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Barber, Samuel

Samuel Barber

Composer

Completed First Orchestral Composition

Professional Prominence

Pulitzer Prize Winner

Selected compositions

Sources

Samuel Barber is regarded as one of the most distinguished composers to emerge in twentieth-century America. His talent was recognized early, and he proved to be a precocious student during his years at the Curtis Institute during the mid 1920s. Later, during the course of his lengthy career, he composed 48 opus-length works. Barber, who is generally regarded as a neo-Romantic composer, is admired for an extremely lyrical quality that permeates his compositions, works that are also characterized by a high degree of tonality. Barber wrote 103 songs in addition to his major compositions and received recognition repeatedly during a career that produced two Pulitzer Prize-winning works. Composed in 1936, Adagio for Strings is among Barbers best-known compositions. He was a member of both the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Samuel Osborne Barber II was born on March 9, 1910, to a well-educated, middle-class family in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He was the elder of two children and the only son of Marguerite McLeod Beatty and her physician husband, Samuel Leroy Barber. Barber, who was named for his paternal grandfather, came by his musical talent from his mothers family. From an early age, Barber was exposed to the culture of professional musicians. Most notably, his composer uncle Sidney Homer, and Homers wife, Louise, who was a performer with the Metropolitan Opera, served as mentors.

Barber began his musical studies with piano lessons at age six and composed his first piece of music one year later. His mother, who was a pianist, took it upon herself to record her young sons compositions in manuscript format. By the age of ten, Barber had undertaken the daunting task of composing an opera. The work, called the Rose Tree, was based on a libretto which was supplied by the familys cook. Although Barber never completed the work, the score remains a testament to his prodigy.

Completed First Orchestral Composition

As a teenager, Barber attended at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he studied piano, voice, and composition beginning in 1924. Prior to his enrollment at Curtis, Barber had studied organ from age eleven and played for services at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in his hometown. In addition to his bent for piano and organ, Barber was a talented baritone. During his years at Curtis, he distinguished himself most notably as a student of composition under Rosario Scalero. Scalero, who recognized Barbers genius very quickly, worked with Barber for nine years. By 1931 Barber had completed his first orchestral composition, Overture to the School for Scandal. The following year he left the

For the Record

Born Samuel Osborne Barber II on March 9, 1910, in West Chester, PA; died on January 23, 1981, in New York, NY; son of Marguerite McLeod Beatty and Samuel Leroy Barber. Education: Studied under Isabelle Vengerova, Emilio de Gogorza, and Rosario Scalero; Bachelor of Music degree, Curtis Institute of Music, 1934.

Composed first orchestral piece, 1931; wrote commissioned works for U.S. Army Air Forces, Martha Graham, Vladimir Horowitz, New York Metropolitan Opera; composed 103 songs, 48 opuses; published exclusively with G. Schirmer, Inc.; over 100 unpublished compositions.

Awards: Joseph H. Beams Prize, Columbia University, 1929, 1933; Prix de Rome, American Academy of Rome, 1935; Pulitzer Traveling Scholarship, 1935-36; Guggenheim Fellowships, 1945, 1947, 1949; Pulitzer Prize for Vanessa, 1958, and Piano Concerto No. 1, 1963; Henry Hadley Medal, National Association for American Composers and Conductors, 1958; honorary doctorate, Harvard University, 1959.

Member: National Institute of Arts and Letters, 1941; American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1958.

institute to work as a composer, subsidizing his early career through singing and teaching. Additionally, he completed his studies and graduated in 1934 with a bachelors degree in music.

Throughout his professional career, Barbers private life sometimes caused scandal because of an intimate living relationship he maintained with fellow musician Gian Carlo Menotti. The close personal friendship between the two men began when they were students at the Curtis Institute. Menotti lived for a time at the Barber household, and Barber traveled with Menotti on numerous occasions to Milan, Italy, to visit with Menot-tis family. Furthermore, Barber lived much of his adult life in New York City, sharing living quarters with Menotti. Likewise, Barber spent 12 years in the close companionship of Valentin Herranz, which gave further credence to already existing notions of Barbers rumored homosexuality and caused continual dismay among the less politically correct art patrons of Barbers era.

