Date of Birth: October 19, 1903
Date of Death: November 28, 1966
Period/Era/Style: 20th Century / Neocromantic
Contribution(s): Giannini was a neoromantic American composer of operas, songs, symphonies, and band works.
Biography: 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 returned to Juilliard to teach, moving on to the Manhattan School of Music and the Curtis Institute of Music. His students included Herbie Hancock, Nicolas Flagello, David Amram, Mark Bucci, Alfred Reed, Anthony Iannaccone, M. William Karlins, Irwin Swack, John Corigliano, Adolphus Hailstork, Thomas Pasatieri, Avraham Sternklar, and Nancy Bloomer Deussen. Giannini was the founder and first president of the North Carolina School of the Arts in 1965, which he envisioned as a type of Juilliard of the South, bringing artists such as cellist Irving Klein and violinist Ruggiero Ricci to teach there. He remained there until his untimely death in 1966 (Simmons 2001)
Giannini’s father, Ferruccio Giannini, was an opera singer and founder of the Verdi Opera House in Philadelphia, as were as his two sisters. Euphemia Giannini Gregory taught Voice at the Curtis Institute for 40 years counting among her students the opera divas Anna Moffo and Judith Blegen (Simmons 2004, 152). 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) (Simmons 2004, 153–54). 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” (Simpson and Flaster 1988, 380–81, et passim); many of these songs are now staples of vocal recitalists’ repertoire.
Though it was initially his vocal and operatic works that earned him greatest renown, Giannini also composed seven symphonies (only the last five were numbered), concerti, and chamber music. During the last eight years of his life he composed five works for wind band and, ironically, today they are his most widely performed compositions. One of them, his Symphony No. 3 (1958) has become a staple of the band repertoire. Despite the wide range of his output, little of his music is in the active repertoire. However, today a representative sample of all aspects of his work is available on recording.
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