Barber, Samuel

views updated May 29 2018

Samuel Barber


Completed First Orchestral Composition

Professional Prominence

Pulitzer Prize Winner

Selected compositions


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.



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

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


Samuel BarberBiography, G. Schirmer Inc., (June 26, 2001).

Gloria Cooksey

Barber, Samuel

views updated Jun 27 2018

Barber, Samuel

Barber, Samuel, outstanding American composer of superlative gifts; b. West Chester, Pa., March 9, 1910; d. N.Y., Jan. 23, 1981. He was the nephew of Louise Homer and her husband Sidney Homer, who encouraged him in his musical inclination. At the age of six, he began piano lessons, and later had some cello lessons. He was only ten when he tried his hand at composing a short opera, The Rose Tree. During his high school years, he gained practical experience as organist at Westminster Presbyterian Church. Even before graduating from high school at age 16, he entered the first class at the newly organized Curtis Inst. of Music in Philadelphia when he was 14, where he was a pupil of Boyle and Vengerova (piano), Scalero (composition), and Reiner (conducting). He also took voice lessons with Emilio de Gogarza and gave recitals as a baritone at the Curtis Inst., where he graduated in 1932. He then went to Vienna to pursue vocal training with John Braun, and also appeared in public as a singer there. In the meantime, his interest in composing grew apace. In 1928 his Violin Sonata won the Beams Prize of Columbia Univ. It was followed by such enduring scores as his Dover Beach for Voice and String Quartet (1931), the Serenade for String Quartet (1932), and the Cello Sonata (1932). In 1933 he won the Beams Prize again for his overture to The School for Scandal, which was favorably received at its premiere by the Philadelphia Orch. on Aug. 30 of that year. Then followed the successful premiere of his Music for a Scene from Shelley by the N.Y. Phil, on March 24, 1935, under Werner Janssen’s direction. Thanks to a Pultizer Traveling Scholarship and a Rome Prize, Barber pursued composition at the American Academy in Rome in 1935 and 1936. During his sojourn there, he wrote his First Sym., which was premiered under Molinari’s direction on Dec. 13, 1936. He also wrote his String Quartet in 1936. Rodzinski conducted Barber’s First Sym. at the Salzburg Festival on July 25, 1937, the first score by an American composer to be played there. Toscanini conducted the premiere of Barber’s (first) Essay for Orch. with the NBC Sym. Orch. in N.Y. on Nov. 5, 1938. On the same program, he also conducted the Adagio for Strings, a transcription of the second movement of the String Quartet, which was destined to become Barber’s most celebrated work, an epitome of his lyrical and Romantic bent. From 1939 to 1942 he taught composition at the Curtis Inst. His most notable work of this period was his Violin Concerto, which was first performed by Albert Spalding with Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orch. on Feb. 7, 1941. With his friend Gian Carlo Menotti, he purchased a house (“Capricorn”) in Mount Kisco, N.Y., which was to remain the center of his activities until 1974. In 1943 he was conscripted into the U.S. Army and was assigned to the Army Air Force. During his military service, he composed his Second Sym., which included an electronic instrument producing sound in imitation of radio signals. Koussevitzky conducted its premiere with the Boston Sym. Orch. on March 3, 1944. After his discharge from military service in 1945, Barber revised the score; it was first performed by the Philadelphia Orch. on Jan. 21, 1948. Still dissatisfied with the work, he destroyed the MS except for the second movement, which he revised as Night Flight, which was first performed by Szell and the Cleveland Orch. on Oct. 8, 1964. Barber had better luck with his Cello Concerto (1945), which was introduced by Raya Garbousova with Koussevitzy conducting the Boston Sym. Orch. on April 5, 1946. In 1947 it won the N.Y. Music Critics’ Circle Award. For Martha Graham, he composed the ballet Medea (N.Y., May 10, 1946), which was revised as The Cave of the Heart (N.Y., Feb. 27, 1947). He made an orch. suite from the ballet (Philadelphia, Dec. 5, 1947) and the orch. piece, Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance (N.Y., Feb. 2, 1956). One of Barber’s most distinguished scores, Knox-ville: Summer of 1915 for High Voice and Orch., after James Agee, was first performed by Eleanor Steber with Koussevitzky conducting the Boston Sym. Orch. on April 9, 1948. His remarkable Piano Sonata, premiered by Horowitz in Havana on Dec. 9, 1949, amply utilized contemporary resources, including 12-tone writing. In 1953 he composed the one-act opera A Hand of Bridge, scored for four Soloists and Chamber Orch. The work was not performed until June 17, 1959, when it was mounted in Spoleto, Italy, without much impact. In the meantime, Barber composed his finest opera, Vanessa (1956–57), to a libretto by Menotti. It was successfuly premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in N.Y. on Jan. 15, 1958, and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music. It was followed by his strikingly brilliant Piano Concerto, which was first performed by John Browning with Leinsdorf conducting the Boston Sym. Orch. at N.Y.’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts on Sept. 24, 1962. Barber was awarded his second Pulitzer Prize in Music for this work. A commission from the Metropolitan Opera spurred Barber on to compose his most ambitious work for the stage, the three-act opera Antony and Cleopatra. With Zeffirelli as librettist, producer, director, and designer, it was premiered at the opening of the new Metropolitan Opera House in N.Y. on Sept. 16, 1966. Unfortunately, the work found few admirers. Barber revised the score with a revamped libretto by Menotti, and the new version was given a more favorable reception at its first performance by N.Y.’s Opera Theater of the Juilliard School on Feb. 6, 1975.