Professional Prominence

Barbers first major orchestral work, Overture to the School for Scandal, received its world premiere with the Philadelphia Orchestra under conductor Alexander Smallens in 1933. In 1935-36 Barber received an extended Pulitzer traveling scholarship and thereafter supported himself largely by means of fellowship grants and by composing works on commission. Also in 1935 Barber won the Prix de Rome and spent some years at the American Academy in Rome in fulfillment of the prize. Barber was commissioned to write his Symphony No. 2 by the Army Air Forces while serving as a corporal during World War II. He taught briefly at the Curtis Institute, collected royalties for his works, and received Guggenheim Fellowships in 1945, 1947, and again in 1949. In 1946 he accepted a commission to compose a ballet score for Martha Grahams planned presentation of Medea. After completing that project, entitled Cave of the Heart, Barber subsequently expanded the original ballet music into seven movements for full orchestra in 1947. He reworked the score a second time in 1955, resulting in a single full-length movement called Medeas Dance of Vengeance. In 1949 Barber accepted a commission to compose a work for piano to be performed by Vladimir Horowitz in celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the League of Composers.

Barbers work, which is most memorable for its extremely lyrical quality, includes 103 solo songs. In many instances, the composer took his inspiration from literary illusion, turning to the celebrated Anglo-Saxon poetsJames Agee, William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, and othersfor text and inspiration in composing his songs. Among his more popular lyrical works, Barbers Hermit Songs were taken from works of Irish poetry which he adapted to music for the American soprano Leontyne Price. Hermit Songs marked the first in an ongoing series of collaborations between Barber and Price that began with Prices Hermit Songs concert in 1953 and endured for two decades. In 1966, on commission for the opening of the new Metropolitan Opera House at the Lincoln Center in New York City, Barber wrote the opera Antony and Cleopatra with Price earmarked for the starring role of Cleopatra. That work featured an original libretto by Franco Zeffirelli, although much of the premiere production was flawed. Barber later rewrote the work in collaboration with Menotti.

Pulitzer Prize Winner

In 1958 the Metropolitan Opera produced Barbers opera, Vanessa, a highly successful work featuring Menottis libretto. That work won the first of two Pulitzer Prizes for Barber. He won a second Pulitzer along with a Music Critics Circle Award in 1962 for Piano Concerto No. 1, which had its premiere at the Avery Fisher Music Hall (then Philharmonic Hall) at the Lincoln Center.

Barbers most celebrated work is the Adagio for Strings, which he composed when he was newly out of the Curtis Institute. The composition was performed along with Barbers Essay for Orchestra in a world premiere by the NBC Symphony Orchestra in 1938 under conductor Arturo Toscanini. The Adagio was heard prominently once again in 1945 at the funeral of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and was heard thereafter on many momentous and somber occasions, including the funerals of physicist Albert Einstein in 1955 and Princess Grace of Monaco in 1982.

Although the Adagio was not included among the selections at Barbers own funeral, he was nonetheless serenaded with his own music for several months by a stream of his friends and colleagues as he lay on his deathbed, terminally ill from cancer. He died on January 23, 1981, in New York City.

Selected compositions

Overture to the School for Scandal, G. Schirmer, 1931.

First Essay for Orchestra, G. Schirmer, 1937.

Adagio for Strings, G. Schirmer, 1938.

Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, G. Schirmer, 1939.

Symphony No. 2, G. Schirmer, 1942.

MedeaCave of the Heart, G. Schirmer, 1947.

MedeaBallet Suite, G. Schirmer, 1947.

Medeas Dance of Vengeance, G. Schirmer, 1955.

Vanessa, G. Schirmer, 1957.

Piano Concerto No. 1, G. Schirmer, 1962.

Antony and Cleopatra, G. Schirmer, 1966.

Third Essay for Orchestra, G. Schirmer, 1978.

Sources

Books

Encyclopedia of World Biography, second edition, Gale Research, 1998.

Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Volume 1: 1981-1985, Charles Scribners Sons, 1998.

Online

Samuel BarberBiography, G. Schirmer Inc., http://www.schirmer.com/composers/barberworks.html (June 26, 2001).

Gloria Cooksey

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Samuel Barber

Samuel Barber

Samuel Barber (1910-1981) was among the leading figures in 20th-century American music and is perhaps best known for his Adagio for Strings, which has become one of the most recognized pieces in contemporary orchestral music.

