Pietro A. Yon
|Born||August 8, 1886|
Settimo Vittone, (Piedmont, Italy)
|Died||November 22, 1943 (aged 57)|
|Nationality||Italian and American|
|Known for||organ virtuoso and composer|
Yon was born in Settimo Vittone, (Piedmont, Italy). His earliest studies in music began at age 6 with Angelo Burbatti, organist at the Cathedral of Ivrea. At the conservatory of Milan he was Polibio Fumagalli's pupil. From 1901-1904 he was enrolled at the conservatory in Turin, studying organ with Remondi and composition with Giovanni Bolzoni. He then attended the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, studying organ with Remigio Renzi, piano with Bustini and Sgambati, and De Sanctis in composition. In 1905 he graduated with the academy's first-prize medal and won a medal from the minister of public instruction. From 1905 to 1907 he served as assistant organist under his former teacher Renzi at St. Peter's in the Vatican.
Relocation to America
In the spring of 1907, Father John B. Young, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church in Manhattan, was in Rome on Vatican business and additionally to seek out a replacement for his organist Gaston Dethier, who was leaving to pursue a concert career. Upon hearing Yon play, Father Young was sufficiently impressed to offer him a three-year contract. Thus Yon at age 21 came to the United States, where from 1907 until 1926 he was the organist of St. Francis Xavier Church. He joined his brother S. Constantino Yon, who had preceded him and held a similar position at St. Vincent Ferrer Church.
In 1914, Pietro and Constantino Yon opened the Yon Music Studios in Carnegie Hall, a conservatory for aspiring liturgical musicians utilizing a small number of instructors whose work he respected. Pietro would head the organ department while Constantino was in charge of the vocalists.
In 1919, Yon married to Francesca Pesagno. The organist for the occasion was one of Yon's newest friends, the Belgian-American virtuoso Charles M. Courboin, who had been chosen to rededicate the Wanamaker Organ in Philadelphia, now enlarged to 17,000 pipes and still the largest operational organ in the world. In 1920, Yon would share the stage at Wanamaker's with Courboin, Leopold Stokowski, and the Philadelphia Orchestra in one of the gala organ recitals performed at the store through the 1920s.
From 1919 to 1921 Yon was substitute organist at the Vatican's Cappella Giulia. On January 1, 1922 Pope Benedict XV appointed Yon 'Titular Organist' of the Vatican, a singular and unprecedented honor. The appointment put pressure on New York church authorities to promote Yon to a more-prestigious position.
Yon became an American citizen in 1921.
St. Patrick's Cathedral
In 1926, he became the assistant organist of St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York. Shortly after his arrival, church authorities began to discuss the possibility of replacing their existing Jardine and Odell organs, which were installed when the Cathedral was built. The Cathedral's 1929 Jubilee year was near and funding had become available for improvements.
By 1927, it was announced that the Kilgen firm of St. Louis, Missouri had been selected to build the chancel, gallery and echo (triforium) organs, with Courboin as tonal designer. The resulting instrument was then and remains now the magnum opus of the Kilgen firm and one of the finest organs in the world.
Also in 1927 Yon was approached by Carnegie Hall to assist in the replacement of its outmoded Hillgreen, Lane organ with a 4-manual, 59-rank instrument, also by Kilgen with Courboin as tonal director. And a 3-manual Kilgen instrument was to be built for the Yon Music Studios.
Work proceeded rapidly on the Cathedral chancel organ, and by January 1928 the instrument had been installed (still without the elaborate organ case). Associate organist Yon presided over the dedication recital on January 30, 1928. The organ console was relocated to the sanctuary for the performance, which was a major social and musical event attended by 5,000 ticketholders.
In 1933, when the position of Associate Organist at the Cathedral became vacant, Yon chose as a replacement Edward J. Rivetti, one of his own students. Though Rivetti never actually became principal organist he served as assistant under both Yon and successor Courboin until 1970.
