Would you describe yourself as a neo-romantic? Why (not)? Thomas Pasatieri



Thomas Pasatieri
Photo courtesy of the composer

I consider myself a composer without boundaries. If I must give a “yes or no” answer, I would say that I am a neo-romantic but remember where is the neo if romantic never ended.

When I was a student at Juilliard, 1962-67, serialism was the rage and most of the composers and faculty composers felt that atonality and aleatory music were the ONLY viable options for writing music. Fortunately, my teacher Vittorio Giannini and later Vincent Persichetti did not feel that way.

Tonality never really disappeared. The music of Barber, Menotti, Rorem, and Bernstein and even Copland was rooted in tonality and certainly Stravinsky spent much time in the tonal world. Poulenc and Shostakovich were there also and although my student days were marked by “black-sheep”-ishness and great scorn from the other students and some faculty, the reaction of the audiences to my music, made up for the other.

In 1965 at the Aspen Festival when my chamber opera The Women was performed to a standing ovation and was given the Aspen Prize, I never looked back and it never bothered me any more. Things have changed. Critics are no longer suspect of a work which has great audience reaction and do not criticize on principle. Now a composer can write in whatever idiom suits him or her and the only important criteria is whether he or she communicates and speaks from the heart. Thank God.

It is difficult to classify oneself in any way and certainly a “neo-romantic” category defines a composer. If you look at passages from The Seagull that deal with the love between Nina and Constantine, by themselves, you could say that this was written by a neo-romantic composer. But if you look at Constantine’s mad scene with its polytonal, orchestral screams, one would conclude that this must be a “contemporary” composer.