March 15, 1928 - March 16, 1994
born in New York, NY, composed during the Modern period
Nicolas Flagello was one of the last American composers to regard music as a personal medium for emotional and spiritual expression and adopt a language rooted in the forms, techniques, and aesthetics of the Western classical tradition. This view, highly unfashionable during the 1950s and '60s, when musical composition was dominated by serialism and other formalistic approaches, prevented Flagello's music from gaining public exposure, let alone acceptance, for many years. Yet he produced a body of work that includes six operas, two symphonies, eight concertos, and numerous orchestral, choral, chamber, and vocal works. In addition, Flagello was active as a conductor and pianist, making dozens of recordings with the Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma and the Orchestra da Camera di Roma, featuring a wide range of repertoire from the Baroque period to the twentieth century. In 1985, a deteriorating illness brought his musical career to a premature end.
Born into a highly musical family with deep roots in Old World traditions, Flagello began composing and performing publicly as a pianist before the age of ten. While still a child, he began a long and intensive apprenticeship with composer Vittorio Giannini, who further imbued him with the enduring values of the grand European tradition. He attended the Manhattan School of Music, where he earned both his bachelor's (1949) and master's (1950) degrees, joining the faculty immediately upon graduation and remaining there until 1977. During the early '50s, he won a Fulbright Fellowship to study in Rome and earned the Diploma di Studi Superiori in 1956 at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, under the tutelage of Ildebrando Pizzetti. During the 1950s, Flagello completed some 25 major works, including operas; concertos; and other large orchestral, choral, and vocal compositions. Around 1960, Flagello attained his mature musical voice, a sort of Italianate expressionism characterized by tremendous emotional intensity and concentration of effect. Without abandoning tonality or conventional forms and developmental techniques, he achieved a tighter phraseology, greater density of texture, a more astringent harmonic language, and a less symmetrical treatment of rhythm. But most important, there is a deeper, more personal quality: dark, brooding, restless, and agitated, frequently erupting into cataclysmic explosions. Flagello became increasingly productive and more consistent in both workmanship and taste. Between 1959 and 1968, he completed more than 30 works, among which are most of his finest compositions: the opera The Judgment of St. Francis, Symphony No. 1, Cello Capriccio, Te Deum for All Mankind, Piano Sonata, Contemplazioni di Michelangelo, Third Piano Concerto, and Dante's Farewell.
Flagello's music first attained significant public exposure in 1964 when Serenus Records released four LPs devoted to his works. Although these recordings were well-received, his first major public performance did not take place until 1974, when the National Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, under the direction of James DePreist, presented the oratorio Passion of Martin Luther King at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., with the composer's brother, Ezio, as bass baritone soloist. In 1982, Flagello conducted several performances of The Judgment of St. Francis at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. Other significant performances and recordings soon followed, but emotional and health problems had sapped Flagello's creative drive and his productivity dwindled. During the early '80s, he rallied to compose the full-length opera Beyond the Horizon (after O'Neill), and in 1985 completed his final work, Concerto Sinfonico for saxophone quartet and orchestra. Ironically, during the years since his death, his music has been performed and recorded at an increasing rate. With a greater acceptance of new music based on classical forms, Nicolas Flagello is gradually becoming recognized as one of America's foremost traditionalist composers. ~ Walter Simmons, Rovi