Born in Philadelphia, Giannini went to Italy to study at the Milan Conservatory, returning to the U.S. to take his graduate degree at Juilliard. He stayed on as teacher, eventually moving on to The Curtis Institute where his students included Herbie Hancock, John Corigliano and Nicholas Flagello.
A prolific composer, his vocal works earned him the most recognition and success, and he was active up until his death in 1966.
This work, simply called An Opera Ballet, was intended to be music from a then-incomplete Opera Giannini was working on (in 1939), and it was given its world premier by the San Francisco Symphony, during a broadcast on August 27, 1939 with Edwin MacArthur conducting.
It’s not known for certain if this music was eventually incorporated into an opera (he wrote a one-act Radio opera, Blennerhassett, which premiered in 1939) or if it was abandoned altogether. In any event, this world premier performance hasn’t been issued, and this recording, as technically iffy as it is, is probably the only known example of this work in existence.
Sadly, this is a home/hobbyist recording, and a couple side joins are awkward. And the discs themselves (78 acetates) weren’t stored in particularly good circumstances – so the historic attraction to this piece comes with a caveat.
In retrospect, the wholesale abandoning of the Neo-Romantic style was probably not the best thing to happen to Classical Music in the 20th century – in what was once a thriving art form. And America was cranking out a huge number of composers whose work has been largely forgotten over the years. As with all music, not every piece written was good, or even worth a second hearing. But it did provide a historic perspective on movements in Music, and its place in history, certainly as far as American Classical music is concerned, is undeniable. Unfortunately, you really have to dig in order to find examples – and even though some enterprising labels and performing bodies of late have been resurrecting many of these lost artifacts, there is a vast number waiting to be discovered.
Maybe it’s time to go on an archeological dig through some of these Conservatory libraries and see what pops up. I’m sure it could be illuminating.
In the meantime, here is one example of a all-but-forgotten American composer, whose work was celebrated during his lifetime and who has since gone into serious neglect. Perhaps not life-changing music, but worthy of a listen and maybe sparking a curiosity as to what else is out there.