Peter Mennin

IntroAmerican composer, administrator and teacher
Was Educator 
Music educator 
From United States of America 
Type Academia 
Birth 17 May 1923 
, Erie, Erie County, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
Death 17 June 1983 
, New York City, New York, U.S.A.
(aged 60 years)

Peter Mennin (born Mennini) (May 17, 1923, Erie, Pennsylvania – June 17, 1983, New York City) was a prominent American composer, teacher and administrator. In 1958, he was named Director of the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, and in 1962 became President of the Juilliard School, a position he held until his death in 1983. Under his leadership, Juilliard moved from Claremont Avenue to its present location at Lincoln Center. Mennin is responsible for the addition of drama and dance departments at Juilliard. He also started the Master Class Program, and brought many artists to teach including Maria Callas, Pierre Fournier and others.

The musically gifted son of Italian immigrants who settled in Erie, Mennin started his first orchestral piece at eleven and completed his first symphony (out of nine he would eventually write) before his 19th birthday. He began his studies at the Oberlin Conservatory with Norman Lockwood when he was 16, but left in 1941 to join the U. S. Army Air Force. He continued his studies with Howard Hanson at the Eastman School of Music, where he received his BA and master’s degree in 1945. His Third Symphony, finished the day he turned 23 and initially written for his PhD requirements at Eastman, immediately catapulted him to music prominence. The work was performed by the New York Philharmonic the following year, and it led Mennin’s appointment to the composition faculty of The Juilliard School. It was a runner up for the Pulitzer Prize in 1950. Dr. Mennin led the first artistic exchange with the Soviet Union in 1958, where he spent six weeks. He received two Guggenheim fellowships for Music composition, in 1949 and 1957.

Mennin wrote nine symphonies, several concertos, and numerous works for wind band, chorus, and other ensembles. His style became more chromatic and astringent with time, but was always essentially tonal, relying heavily on polyphony.

His work received renewed attention in the CD era, and now all his symphonies have been recorded.

Juilliard awards an annual Peter Mennin prize, for Outstanding Achievement and Leadership in Music.

His notable students include Van Cliburn, Jacob Druckman, Richard Danielpour, Karl Korte, Charles L. Bestor, Jack Behrens, and Claire Polin. See: List of music students by teacher: K to M#Peter Mennin.

Principal works

  • Symphonies
    • Symphony No. 1 (1942)
    • Symphony No. 2 (1944) (Gershwin Memorial Award, 1945) withdrawn
    • Symphony No. 3 (completed May 17, 1946, his doctoral dissertation. Premiered February 1947 by the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Walter Hendl.)
    • Symphony No. 4 The Cycle (1947–8) (Chorus & orchestra)
    • Symphony No. 5 (1950) (commissioned and premiered by the Dallas Symphony and Walter Hendl)
    • Symphony No. 6 (1953)
    • Symphony No. 7 Variation-symphony (1963, pub. 1967)
    • Symphony No. 8 (1973)
    • Symphony No. 9 (1981)
  • Other orchestral works
    • Folk Overture (1945)
    • Fantasia for String Orchestra (1947)
    • Concertato Moby Dick (1952)
    • Cello concerto (1956)
    • Piano concerto (1958) (Premiered by Eunice Podis, piano, with George Szell conducting the Cleveland Orchestra)
    • Canto (1962; pub. 1965)
    • Flute concerto (1983)
    • Note: A number of sources have listed a violin concerto among Mennin’s works, leading to many questions on the internet. In fact, Mennin began to write a violin concerto for Roman Totenberg during the early 1950s. He completed a slow movement in short score, but nothing beyond that.
  • Concert Band works
    • Canzona for band (1951)
  • Piano
    • Five pieces (1949)
    • Piano sonata (1963)
  • Choral Works
    • A Song of the Palace (1948)
    • Christmas Story (1949)
    • Cantata di Virtute, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” (1969)
    • Reflections of Emily (1978)
  • Chamber works
    • String quartet #1
    • String quartet #2 (1951)
    • Sonata concertante, for violin and piano (1956)