One of the master composers of his generation, Norman Dello Joio
was true to his musical vision for over 95 years. Born into a distinguished family of church musicians in 1913, Dello Joio acquired the rudiments of his training as a pianist and organist at home, and by the age of 12 he was accomplished enough to substitute for his father, Casimir at the church where he was the music director, the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Manhattan. Additional organ studies with his well-known godfather, Pietro Yon were followed by studies at the All Hallows Institute (1926-30) and the College of the City of New York (1932-4). He began full-time musical training at the Institute of Musical Art (1933-38) and the Juilliard School of Music, graduate division, where his composition teacher was Bernard Wagenaar. In 1941 he decided to further hone his compositional skills by taking Paul Hindemith’s summer composition class at the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood, and continued to study with the German master at Yale University from 1941 to 1943. Over the years he has written in all the major genres of music from opera and ballet to solo piano, art songs, choral music and chamber music. However, it as a writer of music for orchestra and string orchestra that he is probably best-known, and his works in this area have garnered him a New York Critics Circle Award (for Variations, Chaconne and Finale
), a Pulitzer Prize (for Meditations on Ecclesiastes
) and an Emmy (for his score for the television series, The Louvre
). All of his music is deeply imbued with the flavor of medieval ecclesiasticism that he imbibed from an early age. The liturgical feeling of the musical ideas is cannily mixed with a modern, neo-tonal (frequently quartal and modal) harmonic vocabulary and a flair for moderately dissonant counterpoint. His orchestral approach is also distinctive in its balance of colorful flair and austerity. Highly regarded as a teacher and administrator, Dello Joio has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, the Mannes College of Music and Boston University, where he served for many years as Dean of the School of Fine and Applied Arts. In 1959, he began a 14-year association with the Ford Foundation Contemporary Music Project for Creativity in Music Education. Dello Joio conceived and developed the project through which young composers were placed in high schools throughout the USA and subsidized while they wrote music for school ensembles of every type. The program clearly had a beneficial effect on his writing and led to a successful series of pieces for band and chorus.
Dello Joio’s orchestral music has been performed by most of the major orchestras in the United States, including the Atlanta Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Boston Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, Louisville Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony, Utah Symphony, et al. In addition, several of his orchestral works have had a second life as successful ballets, Meditations on Ecclesiastes (There Is a Time – José Limon), Serenade (Diversion of Angels – Martha Graham) and The Triumph of St. Joan (Seraphic Dialogues – Martha Graham, among others.
Norman Dello Joio died at his home in East Hampton, New York on July 24, 2008.