"Postlude" from "Planxty Cage," for solo piano (1994)

"Postlude" from "Planxty Cage," for solo piano (1994)

Narrative Biography

Paul Paccione (1952) is an American composer born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. His music is noted for its lyricism, distinctive orchestration, contrapuntal refinement and clarity of expression. Paccione’s love of the popular music of the 1950's and 60’s  awakened his initial musical interests. While studying classical guitar, at the Mannes College of Music (B.M., 1974), his first-year music theory teacher, composer Eric Richards, first introduced him to the world of modern music – inspiring and encouraging him to begin composing. This, in addition to Paccione’s own desire to express himself in sound, led to his decision to begin studies in music composition. He shortly thereafter began private composition studies with composer Harley Gaber – from whom he learned to trust his musical instincts. He continued his composition studies at the University of California, San Diego (M.A., 1977), and studied composition, privately, with composer Kenneth Gaburo.  His studies with Gaburo focused primarily on the numerous potentials in musical text setting. He later studied composition with composer/conductor William Hibbard, at the University of Iowa (PhD, 1984) and was Hibbard's assistant at the Center for New Music.  It was by way of Hibbard’s impeccable ear for pitch relationships and orchestration that Paccione first began to discover his own compositional voice. Intermittently, he studied composition with Pauline Oliveros, Bernard Rands and Ralph Shapey.

Other than his teachers, the composers of the twentieth-century whose music and thought have had significant influence on his own music and thought include: Igor Stravinsky (for the clarity of his orchestration and his deeply felt awareness of the importance of a living musical tradition), Anton Webern (for both the contrapuntal rigor of his music, as well as his belief in musical structure as an organic process), Erik Satie (for his restraint), Morton Feldman (for his meticulous sense of instrumentation in conjunction with exact pitch placement, as well as his trust in his own musical intuitions), and John Cage (for his never ending sense of experimentation and his openness to all forms of compositional influence that exist outside of music, including literature, painting, and philosophy).   In addition, Paccione has maintained a sustained interest and attachment to the vocal music of the Renaissance, particularly English Renaissance music.

He is an active composer whose works are widely and frequently performed, both nationally and internationally.  He has been described as "a composer who has a personality of his own and the ability to express that personality within more than one musical idiom."  His music has been described as  "consistently compelling and often extraordinarily moving"  In December of 2014, Western Illinois University’s Opera Theatre Company presented the first performances of Paccione’s opera “The World Is Round,” based on the book by Gertrude Stein.

Paccione’s music is published by Frog Peak Music (www.frogpeak.org) , Lingua Press, American Composers Edition and SCI Journal of Music Scores/ European American Editions. In 2012, New World Records (www.newworldrecords.org) released a c.d. recording devoted entirely to his music, titled, “Our Beauties Are Not Ours.” (See reviews below.) Additional recordings of his music are available on the Frog Peak and Capstone labels. 

He has lectured and written numerous articles on various aspects of modern music and particularly on the interplay of cultural conditions and compositional thought in the 20th and 21st centuries. His writings on music have appeared in Perspectives of New Music, ex tempore, College Music Symposium, American Music, the Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy and on liner notes for New World Records. In addition, he is a preconcert lecturer for the Chicago Symphony. 

Paccione joined the music faculty at Western Illinois University in 1984 where he was Professor of Music Theory/Composition. He regularly taught undergraduate and graduate courses in Music Theory, Music Composition, Musical Analysis, Counterpoint, Materials of Twentieth/Twenty-first Century Music and History of American Music. During his teaching career at Western, he received six Faculty Excellence Awards and was named the 1988 Outstanding Teacher in the College of Fine Arts. He was named Western Illinois University's Distinguished Faculty Lecturer for 2002 - the first Music faculty member to do so. His lecture was subsequently published in the music journal "ex tempore," (see Writings). He received the Outstanding Creativity Award from Western’s College of Fine Arts in 1988 and 2012. He was co-founder and co-director of Western's annual New Music Festival. He retired from Western in the spring of 2018.


Paul Paccione: Our Beauties are Not Ours, Works for Voices and Instruments. New World Records 80706 (02/2010). Includes Rhapsody (2005), Molly Paccione, clarinet, Jenny Perron piano; Stations: To Morton Feldman (1987), Michael Campbell, piano; Inscape: Three Choral Settings from Gerard Manley Hopkins (2007), Western Illinois University Singers, James Stegall, conductor; A Page for Will (2003), Nurit Tilles, piano; Three Motets: Arabesques, for four prerecorded clarinets (1999), Molly Paccione, clarinets; Five Songs from Christina Rossetti (2003), Terry Chasteen, tenor voice; Molly Paccione, clarinet; Moises Molina, cello; Andrea Molina, piano; "Postlude" from Planxty Cage (1993, rev. 1994) , Nurit Tilles, piano. Read liner notes by Blue Gene Tyranny. Purchase: Amazon, New World Records.


