Piero Ernesto Weiss was born in Trieste into a prominent Italian-Jewish family. He and his family were forced to flee Fascist Italy in 1938 and emigrated to the USA, settling in New York City in 1940.
He began his career as a concert pianist at the age of 16, performing throughout the USA and Europe up into the 1960s, and also playing on radio broadcasts. He then decided on an academic career and earned a doctoral degree in musicology from Columbia University. Dr. Weiss taught at Columbia from 1964 to 1985, when he joined the faculty at the prestigious Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University, where he founded the music history department. He also taught performance at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. Dr. Weiss specialized in the history of Italian opera, and also wrote a widely-used college text book, Music in the Western World: A History in Documents (with Richard Taruskin).