In the spring of 1938, both Pietro and Constantino Yon were appointed as Knights of St. Sylvester by Cardinal Patrick Hayes, who would die within a month of the appointment. Pietro also toured the country giving recitals.
Yon was also a composer, most famous for his Humoresque "L'organo primitivo"- Toccatina for Flute, for organ, and his Christmas piece Gesù bambino. He also wrote many works for organ, piano, and orchestra, including a Concerto Gregoriano for organ and orchestra (inspired by his experiences with the Wanamaker Organ) (with a companion version for organ and piano), Speranza (Hope) – Solo for Diapason, Concert Study #1 and #2, American Rhapsody  and a concerto for oboe.
Yon's pupils included Cole Porter, Georges-Émile Tanguay, Powell Weaver (Kansas City), Edgar Bowman (Pittsburgh), Robert Elmore (Philadelphia), Mary Downey (New York), Henry Seibert (New York), Eugene Phillips (Grand Rapids), Tracy Y. Cannon (Salt Lake City, organist at the Mormon Tabernacle), Helen Knox Ferguson (Dallas), Helen Townsend (Buffalo), Franklin Coates (N.Y.City), Dorothy Mulroney (organist at the Municipal Auditorium Springfield, Mass.), Wilbur Chenowetch (Professor of organ and organist of the Plymouth Church, Lincoln, Neb.), Alan Bucher (Peekskill N.Y.), Edward Rivetti, assistant organist at St. Patrick's Cathedral, N.Y., Radie Britain (Dallas) and Yon's godson Norman Dello Joio.
Illness and death
On April 9, 1943, Yon suffered a massive stroke that paralyzed his entire right side. His sister Lina died of a heart attack upon finding him. As a result, he was unable to fulfill his obligations at St. Patrick's Cathedral and was temporarily replaced by long-time assistant Edward Rivetti.
At first, Yon was sent to Columbia Hospital. Eventually, it was decided to move him to a friend's house in Long Island, where it was thought that he would recover better. In the meantime, the Cathedral held his position open and refused application from organists who wanted to replace him.
In time, it became obvious that Yon would take a long time to recover if at all. Courboin was available as a substitute "for the duration of the illness of Pietro Yon". He was heavily engaged in a recital and teaching career, in addition to consultation on many new organs and performing radio broadcasts on WOR. On October 2, 1943, Courboin was appointed interim organist while Yon was ill.
Yon died in Huntington, New York on November 22, 1943, the feast of St Cecilia. His funeral, which took place on the 25th, was attended by 1,300 including Toscanini. Courboin conducted the choir in Yon's own Mass of Requiem; Yon's setting of O All Ye That Pass by the Way was also sung. He is buried with his sister Lina at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Westchester County.
- Basile, Salvatore (2010). Fifth Avenue Famous: The Extraordinary Story of Music at St. Patrick's Cathedral. New York: Fordham University Press. ISBN 978-0-8232-3187-4.
- "Pietro A. Yon is dead after a long illness" (PDF). The Diapason. 35 (1): 1. December 1, 1943.
- "Advertisement for Yon Music Studios". Musical America. Vol. 28, no. 25. 1918. p. 52.
- "Pietro Yon Dead; a Noted Organist" (PDF). New York Times. 1943-11-23. p. 25.
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- "Robert Elmore, Organist, Music Director, Composer, Teacher, Church Musician". RobertElmore.org. Retrieved 2019-09-20.
- "Mary Elizabeth Downey" (PDF). St. Augustine Orthodox Christian Church. Retrieved 2019-09-20.
- "St John's Sunday School Will Dedicate New Organ". Reading Eagle. 1949-10-26. p. 28. Retrieved 2019-09-20.
- "Yon's Own Music is Sung at Mass Attended by 1,300" (PDF). The Diapason. 35 (2): 2. January 1, 1944.
- "Locate a Loved One". Calvary & Allied NYC. Retrieved 2022-10-30.
- David Ewen, Encyclopedia of Concert Music. New York; Hill and Wang, 1959.