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Length: 10 minutes
Giannini was a major figure in mid-20th-century American conservatory life, teaching at Juilliard, the Manhattan School of Music, and the Curtis Institute, and being the first director of the North Carolina School of the Arts. Born in Philadelphia, he was a prodigy on the violin, studying at the Milan Conservatory and then Juilliard. Composing in a full-blooded, modern Romantic style, he achieved considerable success with dramatic music - including several radio operas - in the 1930s. He also wrote five symphonies, five concertos, many songs, and a substantial body of choral, band, and chamber music.
Commissioned by Juilliard, Giannini's Prelude and Fugue for string orchestra has all the expressive passion of his early music, in a setting of neo-classical clarity. The Prelude is largely an accompanied song for the first violins, an elegiac, cresting melody in E minor varied and extended to a soaring climax, then quickly sinking to a quiet close on E, sweetened with a Picardy (major) third.
Also in a modally bent E minor, the Fugue is a boldly patterned construction in a metrically skewed 5/4 meter. It presents a textbook exposition before examining thematic elements in a more fragmented context. Full of rushing scales, rhythmic obsessions, and chromatically twisted harmonic momentum, it has much of the figural energy of Vivaldi and other baroque models, thundering to a heavily iterated ending.
John Henken is the Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.