William Perry has led an unusually varied creative life as a composer, producer, director and lyricist. Among his productions are six definitive films based on the major works of Mark Twain, which won the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award. (His music for these films is available on Naxos 8.570200.) The Broadway musical, Wind in the Willows, starring Nathan Lane, for which he wrote the music and co-authored the lyrics, was nominated for three Tony Awards. There is an Emmy amidst the many other awards for his more than seventy programs produced for American Public Television, and his concertos and other orchestral pieces are performed throughout the world.

Born in Elmira, New York, he attended Harvard University and studied with Paul Hindemith, Walter Piston and Randall Thompson. His concert and film music has been performed by many orchestras including the Chicago Symphony, the Saint Louis Symphony, the Detroit Symphony and the symphonic orchestras of Cincinnati, Minnesota, Montreal, Hartford, and Sydney, Australia as well as the Vienna Symphony, the Rome Philharmonic, the Slovak Philharmonic, the RTÉ National Symphony of Ireland and other orchestras in Europe.

William Perry conducting a film score with the Vienna Symphony and Vienna Boys Choir. The actor on the screen is a young Christoph Waltz.

Perry is widely credited for playing a significant role in the revival of interest in films of the silent era, and Naxos Records has devoted several CDs to the orchestral scores he has written for the greatest of those films. For twelve years he was the music director and composer-in-residence at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where he composed and performed as a pianist more than two hundred scores for the Museum's silent film collection. He then provided the scores for the now-legendary television series, The Silent Years (1971, 1975) starring Orson Welles and Lillian Gish, winning an Emmy Award. For three years (1976-1978) he produced and scored a poetry series for PBS called Anyone for Tennyson? starring Henry Fonda, Jack Lemmon, Claire Bloom, William Shatner and Vincent Price among others. He later developed and produced the four-part DVD series, The Poetry Hall of Fame, which he also hosted.

Perry's dramatizations of the works of Mark Twain have included a staged musical biography, Mark Twain: The Musical, which ran for ten summers (1987–1996) in Elmira, NY and Hartford, CT. PBS produced a television version of the show. LML Music issued a CD of the complete original cast recording.

William Perry conducting the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus.

His most prominent symphonic compositions include the Jamestown Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (2007), written to observe the 400th anniversary of the first permanent colony in America in Jamestown, Virginia. It was released on CD by Naxos Records with Yehuda Hanani as soloist and the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra conducted by William Eddins. His popular Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra was written for and recorded by Armando Ghitalla with the composer conducting. A Naxos recording called Music for Great Films of the Silent Era includes his Three Rhapsodies for Piano and Orchestra with Michael Chertock, the Gemini Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra, written for the Albek Duo, and the whimsical orchestral suite, Six Title Themes in Search of a Movie. Paul Phillips conducted, and orchestrations were provided by Robert Nowak.

A further Naxos recording, a second volume of Music for Great Films of the Silent Era, features a song-suite for mezzo soprano and orchestra entitled Silent Film Heroines. It celebrates eight leading actresses of the silent film era and features the brilliant Canadian mezzo soprano, Wallis Giunta. On the same CD is a unique Concerto for Ophicleide and Orchestra with Australian soloist Nick Byrne, a new recording of the Summer Nocturne with flute virtuoso Timothy Hutchins, and a piece commemorating the 100th anniversary of World War One based on Perry's score for the D.W. Griffith film, Hearts of the World. This last selection includes Wallis Giunta and baritone John Brancy, with participation again by Paul Phillips as conductor.

Perry's latest orchestral recording project, an October 2019 Naxos release, is entitled Toujours Provence and features a piece of the same name for Orchestra and Piano with accompanying projected video. Also featured is the complete Wind in the Willows Ballet and a concert overture called Swordplay! based on his scores for the swashbuckling films of Douglas Fairbanks. Paul Phillips conducts the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra with Michael Chertock as piano soloist.

List of Works

Stage musicals

• On the Double (1946)
• Xanadu (1953)
• Happily Ever After (1967)
• Wind in the Willows (1985)
• Mark Twain Musical (1987)

Film and television scores

• Life on the Mississippi (1980)
• The Private History of a Campaign That Failed (1981)
• The Mysterious Stranger (1982)
• The Innocents Abroad (1983)
• Pudd'nhead Wilson (1984)
• Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1985)

Silent Film Scores (Selection)

• The Gold Rush • It • Metropolis
• The General • Broken Blossoms • Intolerance
• The Mark of Zorro • The Black Pirate • Sparrows
• Blood and Sand • Riders of the Purple Sage • The Last Laugh
• Orphans of the Storm • Way Down East • Storm Over Asia
• The Beloved Rogue • The Iron Horse • Stella Dallas
• Down to the Sea in Ships • Tempest • Seventh Heaven
• Hearts of the World • Tillie's Punctured Romance • What Price Glory?
  • College  

Major Orchestral Works

• Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra (1986)
• Two Dance Pieces for Trumpet and Orchestra (1986)
• Summer Nocturne for Flute and Orchestra (1988)
• Mark Twain Orchestral Suites (1992)
• Jamestown Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (2007)
• Six Title Themes in Search of a Movie (2007)
• Gemini Concerto: An Entertainment for Violin, Piano and Orchestra (2009)
• The Silent Years: Three Rhapsodies for Piano and Orchestra (2010)
• Brass from the Past: Concerto for Ophicleide and Orchestra (2012)
• Silent Film Heroines: A Song-Suite for Mezzo Soprano and Orchestra (2013)
• Market Street Overture (2014)
• Hearts of the World (2014)
• Pioneer Valley (2015)
• Swordplay! (2016)
• Fiona (2017)
• Wind in the Willows Ballet (2018)  
• Toujours Provence (2019)