A flute student at the rehearsal told me I needed to write down what Mr. Persichetti said so that I didn’t forget it—I don’t think there was ever a chance of that happening!
Persichetti on his Hymns and Responses for the Church Year
His spiritual journey
Out of the nine symphonies that Persichetti composed, the seventh was “a very personal statement and is a symphonic development of materials from his small choral book Hymns and Responses for the Church Year.” 1
Explaining the Hymns and Responses collection for an article for Perspectives of New Music, Persichetti told the interviewer, “that season became a day-and-night obsession with music for the church. Every Sunday, my family and I visited a different church. I discovered in the various congregations of different denominations a variety of attitudes to their music, the universal approach I wished for my hymns… I am a religious person, but not in any formal way… my whole world can be placed in a single frame. When I’m writing an Episcopal Magnificat, my entire being is caught up in that religious medium and way of worship. That segment of the Christian world is mine at the time. I can find this whole world in the arms of a single double bass. In my Parable for Solo Clarinet, I don’t miss an oboe or even a friendly piano.” 2
Also taken from this hymnbook was the second quote that Folio set, mm. 6–8 from “Christmas,” which in itself was recast as the solo-lined Parable XII for piccolo.
Nineteen of Persichetti’s biblical Parables are for a solo instrument. In the Parable for Piccolo the finale section is the soprano line of the Christmas hymn in its entirety, including the Amen. Both the Parable and Folio’s Persichetti movement begin with the fragmented theme from the Christmas hymn, “This is the month, and this the happy morn”.
My story behind the quoted material
Persichetti’s Parable for Piccolo
One year after I performed the 7th Symphony in college, then new president, Tamara Brooks, arranged personal coaching sessions for me with Mr. Persichetti on works of my choosing. The first session was on his Parable for Piccolo, one of the first repertoire pieces written for solo piccolo. Mr. Persichetti was a wonderfully good-natured mentor; he had only the nicest things to say. In particular, his advice to me when playing the final hymn tune at the end of the parable was, “don’t make more of this than it is – it is just a simple Christmas hymn tune.”
My new teacher John Krell helped prepare me to play for Mr. Persichetti. I remember so well that Mr. Krell was unfamiliar with the Parable when I brought it to him for lessons. Still, he played it brilliantly and had wonderful insights on performing the work. When Mr. Krell passed away in 1999, I thought to play the Persichetti on his memorial concert. When I went to look for a recording of the Parable for Piccolo and discovered that there was none, I decided to record it myself. This work became the impetus for recording and gathering compositions for my first solo CD Take Wing.
Cynthia Folio’s Thoughts
Email from Cynthia to Lois: “I’ve listened to the whole 7th symphony several times–it’s fantastic! Thanks to you, my respect for Persichetti as a composer has grown. I’ve always respected him as a pedagogue—I’ve used his 20th-century harmony book in my own teaching—I love the composition exercises at the end of each chapter.”
Cynthia Folio – I am grateful to Lois for suggesting the idea of doing a series of portraits and more specifically for suggesting Persichetti as one of the important Philadelphia figures. She also suggested Betsy Ross, and then I came up with the other three (John Coltrane, Marian Anderson, and Benjamin Franklin). The whole process was a collaboration from the inception up to the premiere, when Lois also had many interesting ideas on how to perform particular spots in the piece. Philadelphia Portraits would have been a very different piece (and a different title) without this collaboration!
1 “VINCENT PERSICHETTI.” Welcome to Presser Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Sept. 2013. <http://www.presser.com/Composers/info.cfm?Name=VINCENTPERSICHETTI>.2 “Conversation with Rudy Schackelford,” Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 20, Fall-Winter 1981 & Spring-Summer 1982, pp. 104-133.