19 October 1903
Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, United States
28 November 1966 (aged 63)
Vittorio Giannini (October 19, 1903 – November 28, 1966) was an neoromantic American composer of operas, songs, symphonies, and band works.
Giannini began as a violinist under the tutelage of his mother; he would go on to study violin and composition at the Milan Conservatory on scholarship, and then to take his graduate degree at the Juilliard School. He would return to Juilliard to teach, moving on to the Manhattan School of Music and the Curtis Institute of Music. His students included Alfred Reed, Anthony Iannaccone, John Corigliano, Adolphus Hailstork, Thomas Pasatieri, Avraham Sternklar and Nancy Bloomer Deussen. Giannini was one of the founders of the North Carolina School of the Arts, in 1964, and he remained there until his death.
Giannini's father was an opera singer, as were as his two sisters. In fact, it was his sister, Dusolina Giannini, who was a pivotal figure in the success of his operas. Dusolina was a dramatic soprano and prima donna who played such roles as Aida and Donna Anna throughout Europe, until moving to the United States to sing with the Metropolitan Opera and finally to spend her remaining years teaching. Her career was already well underway when Vittorio wished to premiere his first opera, Lucedia and it was her influence that led to its production in 1934. Four years later she would create the role of Hester Prynne in his opera from Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter (adapted by Karl Flaster). Both operas would be successful, as would most of his later operas (though two, Casanova and Christus, remain unperformed).
His partnership with poet Karl Flaster was a fruitful one. In addition to his work on The Scarlet Letter, Flaster was the librettist for several of Giannini's operas, including Lucedia and The Harvest. Also, Flaster collaborated with Giannini on many of his most successful art songs, including "Tell Me, Oh Blue Blue Sky"; many of these songs are now staples of vocal recitalists' repertoire.
Though it was his vocal and operatic writing which earned him greatest renown, Giannini also composed several symphonies, concerti, works for the wind band (for which his Symphony no. 3 was written), and wrote several solo piano and chamber works. Despite this wide range of output, most of his work is seldom performed, and little of it has been recorded.
Giannini was a throwback to the Romantic tradition, particularly considering that most of his American musical contemporaries were exploring the realms of neoclassicism. He rejected the academicism of much of the music of his contemporaries, stating that his works were motivated by "an unrelenting quest for the beautiful, with the humble hope that I may be privileged to achieve this goal, if only for one precious moment and share this moment with my listeners." His main influences were the composers of the late Romantic period, particularly the chromaticism of Richard Wagner; as Giannini's style developed it grew in darkness, intensity, and tonal adventurousness, exploring dissonance without succumbing to modernism. In general Giannini's works were well-received; the modernists, however, held his music in little regard, and critic Arthur Cohn described him as "a 20th century composer using well sharpened tools of the 19th century.”
Giannini's works, particularly the later vocal works, are regarded as prime examples of the American neoromantic style; others of the American neoromantic school include Samuel Barber and Howard Hanson.
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