Samuel Barber was born on March 9, 1910, in West Chester, Pennsylvania, into a middle-class professional family. His maternal aunt was the well-known singer Louise Homer. Barber's mother was an accomplished pianist, and his own musical studies started early. He began composing at the age of seven. In 1924 he entered the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he remained for nine years, studying composition and piano. He also studied voice, which undoubtedly influenced the cultivation of a strong lyrical style in his musical composition. It was at Curtis that Barber began a lifelong friendship with Gian Carlo Menotti, a newly arrived student from Italy. Although Barber made frequent trips to Europe (as a recipient of the Prix de Rome he spent several years at the American Academy in Rome), he was among the first American composers trained in his own country. The roots of European tradition nevertheless had been assimilated. Except for a brief period of teaching at the Curtis Institute, he maintained his independence, primarily through grants, commissions, and royalties.

Early Works

Barber's music covers a wide range. Vocal works include choral compositions and solo settings with piano, chamber ensemble, and orchestra. Barber set to music the texts of such literary figures as Matthew Arnold, James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, James Agee, Rainer Maria Rilke, and the philosopher SÓren Kierkegaard. Among his orchestral works are three Essays for Orchestra and two symphonies. The performance in 1938 of his first Essay and of his best-known work, Adagio for Strings, with Arturo Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra, won Barber immediate national recognition. Symphony No. 2 was commissioned by the Army Air Forces while Barber served as a corporal during World War II. Three concertos for violin, violoncello, and piano reveal his grasp of instrumental idiomatic virtuosity. He also wrote ballet music for Martha Graham (Medea) and the Ballet Society (Souvenirs).

Operas

It was inevitable that Barber would turn to opera. The Pulitzer Prize-winning Vanessa, with a libretto by Menotti (1958), was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, New York City. Limited to a few roles, it is a lyrical work of passionate intensity. Following the success of Vanessa, Barber was honored by another commission, Antony and Cleopatra, adapted from Shakespeare by Franco Zeffirelli, for the opening of the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center, New York City, in September 1966. This opera is more complex musically and more grandiose in scope and theatricality.

Major Themes and Techniques

It is difficult to classify Barber's style. His early works represent a conservative, traditional style based on European prototypes, and his later, more complex compositions remain outside experimental trends of the period. His structure is tonal, yet the earlier works are more simple and direct. Later works, such as Symphony No. 2, the Piano Sonata, and the Piano Concerto, another Pulitzer Prize winner, are more chromatic and dissonant. Twelve-tone serial technique is used in the Piano Sonata. Barber's instrumental works reveal traditional attitudes toward musical articulation and form. His themes are carefully molded and highly motivic. His contrapuntal texture is strong, and he used canonic, fugal, and ostinato procedures. His various settings for solo voice are very sensitive and expressive, especially in the evocation of youth. A beautiful example is Knoxville: Summer of 1915, derived from Agee's A Death in the Family. Because of his direct expressivity and warm lyricism he is generally regarded as a "neoromantic," but this is a classification of attitude rather than of style.

After a period of artistic inactivity in the 1970s, Barber returned to composing with his Third Essay for Orchestra, which was performed by the New York Philharmonic orchestra in 1980. The premier of a second new work, an oboe concerto, was planned at the time of his death, January 23, 1981, following a long illness.

Further Reading

A sympathetic biography and analysis of Barber's music is Nathan Broder, Samuel Barber (1954; revised, 1985). A penetrating interpretation of Barber is given by Wilfrid Mellers in Music in a New Found Land (1965). A consideration of Barber's life and career may also be found in Barbara B. Heyman, Samuel Barber: The Composer and His Music (1992; reprinted, 1994). For additional information, see Don A. Hennessee, Samuel Barber: A Bio-Bibliography (1985). □

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Barber, Samuel

Barber, Samuel (b West Chester, Penn., 1910; d NY, 1981). Amer. composer. Played pf. at age 6 and composed when 7. At 14 entered Curtis Inst. as one of first charter students, studying comp. under Scalero 1925–34, pf. under Isabelle Vengerova 1926–31, and singing under Emilio de Gogorza 1926–30. In 1928 formed a lasting and fruitful friendship with Gian Carlo Menotti. From 1933 his comps. began to be played, notably his setting of Arnold's Dover Beach, in which he sang the bar. part, and his Vc. Sonata, in which he played the pf. In 1935 won a Pulitzer scholarship and in 1936 the Amer. Academy's Prix de Rome. His first sym. was given its f.p. in Rome that year, cond. Molinari. Toscanini cond. f.ps. of his Adagio for Strings (orig. the slow movement of his str. qt.) and the first Essay for Orchestra in 1938 and in subsequent years f.ps. of his works were given in NY, Boston, and Philadelphia under Walter, Koussevitzsky, Leinsdorf, Mitropoulos, Ormandy, and Mehta. His 4-act opera Vanessa, to lib. by Menotti, was perf. at the NY Met in 1958 and another opera Antony and Cleopatra, to lib. by Zeffirelli, was commissioned for the opening of the new Metropolitan in the Lincoln Center, NY, in Sept. 1966.

