Life and work
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 would return 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 Janos Starker 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. 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). 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"; many of these songs are now staples of vocal recitalists' repertoire.
Though it was his vocal and operatic writing which earned him greatest renown, Giannini also composed several symphonies, concerti, works for the wind band (for which his Symphony no. 3 was written), and wrote several solo piano and chamber works. Despite this wide range of output, most of his work is seldom performed, and little of it has been recorded.
- Stabat mater (1922), SATB and orchestra
- "Tell Me, O Blue, Blue Sky" (1927), voice/piano
- String Quartet (1930)
- Suite (1931), orchestra
- Piano Quintet (1932)
- Lucedia (1934), opera, libretto K. Flaster
- Piano Concerto (1935)
- Symphony ‘In memoriam Theodore Roosevelt’ (1935)
- Organ Concerto (1937)
- Triptych (1937), soprano choir and strings
- IBM Symphony (1937), orchestra
- Requiem (1937), choir and orchestra
- The Scarlet Letter (1938), opera, libretto Flaster after Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Beauty and the Beast (1938), radio opera in one act
- Blennerhassett (1939), radio opera in one act
- Sonata no. 1 (1940), violin and piano
- "Sing to My Heart a Song" (c. 1942), voice/piano
- Sonata no. 2 (1944), violin and piano
- Variations on a Cantus firmus (1947), piano
- The Taming of the Shrew (1950), opera, libretto by Giannini and D. Fee after Shakespeare
- Symphony no. 1 ‘Sinfonia’ (1950)
- Divertimento no. 1 (1953), orchestra
- Symphony no. 2 (1955), orchestra
- Prelude and Fugue (1955), string orchestra
- "Fantasia for Band" (1963), band
- Preludium and Allegro (1958), symphonic band
- Symphony no. 3 (1958), symphonic band
- Symphony no. 4 (1959), orchestra
- The Medead (1960), soprano and orchestra
- The Harvest (1961), opera, libretto Flaster
- Divertimento no. 2 (1961), orchestra
- Antigone (1962), soprano and orchestra
- Psalm cxxx (1963), bass/cello and orchestra
- Variations and Fugue (1964), symphonic band
- Symphony no. 5 (1965)
- Servant of Two Masters (1966), opera, libretto B. Stambler, after C. Goldoni
- Simmons, Walter G. 2001. ""Giannini, Vittorio". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
- Simmons, Walter G., "Vittorio Giannini". . Grove Music Online (subscription access)
- Haskell, Harry and Walter G. Simmons. [n.d.]. "Vittorio Giannini". Grove Music Online (OperaBase) (subscription access)
- Schaunseer, Max de. "Dusolina Giannini". Grove Music Online (subscription access)
- Simmons, Walter. 2004. Voices in the Wilderness: Six American Neo-Romantic Composers. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.