From Piano to Percussion: Vivian Fine, Zita Carno, and Gitta Steiner Composer for Paul Price and the Newly Emerging Percussion Ensemble
Florida State University
A remarkable period of percussion composition began in 1950, when Paul Price established the first collegiate percussion ensemble at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Coinciding with the era of serialism and experimentalism, percussion music developed a new and fully functional musical system all its own, incorporating more melodic instrumentation and innovative approaches to notation and technique. While the majority of composers writing for this newly formed ensemble were male, many women also took advantage of the possibilities this ensemble provided for a new musical language. In the 1960s, Vivian Fine, Zita Carno, and Gitta Steiner transformed their knowledge of piano, an accepted site of feminine musical performance, and applied it to the male dominated realm of percussion composition. Concertino for Piano and Percussion Ensemble by Fine, “Sextet for Percussion” by Carno, and “Quartet for Percussion” by Steiner demonstrate these composers’ innovative yet idiosyncratic approaches to notation and melodic treatment of both pitched and non-pitched percussion instruments. Even though percussion performance was marked masculine at the time, the reestablishment of the percussion ensemble developed simultaneously with a significant period of Second Wave Feminism. This opportune timing, as well as Price’s own advocacy of women composers, provided women composers with unprecedented opportunities to defy conventions of gender and express their compositional voices through a newly formed genre of modern music. This document addresses each woman’s career and situation individually and within the larger historical framework of the United States during the mid-twentieth century to illuminate the reasons behind Fine’s, Carno’s, and Steiner’s attraction to and use of percussion.