Vincent Persichetti (1915-1987) was a piano and organ prodigy who was supporting himself with his musical talents by age 11. A lifelong Philadelphia resident, he took full advantage of that city’s music institutions. At age 20, he was simultaneously the head of the music department at Combs College, a conducting major with Fritz Reiner at the Curtis Institute, and a piano and composition student at the Philadelphia Conservatory. His distinctly original compositions began to be recognized internationally before he was 30. His skyrocketing reputation led to his appointment at the Juilliard School, where he became the chair of the composition department at age 47. He died in 1987, leaving behind a unique body of work in almost every musical medium, including a number of masterpieces for the wind band.
One of those masterpieces is Serenade for Band, op. 85, number 11 of a series of 15 serenades he wrote for various solo and ensemble combinations throughout his career. He wrote it in 1960 on a commission from Frank Battisti and the Ithaca High School Band. This group premiered the work on April 19, 1961, with Persichetti conducting. Like a classical serenade (and Persichetti’s own serenades), it comes in many movements, in this case five miniatures. All of them feature Persichetti’s free use of triadic harmony, easy and wandering diatonic melodies, signature colorful orchestrations, and minimal but evocative percussion writing. The first, “Pastoral,” puts a breezy melody over slowly undulating accompaniments. A “Humoreske” follows which seems to derive its melody from the “Pastoral” with a percussive backdrop. The homophonic “Nocturne” is a sweet, rubato chorale. The “Intermezzo” is dominated by ascending and descending triads over graceful harmonies. The final “Capriccio” dances in 6/8 time, ending on another Persichetti signature: a 9-note chord that suggests A-flat major, B-flat major, D minor, F major, A minor, and C major in one sonority.
Here it is as performed by an honor band in Georgia:
See more about Serenade for Band at GIA Publications, and look in Volume 4 of Teaching Music Through Performance In Band for an in depth article about it (p. 543). You can find out more about Persichetti himself at Theodore Presser, Wikipedia, and his own Society’s website.