Julia Perry

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Julia Amanda Perry (25 March 1924 – 24 April 1979) was an American classical composer and teacher who combined European classical and neo-classical training with her African-American heritage.[1][2][3]

Julia Perry
Born(1924-03-25)March 25, 1924
Lexington, KY
DiedApril 24, 1979(1979-04-24) (aged 55)
Akron, OH
EducationWestminster Choir College, Juilliard School of Music,
Occupation(s)Composer, pianist, conductor

Life and education[edit]

Born in Lexington, Kentucky, as a child Perry moved with her family to Akron, Ohio.[4] She went on to study voice, piano, and composition at the Westminster Choir College 1943–48. It was there that she received her B.M. and M.M. She continued on to her graduate studies at Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood, where she was a student of Luigi Dallapiccola, and then later studied at the Juilliard School of Music. Around this time she was awarded her first Guggenheim Fellowship.

In 1952, Perry began studying under Nadia Boulanger in Paris, during which time she was awarded the Boulanger Grand Prix for her Viola Sonata. Soon after she was awarded her second Guggenheim Fellowship,[5] which she used to return to Italy and continue her studies with Dallapiccola.[6]

Perry also studied conducting at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena during the summers of 1956 and 1957, and in 1957 was sponsored by the U.S. Information Service to conduct a series of concerts in Europe.

After a total of five and a half years in Europe, Julia Perry returned to America and continued her work in composition. On return she also took up teaching at Tallahassee's Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College in 1967 and was also a visiting artist at Atlanta College.

Perry is buried in Glendale Cemetery in Akron, Ohio; the birth year on her tombstone, 1927, is incorrect.[4]

Works and compositions[edit]

Some of Julia Perry's early compositions are heavily influenced by African American music. In 1951 Free at Last and I'm a Poor Li'l Orphan were published, both of which showcased her incorporation of black spiritual music. She also composed Song of Our Savior for the Hampton Institute Choir, which used Dorian mode and a hummed ostinato with call and response phrases throughout the piece.[7]

In other works, Perry began branching out in her composition technique and experimenting with dissonance. One of her most notable works, Stabat Mater (1951), is composed for solo contralto and string orchestra.[1][8] It incorporates dissonance, but remains within the classification of tonal music. These pieces incorporate more modern compositional techniques, such as quartal harmony, which voices chords in fourths rather than thirds and fifths. It was recorded on CRI, by the Japan Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, William Strickland, conducting.[9][10]

Other instrumental works by Julia Perry include Requiem for Orchestra (also known as Homage to Vivaldi because of themes inspired by composer Antonio Vivaldi), a number of shorter orchestral works; several types of chamber music; a violin concerto; twelve symphonies; and two piano concertos. Her vocal works include a three-act opera and The Symplegades, which was based on the 17th century Salem witchcraft panic. The opera took more than ten years to write and at the time of her death, the opera had yet to be completed. She also composed an operatic ballet with her own libretto, based on Oscar Wilde's fable The Selfish Giant, and in 1976 composed Five Quixotic Songs for bass baritone in and Bicentennial Reflections for tenor solo in '77.[7]

Julia Perry's early compositions focused mostly on works written for voice, however, she gradually began to write more instrumental compositions later in life. By the time she suffered from a stroke in 1971, she had written twelve symphonies.

Although she is known to have composed dozens of works, many cannot currently be performed due to questions over copyright.[1]

Below is a non-comprehensive list of compositions.[11][1]

Title Date Instrumentation
Suite of shoes 1947 Piano
Pearls on silk 1947 Piano
Is there anybody there? 1947 Women's voices
Chicago 1948 Cantata for baritone, narrator, chorus & orchestra
Ruth 1950 Cantata for chorus & organ
Stabat Mater 1951 Contralto and strings
Short Piece 1952 Orchestra
Study 1952 Orchestra
Ye who seek the Lord, anthem 1952 Tenor, mixed choir, and organ
The Bottle 1953 Opera
Frammenti dalle Lettere di Santa Caterina 1953 Orchestra and soprano
The Cask of Amontillado 1954 Opera
Requiem (Homage to Vivaldi) 1959 Orchestra
Homunculus C.F. 1960 10 percussion with harp and piano
Pastoral 1962 Flute and string sextet
Three Warnings 1963 Opera
Contretemps 1963 Orchestra
The Selfish Giant 1964 Opera
Piano Concerto 1964 Piano and orchestra
Violin Concerto 1964 Violin and orchestra
Symphony No. 6 1966 Symphonic Band
Symphony U.S.A. No. 7 1967 Choir and small orchestra
Violin Concerto 1968 Orchestra and vocal

