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  • Holly Mead

Twentieth Century Harmony by Vincent Persichetti & Dorothea Flanagan

In the introduction of his book Twentieth Century Harmony, Vincent Persichetti says:

"This text aims to define harmonic activity and make it available to the student and young composer. A detailed study of the essential harmonic technique of the twentieth-century is presented, according to the practice of contemporary composers. This book is for and about creativity; it presents musical possibilities to stimulate creative musical thought." -Persichetti, Twentieth Century Harmony, pg. 10.

I was drawn to this book because it uses clear and concise prose to discuss important foundational musical concepts, and there is an abundance of compositional prompts at the ends of the chapters.


I decided I'd like to know something about Persichetti before reading his book, so I watched this 1983 documentary about him. It was unexpectedly and delightfully romantic when his wife Dorothea Flanagan (also a talented pianist/composer) enters the picture. Also, there was a terrifying bit towards the end where we see Persichetti engaged in one of his favorite pastimes: using the steering wheel of his car to write music while driving.


*A depressing side note (but unsurprising considering that this book was published in 1961): according to Keith Roeckle, Dorothea Flanagan (Persichetti's wife) wrote much of the prose for Twentieth Century Harmony and did not receive credit for her authorship. I decided to credit her in the title of this post :)