Vincent Persichetti, a most respected musician, is regarded as one of America's few successful symphonists. His best-known smaller work, The Hollow Men, is firmly rooted in American symphonic tradition. Originally scored for solo trumpet and string orchestra, the piece is an evocative response to the poems of T.S. Eliot. For the program notes at the 1946 premiere, the composer wrote the following: "The work parallels the mood of the T.S. Eliot poem of the same name. The music springs from the disillusioned subtleties of a poem that intensifies the sense of emptiness and hopelessness of mankind. This is quiet music, with an underlying tension that finds its only release in a crescendo that climaxes on a single note played by the double basses." This original version carries a special intensity in the string texture not found in a popular and often-recorded study version for trumpet and piano (or organ).
During this time that he wrote The Hollow Men, Persichetti was still in the process of developing his own style; his works of the period show the influence of Bartók, Hindemith, and others. Two years after he completed the work, Persichetti left an appointment as head of the theory and composition departments at the Philadelphia Conservatory for a teaching post at the Juilliard School, where he later became chairman of the composition department (1963).