Barber's mus. is in the European traditional line rather than specifically ‘American’. Conservative in idiom, it is melodic, elegant, and brilliant. His lyricism is best heard in Vanessa and in Knoxville: Summer of 1915, for sop. and orch., and his romanticism in Dover Beach, the Vc. Sonata, and the Sym. No.1. His Pf. Sonata, first played by Horowitz, is a bravura work. The operas met with a poor initial response which is in process of being reversed, and the concs. and songs are highly effective. Prin. works:OPERAS: Vanessa, Op.32 (1957, rev. 1964); A Hand of Bridge, Op.35 (1959); Antony and Cleopatra, Op.40 (1966, rev. 1974).BALLETS: Medea, Op.23 (1946, rev. as Cave of the Heart, 1947); Souvenirs, Op.28 (1952).ORCH.: sym. No.1, Op.9 (1936), No.2, Op.19 (1944); Overture to School for Scandal, Op.5 (1931); Music for a Scene from Shelley, Op.7 (1933); Essay No.1, Op.12 (1937), No.2, Op.17 (1942), No.3, Op.47 (1978); Adagio for Strings, Op.11 (1938) (orch. from str. qt. Op.11); Mutations from Bach, brass, timp. (1967); Fadograph of a Yestern Scene, Op.44 (1971).CONCERTOS: vn., Op.14 (1939); vc., Op.22 (1945); pf., Op.38 (1962); Capricorn Concerto, Op.21 (for chamber orch.) (1944); Canzonetta, ob., str., Op.48 (1977–8).VOCAL AND CHORAL: Dover Beach, Op.3 (bar. or cont. with str. qt. or str. orch.) (1931); A Stopwatch and an Ordnance Map, Op.15, male vv., timp. (1939); Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Op.24, sop., orch. (1947, arr. for sop. and chamber orch. 1950); Prayers of Kierkegaard, Op.30, sop., orch. (1954); Andromache's Farewell, Op.39, sop., orch. (1962); Agnus Dei (1967, choral vers. of Adagio for Strings).CHAMBER MUSIC: Serenade, Op.1, str. qt. (1928, arr. for str. orch. 1944); vc. sonata, Op.6 (1932); str. qt., Op.11 (1936); Excursions, Op.20, pf. (1942–4); pf. sonata, Op.26 (1949); Souvenirs, Op.28, pf., 4 hands (1951, arr. for pf. solo, for 2 pfs. and for orch., 1952); Summer Music, Op.31 (woodwind quintet) (1955); Canzone (Elegy), Op.38a, fl. or vn., pf. (1958).

He also comp. many songs, incl. 10 Hermit Songs, Op.29 to Irish texts (1952–3).

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Barber, Samuel

Samuel Barber, 1910–81, American composer, b. West Chester, Pa. Barber studied at the Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia. His music is lyrical and generally tonal; his later works are more chromatic and polytonal with striking contrapuntal elements. Among his outstanding works are a setting of Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach" for voice and string quartet (1931); an overture to The School for Scandal (1931); Adagio for Strings (1936); two symphonies (1936, 1944); Capricorn Concerto for flute, oboe, and trumpet (1944) and a piano concerto (1962; Pulitzer Prize); a ballet, Medea (1946); Knoxville: Summer of 1915, for soprano and orchestra (1947), derived from a segment of James Agee's novel A Death in the Family; a modern oratorio, Prayers of Kierkegaard (1954); and two operas, Vanessa (1957; Pulitzer Prize) and Antony and Cleopatra (1966), commissioned to open the new Metropolitan Opera House.

See biography by N. Broder (1954).

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Barber, Samuel

Barber, Samuel (1910–81) US composer. He composed chamber music, notably Dover Beach (1931) for voice and string quartet, two symphonies, a piano concerto (1962), and three operas including Vanessa (1958) and Antony and Cleopatra (1966). His style, initially quite romantic, became increasingly dissonant. He won two Pulitzer Prizes for music.

http://www.classical.net

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