The music on this disc displays a fair stylistic range but beneath the superficial variety there is a recurrent sense of repose, of inner tranquillity, an absence of the emotionally histrionic, as it were. But, I hasten to add, that doesn’t mean that this is ‘easy listening’ music; far from it, this is thoughtful, inventive, and occasionally challenging music.  He is a composer who evidently has a personality of his own and the ability to express that personality within more than one musical idiom.  Paccione’s fine ear for poetry is confirmed by the quality of his settings here from Christina Rossetti and Gerard Manley Hopkins. But I don’t think it was by any means just my predisposition that produced the pleasure I experienced on repeated hearings of this CD.  By Glyn Pursglove, Read more: Music Web International

The prominence of the clarinet in this disc is no accident. Molly Paccione’s arching lyricism is the perfect vehicle for the composer’s creations. In short, this is music that is consistently compelling, and often extraordinarily moving.  By Michael, Cameron, Fanfare Magazine

Paul Paccione’s music has always been concerned with the manipulation of musical space/time. That is, Paccione reconceives musical geometry (x=time, y-space) as a canvas on which musical objects are placed, like figures or brushstrokes in an abstract painting or drawing. These objects—chords and/or melodic gestures—retain their identity through repetition rather than development. Structure is projected through placement of objects at different coordinates on the musical canvas. The result is a musical abstract expressionism that has developed over the years in surprising and gratifying ways. By Steve Hicken, Read More: Sequenza 21

Paccione offers dedications to Feldman and Cage, but his first influence is Webernian serialism. Paccione is also very much interested in the mysterious effects of long duration. These interests come together, though in a condensed way, on "Rhapsody," which uncovers the original meaning of 'stitch song' by weaving together these elements so that each colours the other and they become inextricable. At the end of the CD, Nurit Tilles plays a 'postlude' from the 1993 piece "Planxty Cage," which uses these procedures to yield up a strange folk tune. The other main pieces, unexpectedly, are vocal settings of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Christina Rossetti, the connection sharp awareness of how sound and sense are 'stitched together' in rhapsodic forms. Clarinetist Molly Paccione, who led Rhapsody, is heard in four prerecorded parts in "Three Motets: Arabesques," which is the best place to study Paccione's sternly lyrical method and distribution of sound.  By Brian Morton, The Wire

Paul Paccione‘s Stations – To Morton Feldman (1987) for solo piano was composed as a memorial to Feldman. The title refers to “points of arrival and departure … in Stations, repetition … serves simply as a reminiscence or reflection … (in the piano) the sound is always in the process of leaving the listener.” The broadly spread two-note intervals with occasional widely voices chords form repeated patterns of indescribable beauty; harmonies tend to cancel each other out adding to the feel of sonic decay, and the pacing is slow and evocative of infinite stillness. His Planxty Cage (1993) unfolds its patterns in a gentle cyclic manner with contrasting levels of sustained notes and short releases (grace notes, staccati). The first two pages are filled with white note modes that to which accidentals are eventually added. The music then gradually cycles through modes until returning to the chords of the opening, which are now denser, sustained and heavenly. A Page for Will (2002) for piano is a simple, touching miniature study in tonal context: two notes rotate steadily throughout the entire work as widely spaced sustained tones re-define the “meaning” of the two note ostinato figure. (One is reminded somewhat of the chords that surround the continuously pulsing tone in Chopin’s “Raindrop” Prelude). From an article by Blue Gene Tyranny titled 88 Keys to Freedom: Segues Through The History of American Piano Music: The Perfect and Transparent Keyboard, New Music Box, 2003

Robert Frost wrote that "the ear is the only true writer," and this music is a testament to it. This is true music. Here are sounds--notes, melodies, harmonies--that make my ears connect with everything. Wherever I am at the moment and whatever I'm looking at: it all becomes music to me when I'm listening to Paccione's pieces. A leaf falling, the rising sun casting long shadows westward, the road opening up before me when the traffic light turns green: all images I saw--I heard--this morning when I listened to his music in my car while driving to work. A clarinetist said to me the other day that you won't find better text settings than the ones here, and I have to agree. Paccione fleshes out the sound in Rosetti's and Hopkins's verses, revealing music that was always there, waiting to be released--and heard.  Amazon


The Inteactive Saxophone, Music for Saxophone and Piano. Capstone Records, CPS 8763 (2006); John Vana saxophone, Jenny Perron, Piano. Includes Seeing Those Hours (2004). Purchase: Amazon


Paul Paccione's"Seeing Those Hours"  is a quiet, soothingly contemplative piece that unfolds in long, gently tranquil phrases. From a traditional point of view it is rather static, with an approach to the development of melody and harmony that calls Hovhaness to mind (although his actual materials do not resemble those of the Armenian-American’s). By Walter Simmons, Fanfare Magazine

Paccione's unbroken 11-minute andante creates a golden haze of lush, post-impressionist harmonies and sustains a mood of dreamy nostalgia. Mark L. Lehman, American Record Guide


Thump Music, Music for two Pianos. Frog Peak Music (1995); Thump Piano Duo: Drew Krause and Paul Marquardt. Includes Continuum (1985). Purchase: Amazon, Frog Peak Music


Continuum by Paul Paccione, is a sensuous exploration of simple and complex sounds isolated in musical space. The chords that make up this daring composition demand and command the listener's attention as they resonate and overlap. Thump's courageous performance allows the piece the slow space it demands to make it's impact. Steve Hicken, American Record Guide


Society of Composers, Inc., Extended Resources, Music for Instruments and Electronics, Capstone Records, CPS 8626 (1995). Includes "....like spring" (1988) for prerecorded flutes and electronics.  Purchase: Amazon


Mr. Paccione relied on two prerecorded and overdubbed flutes with tape to produce a minimalist piece in a very broad tempo. The clashing of live flute overtones with electronics often generates a fuzzy veil which envelopes the simple sonority and adds a mystical element to the whole. The Music Connoisseur - Volume 4, Number 2

....another fine piece by the gifted Paul Paccione. Like all his music, this piece is a contemplative trip through a concentrated and highly-defined sound world. Steve Hicken, American Record Guide.