Anthony Scarmolin was an enormously prolific composer whose output includes works in every genre, from pedagogical piano pieces to opera. He was also a dedicated music educator, much loved by his pupils, who taught for 30 years in the public school system of Union City, New Jersey. During his lifetime, and subsequently under the auspices of the A. Louis Scarmolin Trust, his works have been played around the globe and have been collected on several recordings.
Anthony Louis Scarmolin was born in 1890 in the northern Italian town of Schio, where his father worked in the local textile industry. Music was an important part of the Scarmolin family life, and young Anthony learned violin, piano and clarinet at an early age from his father. The Scarmolin family came to America in 1900 and settled in New Jersey.
Young Anthony showed particular talent as a pianist and enrolled as a teenager in New Yorkís German Conservatory of Music, where he studied with Bertha Cahn. His earliest compositions, which appear to be the work of an autodidact, date from his student years. These early works, such as Una Lotta Col Destino, Una Discussione and An Irresistible Thought, are powerfully expressionistic, and feature an extraordinarily exaggerated chromaticism, which sometimes ventures into the realm of atonality. Coming from a relatively unsophisticated young man in the musically conservative New York of the 20th Centuryís 1st decade, these are remarkable works, and they duly mystified and dismayed Scarmolinís teachers. The Dean of the German Conservatory, Carl Hein, simply warned the young composer that his works were not music per sť and advised him to study the works of the masters. Dean Hein told Scarmolin years later that at the time he was insufficiently familiar with then-Modern music to recognize the potential importance of Scarmolinís early work, but by the time of this admission the question was moot. The young Scarmolin took the Deanís advice very much to heart and cultivated a traditional style very much designed to sell.
One reason for this stylistic about-face may have been a debilitating hand injury (probably a bout of carpal tunnel syndrome) which afflicted the young musician at the time of his graduation and forced him to abandon a planned Carnegie Hall debut. Although he eventually recovered, and remained a formidable pianist all his life, this injury seems to have caused him to give up his plans for a career as a concert pianist. Instead he threw himself into the business of building up a "practice" as a composer. He paid close attention to stylistic fashion and accordingly turned out songs, salon music, easy choral works and pedagogical works which he marketed, with gradually increasing success, to the leading music publishers of his day. A significant fraction of these early works, including a number of accordion pieces in the popular style, were written under pseudonyms such as John Lais (Lais was his motherís maiden name), Howard Marlin and even Louis Schermonich. His earliest big successes were his songs, mostly sentimental or sacred in nature, which were sung by some of the leading singers of the day, like baritone David Bispham and tenor Beniamino Gigli. Gigli used his influence to bring Scarmolinís lush and melodious one act opera, The Interrupted Serenade, to the attention of the board of the Metropolitan Opera House, but no Met performance resulted from this effort.
In 1917, when America became involved in World War One, Scarmolin was drafted into the army in and went to France with the 320th Field Artillery Band. Adapting himself readily to the musical opportunities at hand, as he always did, Scarmolin added patriotic songs to his repertoire and wrote one in particular (Weíll keep Old Glory flying, with words by friend and frequent collaborator Carleton S. Montanye) which achieved a measure of popularity at the time. He returned to the states in 1919 and soon found work directing the band and orchestra at Emerson High School in Union City, New Jersey. Heart trouble was to force his retirement in 1949, but the skill and commitment he developed in writing for young musicians was to remain with him all his life. This is reflected by his prolific output for high-school level bands and orchestras.
In 1926 Scarmolin married Aida Belasso, a singer and voice teacher. The couple was childless, devoting themselves to each other and to their music. They traveled frequently to Italy.
After establishing himself commercially as a composer Scarmolinís purely artistic ambitions began to reawaken. In the 1920ís he returned to the world of opera, completing La Grotta Rossa and Passan le Maschere; then, in the 1930ís he composed several important chamber and orchestral works, including his 1st Symphony, the tone poems Night and Overture on a Street Vendorís Ditty, the piano quintet In Retrospect (originally written for harpsichord and four viols) and his 1st String Quartet. All of these works are written in a lush, Romantic, and predominantly melodic style. Night and the quintet were prize-winning pieces (the latter in a competition for new works for early instruments) and many of these works from the 1930ís were performed, including some international performances.
After his retirement from teaching, Scarmolin continued to compose prolifically. His works from the 1950ís take on a more astringent, slightly more modernistic sound (although never approaching the expressionism of his youthful experiments). These works include his 2nd String Quartet and his terse 3rd Symphony, the brooding Arioso for strings and several short piano works. Scarmolin continued to compose until his death in 1969.
Additional details may be found in Dr. Helen Benham's doctoral thesis awarded from Rutgers University, NJ. Please contact the Scarmolin office for information on obtaining.