VITTORIO GIANNINI (1903 - 1966)
Vittorio Giannini was born in Philadelphia to a distinguished musical family. Not only were both his parents professional musicians, but his sister, Dusolina, was one of the world's leading operatic sopranos during the 1930s and 1940s, and another sister, Euphemia, was a member of the vocal faculty of the Curtis Institute of Music for many years. Today Vittorio is perhaps best known as a teacher, having spent decades on the composition faculties of the Juilliard School, Curtis Institute, and Manhattan School of Music, and ending his educational career as the founding president of the North Carolina School of the Arts. Among his students are John Corigliano, David Amram, Adolphus Hailstork, Alfred Reed, Nicolas Flagello, and Thomas Pasatieri.
Giannini, however, was a prolific composer as well, one of the many Italian-Americans who flourished during the 20th century, helping to create a distinguished repertoire shaped along traditional tonal, formal, and developmental lines. His output includes more than a dozen operas, seven symphonies, scores of songs, and a variety of concertos and choral, band, and chamber works. His music is notable for its warm immediacy of expression, its ingratiating lyricism, and its impeccable craftsmanship. A true traditionalist, Giannini had no interest in being a trend-setter. His musical creed is perhaps best embodied by his statement that he was driven 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."
Although Giannini's creative work embraced all standard musical genres, he is best known for his operatic and vocal music, and for his pieces for concert band. The domains of opera and the concert band may seem worlds apart, yet this duality has historical precedent in Giannini's background. His father Ferruccio, who had immigrated to the United States from Tuscany in 1885, was both a successful operatic tenor and the founder of an Italian-American concert band that flourished in Philadelphia and Atlantic City around the turn of the twentieth century.
Vittorio began taking music lessons from his mother when he was five; after four years he was awarded a scholarship to study at the Verdi Conservatory in Milan, where he concentrated on both violin and composition. Returning to the United States, he continued his education at the Juilliard School in New York, where he studied composition with Rubin Goldmark. During the 1920s, 1930s, and early 1940s, Giannini's compositional output centered chiefly around operas and songs, all in a highly romantic, even sentimental, vein. One of his earliest songs became his most famous: 'Tell Me, Oh Blue, Blue Sky', written in 1927, and later championed by such singers as Leonard Warren, Mario Lanza, and, more recently, Thomas Hampson. He had two major operatic successes in Europe during the 1930s, Lucedia and The Scarlet Letter, the latter with his sister Dusolina and Hans Hotter in the leading rôles. In spite of critical acclaim it has never been produced again. During the late 1930s CBS commissioned Giannini to compose two short operas for radio, Beauty and the Beast and Blennerhassett, both of which have been produced on stage a number of times. His most enduring operatic success, however, is a buffa adaptation of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew.