Short Piece for Orchestra by Julia Perry

Julia Perry studied at the Julliard School of Music and in 1951 composed the piece that would launch her career – Stabat Mater. She received two Guggenheim Fellowships (1952 and 1954) to study in Italy, and then in France with Nadia Boulanger. She was awarded the Boulanger Grand Prix for her Viola Sonata.

Perry’s Short Piece for Orchestra (1965) became the first work by a woman of colour to be performed by The New York Philharmonic, and only the third by any woman.

Music is an all-embracing, universal language. Music has a unifying effect on the peoples of the world, because they all understand and love it. In music they find common meeting ground. And when they find themselves enjoying and loving the same music, they find themselves loving one another… Music has a great role to play in establishing the brotherhood of man.

Julia Perry, 1949
Short Piece for Orchestra by Julia Perry

Listen For

  • Highly energised opening consisting of fragmented string motifs and brass & woodwind repeated retorts
  • Disjunct melodic ideas and dissonant harmonies give a tense and uncomfortable atmosphere
  • At 01:49 the atmosphere changes with a change of tempo and lyrical flute solo, followed by oboe, clarinet and then French horn.
  • Can you identify other solo instruments in this section?
  • From 02:13 the sustained string notes create dissonance and pizzicato cellos and fragments from the xylophone start to bring us back to the final section.
  • At 02:34 the opening motif returns, this time in imitation.

As you continue listening, what other musical features can you identify that add to the tense atmosphere?

Things To Consider

  • Thinking about Perry’s use of melodic fragments, can you create a note pattern of 5 or 6 notes and compose some short, edgy motifs to evoke an uncomfortable atmosphere?
  • Use this note pattern to create your own note clusters (chords) and experiment with instrumentation, and combining the chords and melodic ideas.