Paul Creston

Paul Creston Award & Personal Creed

Paul Creston Award
This award draws its meaning from Paul Creston’s personal creed that is deeply rooted in the spiritual nature of composition and expression through the arts. St. Malachy’s – The Actors’ Chapel presents this award annually to a distinguished artist who embodies the Creston Creed, excellence in the arts, and is a significant figure in church music and the performing arts.


About Paul Creston
Paul Creston was born in Manhattan, on October 10, 1906, to Italian immigrant parents, Gaspare and Carmela Guttoveggio. Although baptized Giuseppe Guttoveggio, Creston chose his professional surname from a character he played in high school, “Cresspino,” for which his schoolmates called him “Cress.” In 1927, he changed his name legally to Paul Creston when he married Martha Graham dancer, Louise Gotto. As a composer, Paul Creston was about as self-made as any musician could be. He practiced after work on a ten-dollar piano provided by his family and studied the scores of the Masters by himself, both at the New York Public library and privately. From observing dance through his wife’s performance, he developed an intense interest in rhythm and dance, later writing the well-respected book, Principals of Rhythm. From 1934 - to 1967, Creston served as organist at St. Malachy’s – The Actors’ Chapel. It was during these thirty-three years at St. Malachy’s, that Creston became the prolific composer that he was. His works, in all musical genres except opera, add up to over 120 – not including his scores for radio and television.

As educator, Creston taught at over 14 colleges and universities. One student, Gerard Schwarz, is Music Director of the Seattle Symphony and has recorded many American composers, including Paul Creston. Charles Roland Berry said, “Paul Creston did not talk much about his career, preferring to focus on immediate problems - teaching me about form and orchestration, and his own methods for harmonic and melodic construction. Much later, after his death, I discovered how lucky I was to learn from him. During the 1950's and early 1960's he was the most performed American Symphonic composer - as well-known to audiences as Copland, Barber, and Menotti.” Jazz musicians Rusty Dedrick and Charlie Queener were also among his prominent pupils. Creston’s music was championed by a number of famous conductors and their important orchestras, including Arturo Toscanini, Eugene Ormandy, and Leopold Stokowski, but few were as committed to Creston’s music as Howard Mitchell, longtime conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington, D.C. 

There is a distinct religious sensibility to much of Creston’s music – having written Masses and sacred choral works, and it is clearly evident in his Symphony No. 3 (‘Three Mysteries’) which depicts the life of Christ. Gerard Schwarz has remarked, “If he had lived long enough… he would have been reaping the great success he deserved due to his kind of music being back in favor and accepted for what it is; part of the great American Symphonic tradition.” However, it was his Symphony No. 1 (1940) that catapulted him into national prominence and won the New York Music Critics’ Award. This honor was followed by many others, including two Guggenheim Fellowships, the coveted Christopher Award for the CBS-TV 20th Century Series, “Revolt in Hungary,” and an Emmy for a TV documentary on poet William Carlos Williams, “In the American Grain.” His fame spread internationally, as well, and his symphonic works were performed all over Europe, making him the most frequently performed 20th century American composer of that era. His legacy continues to generate interest amongst 21st century audiences and musicologists. 

 Creston states in his self-penned Creed, “I consider music, and more specifically the writing of it, as a spiritual practice.”

Notes by Peggy Pugh

Creston Creed
“I consider music, and more specifically the writing of it, as a spiritual practice. This may be at complete variance with the speculations of art theorists, but inasmuch as it pertains to my way of life I hav found it the most satisfactory justification for my pursuit of art. To me, musical composition is as vital to my spiritual welfare as prayer and good deeds just as good food and exercise are necessities of physical health, and thaut and study are requisits of mental well-being. I beleev that evrywun shood compose and that musical composition shood be a required corse in our educational system, as well as literary composition – not for the purpus of training composers professionally, as we do not expect to make authors of all students of literary composition – but for the development and joy of creativity.

“I also consider music as a language: a language which begins where words end, a language much more precise, more effective and more indispensable than any verbal tong of man. Being a language, it consequently has many uses, all equally indigenus. All I ask of any composition is that it fulfill its particular purpus for it to be considerd good music whether it be a cradle-song, a military march or a symphony. I cannot agree with the ultra-purists or snobs who regard only suites, sonatas and symphonies as good music and any other type as an indignity.

“Concerning the more specific aspects of composition, I beleev all the elements of music – rhythm, melody, counterpoint, harmony, form and tone color – shood be given due consideration to attain the perfect balance of a good musical composition. This duz not mean that no element is completely ignord. The element that is consistently disregarded is that of RHYTHM. A student of composition is taut harmony and counterpoint and form. Sometimes mention is made of melody. But in the matter of rhythm he is left to shift for himself.

“My philosophic approach to composition is abstract. I am preoccupied with matters of melodic desine, harmonic coloring, rhythmic pulse and formal progression, not with imitations of nature, or narrations of fairy tales, or propoundings of sociological ideologies. Not that the sorce of inspiration may not be a picture or a story; only that, regardless of the origin of the subject, regardless of the school of thaut, a musical composition must baer judgment on purely musical criteria. The intrinsic worth of a composition depends on the integration of musical elements toward a unified whole.

“In the use of the materials of composition I strive to incorporate all that is good from the earliest times to the present. If modality servs the purposes of expression, I utilize it, and if atonality is calld for I utilize it with an equally clear conscience. I make no special effort to be American; I conscientiously strive to be my true self, which is Italian by parentage, American by birth, and cosmopolitan by choice.”

Paul Creston Award Recipients and Programs
2009 - Frederick Swann
2010 - Bruce Neswick

2012 - David Higgs

2014 - Janette Fishell

* * * * * *

N.B. Revised spelling occasionally used.

Used by permission of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Libraries, Dr. Kenneth J. LaBuddle Department of Special Collections.