Julia Perry’s Stabat Mater

Notes by TŌN violinist Yi-Ting Kuo

The Composer
Julia Perry was an African-American composer born in 1924 in Lexington, Kentucky. Upon graduating from Akron High School, she attended Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, where she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, studying voice, piano, and composition. After that, she continued to pursue her musical training at The Juilliard School, and also spent summers at the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood, Massachusetts. She also received two Guggenheim fellowships to study with Luigi Dallapiccola in Italy and Nadia Boulanger in France. In 1959, she returned to the United States to teach at Florida A&M University, and later on became a faculty member at Atlanta University. In 1970 she suffered from her first stroke, which paralyzed her right side, and she began teaching herself to compose with her left hand while being in and out from the hospital. She died in 1979 at the age of 55.

The Music
Stabat Mater was her first major composition, and she wrote this piece while studying at Juilliard and with Luigi Dallapiccola at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood. The piece, which appeared in 1951, was dedicated to her mother, and it has been widely performed in Europe and the United States. It was written for a contralto voice and string orchestra based on a Latin poem by Jacopone da Todi (the score includes an English translation by the composer), and it is a story related to Jesus, Mary, and the spectator.