Remembering George Perle

by Shirley Gabis Perle

Written for the concert American Variations: Perle at 100, performed on May 29, 2015 at Carnegie Hall.

I first met George in 1946 when he was just out of the army and getting his Ph.D. at NYU. Already an experienced composer, and wanting to take advantage of the GI bill, he majored in musicology and found himself carried away by the Renaissance composers. All he could talk about was Machaut, Busnois, and Josquin…and Bartok…and left-wing politics, which had been a crucial part of his experience in Chicago before the war. By 1982, when we married, he had given up politics and discovered Berg’s music along with the writings of Proust and Henry James—whose entire work he had read. The classics were a given. He told the woman who was to be his first wife that he loved her but loved Beethoven more. He was crazy about Louis Armstrong and the great jazz artists. Central to George’s composing was his enormous enthusiasm for dance; the ballet especially attracted him. The intricacy and wit of Balanchine’s choreography somehow influenced the “steps” his notes took: he wanted to make them dance. He worked round the clock, stopping every so often for a few hours of sleep. This enabled him to produce the prodigious amount of work for which he has become known.