Recordings and performances[edit]

Perry's works were not widely recorded, but her Short Piece for Orchestra was performed and recorded by the New York Philharmonic in 1965 in Lincoln Center New York.[12]

This piece is representative of Perry's neoclassical compositional style. It has a number of rhythmic elements that use syncopation. The piece itself it somewhat frantic and wild, with the strings and brass sections switching between background and foreground in the composition, and rhythmic fills from the percussion. After the opening, Short Piece settles down into a long, lyrical passage introduced by the woodwinds and expanded upon by the strings.[7]

In 1960, the Manhattan Percussion Ensemble recorded Perry's Homunculus, C.F. for 10 percussionists.[13] The piece is scored for timpani, cymbals, snare drum, bass drum, wood blocks, xylophone, vibraphone, celesta, piano, and harp. Perry termed the work "pantonal" since is it neither in a major or minor key and it uses all available tones. Perry uses the title Homunculus as a symbol for the experimental nature of the piece; the name refers to the test tube creature brought to life by Wagner, a character in Goethe's Faust.[7]

In 2020, Akron Symphony music director Christopher Wilkins began working with Louise Toppin of the African Diaspora Music Project to revive Perry's works. This led to the Akron Symphony performing several of her compositions, releasing recordings, organizing materials for her unpublished works, and working with the Summit County Probate Judge to get copyright issues resolved. [1] The orchestra's Julia Perry Project has produced recordings, articles, an extensive catalogue of her work, and an oral history project.

In November 2023, the New York Philharmonic performed "Stabat Mater" with mezzo-soprano J'Nai Bridges singing the solo.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Schumann, Garrett (November 20, 2023). "Her Music Fell Into Obscurity. Now It's Back at the Philharmonic. - Julia Perry's "Stabat Mater" was well received in the 1950s. But it took until this week for the New York Philharmonic to program it". The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 20, 2023. Retrieved November 20, 2023.
  2. ^ Zick, William (December 14, 2007), "Julia Amanda Perry (1924–1979), African American Composer", Africalassical, retrieved November 12, 2012
  3. ^ Cohen, Aaron (1987). International Encyclopedia of Women Composers. Books & Music (U.S.A.) Inc.
  4. ^ a b "Perry, Julia A. · Notable Kentucky African Americans Database".
  5. ^ "Julia (Amanda) Perry", Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, January 1, 2001, archived from the original on 2016-02-24, retrieved November 12, 2012
  6. ^ "Julia Perry | ADMP".
  7. ^ a b c d Ammer, Christine (2001). Unsung: A History of Women in American Music. Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press. pp. 137, 138. ISBN 1574670581.
  8. ^ Briscoe, James. R. Historical Anthology of Music by Women. Indiana University Press. Bloomington: 1987.
  9. ^ "Julia Perry, "Stabat Mater," as we grieve together". www.youtube.com. Archived from the original on 2021-12-13.
  10. ^ "ALBUM DETAIL; Moore/ Perry". www.newworldrecords.org. Archived from the original on 16 November 2018.
  11. ^ I., Cohen, Aaron (1987). International encyclopedia of women composers (2nd edition, revised and enlarged ed.). New York: Books & Music (USA), Inc. ISBN 0961748524. OCLC 16714846.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  12. ^ "Julia Perry: Study for Orchestra". YouTube. September 9, 2013. Retrieved April 27, 2015.
  13. ^ Julia Perry: Homunculus, C.F., for 10 percussionists (1960), 2011-06-23, retrieved 2015-04-28

Further references[edit]

External links[edit]

Julia Perry at Find a Grave