Pasquale Tallarico was born in Calabria in Southern Italy on September 25, 1891. He was the youngest of 8 children, and left Italy at age 8 and a half to join his 2 older brothers who had settled in Connecticut. Initially he did not speak any English, and began attending public school. Six months later he began daily music lessons at home with his musical brothers, and he learned to sight read music before he could read English. Each evening before dinner he would sing solfege, an exercise that helped hone his ear and revealed that he had perfect pitch. The piano soon became the focus of his musical studies, and within 4 months of beginning his study of the piano, he was performing Mozart sonatas from memory. Recognized as a prodigy, his older brothers removed him public school so that he could be tutored at home, and devote himself fully to the study of music and the piano. At age 9 he was performing with his musical family. His his solo debut was at Aeolian Hall when he was still a boy.
A wealthy patron heard him perform in New York, and soon thereafter became his benefactor, making it possible for young Pasquale Tallarico to reside in Manhattan, study at Steinway Hall, and live a life immersed in the study of music at the highest level. He had the opportunity to work with some of the best teachers of the day, and to regularly attend the finest concerts in the city. The diary of his teen years is filled with references to 5 or 6 hours of daily practice at the piano in preparation for his weekly piano lessons. But his days also included trips to the Polo Grounds to see the Yankees play baseball, and he enjoyed playing baseball himself.
At Steinway Hall, Tallarico studied piano with the virtuoso Rafael Joseffy, a hungarian pianist and composer who had been a student of Franz List.
He studied composition with Rubin Goldmark, who had been a student of Antonin Dvorjak. Some of Goldmark's other students included George Gershwin and Aaron Copeland. For his first lesson, Joseffy gave him Beethoven's 32 Variations in C Minor and asked him to learn the first one for his lesson the following week. Pasquale, misunderstanding what was expected of him, learned all 32 variations in one week.
In 1914 Pasquale Tallarico undertook his own intense preparations for the National Pianist Competition - a contest to find the best American trained pianist, to be held in Chicago, for the honor of performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and a $200 cash prize. He won this contest, besting 25 other pianists performing the MacDowell Concerto - and he was just 22 years old. Following this honor, he performed across the country, including solo performances with the Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, Tri-City and American Symphony Orchestras. One memorable performance was his performing of works by Igor Stravinski with the composer himself conducting.
In 1920, at the age of 29, he began a teaching career at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, which enabled him to settle down from his demanding touring schedule and raise a family. He taught at the Peabody Conservatory from 1920 until 1950 when he retired to his farm. Even in 'retirement" he taught from 1950 until 1970 at High Mowing School, a Waldorf School near his farm in Wilton, New Hampshire. He continued to perform throughout his entire life.
There are no known commercial recordings of Pasquale Tallarico. However, there are many private recordings, including both "wire" and monaural reel to reel recordings. Many of these recordings have been digitized, and modern methods have been used to remove hiss, pops, clicks and other sound artifacts, although the "cleaned" recordings are still poor in contrast to recordings of today. However, they do convey Tallarico's artistry. As an example of his performing style, you may download Clare de Lune here.
Playing the MacDowell Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Pasquale Tallarico is an artist of distinct quality who demonstrated without question the right to the honor accorded him. He has pianistic talent of the first rank, a firm grasp of the meaning of the music, poetic, imaginative, and with the personal quality which is always the vital thing in art. His tone was always beautiful.
– Karleton Hackett, Chicago Evening Post