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Julia Perry (1924 –1979)

Born 25 March 1924
Lexington, KY
Died 29 April 1979
Akron, OH
Nationality American
Era Modern

Julia Amanda Perry was an American classical composer and teacher who combined European classical and neo-classical training with her African-American heritage. 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 examples of how her compositional style incorporates 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.

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.It incorporates dissonance, but remains within the classification of tonal music. These pieces incorporate more modern composition techniques, such as quartal voicings, which voices the orchestra in fourths rather than the traditional method of thirds and fifths. The work is constructed in sections and is very emotionally powerful. It was recorded on CRI, by the Japan Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, William Strickland, conducting.

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. 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.

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.

Examples by Julia Perry