NICOLAS FLAGELLO (1928 - 1994)
Nicolas Flagello was one of the last American composers to pursue traditional romantic musical values, intensified by modernist innovations in harmony and rhythm, but without the irony or detachment of postmodernism. For him music was a personal medium for spiritual and emotional expression, a view that was far from fashionable during the years after 1945, when Flagellos creative personality was crystallizing, a time when originality and experimental techniques reigned supreme. In such a milieu Flagello’s music gained little attention. Yet he held fast to his ideals throughout his life, producing a large and varied body of work that included six operas, two symphonies, eight concertos, and numerous orchestral, choral, chamber, and vocal works, although much of it was still unperformed at the time of his death, only in recent decades to find an increasingly sympathetic audience.
Flagello was born in New York City in 1928 into a musical family. He studied both piano and violin as a child, and began composing on his own before the age of ten. He was soon brought to the attention of Vittorio Giannini, a highly esteemed composer and teacher known for his adherence to traditional musical values. Giannini became Flagello’s mentor, and the two developed a close professional and personal friendship that lasted until the older man’s death in 1966. In 1945 Flagello entered the Manhattan School of Music, where Giannini served on the faculty. Earning both his bachelor’s (1949) and master’s (1950) degrees there, he joined the faculty himself upon graduating, and remained there for more than 25 years, teaching for a time during the 1960s also at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. Winning a Fulbright Fellowship in 1955, he took leave to study for a year at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, working under the elderly Ildebrando Pizzetti, and earning the Diploma di Studi Superiori.
The first recordings of Flagello’s music in 1964 were well-received by some critics. In 1974, his oratorio The Passion of Martin Luther King was first performed with great acclaim by the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, subsequently to be recorded, and performed throughout the United States and Canada. In 1982, his opera The Judgment of St Francis was produced in Assisi. Flagello was also active as a pianist and conductor, and made dozens of recordings of a wide range of repertoire, from the Baroque to the contemporary. In 1985 a degenerative illness brought his musical career to an end prematurely. He died in 1994, at the age of 66.
During the years since his death, performances and recordings of Flagello’s music have attracted the attention of a new generation of listeners. Well-known performers, such as the violinist Midori, have been championing his work, and recent recordings have received critical acclaim.