During the final years of his life, Barber wrote only a handful of works. In 1945, 1947, and 1949 he held Guggenheim fellowships. He was elected to the National Inst. of Arts and Letters in 1941 and to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1958. Barber was one of the most distinguished American composers of the 20th century. He excelled primarily as a melodist, being remarkably sensitive in his handling of vocally shaped patterns. Although the harmonic structures of his music remained fundamentally tonal, he made free use of chromatic techniques, verging on atonality and polytonality, while his mastery of modern counterpoint enabled him to write canons and fugues in effective neo-Baroque sequences. His orchestration was opulent without being turgid, and his treatment of solo instruments was unfailingly congenial to their nature even though requiring a virtuoso technique.


DRAMATIC: Opera: A Hand of Bridge (1953; Spoleto, June 17, 1959); Vanessa (1956–57; N.Y., Jan. 15, 1958, Mitropoulos conducting; rev. 1964); Antony and Cleopatra (N.Y., Sept. 16, 1966, Schippers conducting; rev. 1974; N.Y., Feb. 6, 1975, Conlon conducting). ballet:Medea or Serpent Heart (N.Y., May 10, 1946; rev. as The Cave of the Heart, N.Y., Feb. 27, 1947; as a ballet suite, Philadelphia, Dec. 5, 1947, Ormandy conducting; as Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance for Orch., 1953; N.Y., Feb. 2, 1956, Mitropoulos conducting); Souvenirs (1952; N.Y., Nov. 15, 1955; as a ballet suite, 1952; Chicago, Nov. 12, 1953, Reiner conducting; also for Solo Piano or Piano, 4-Hands). ORCH.: Serenade for Strings (1928; also for String Quartet); The School for Scandal, overture (1933; N.Y., March 24, 1935, Janssen conducting); 2 syms.: No. 1 (Rome, Dec. 13, 1936, Molinari conducting; rev. 1942) and No. 2 (Boston, March 3, 1944, Koussevitzky conducting; rev. version, Philadelphia, Jan. 21, 1948, Ormandy conducting; 2nd movement rev. as Night Flight, Cleveland, Oct. 8, 1964, Szell conducting); Adagio for Strings (arranged from the 2nd movement of the String Quartet, 1936; N.Y., Nov. 5, 1938, Tscanini conducting); (3) Essay(s): No. 1 (1937; N.Y., Nov. 5, 1938, Toscanini conducting), No. 2 (N.Y., April 16, 1942, Walter conducting), and No. 3 (N.Y., Sept. 14, 1978, Mehta conducting); Violin Concerto (1939; Philadelphia, Feb. 7, 1941, Spalding soloist, Ormandy conducting); Funeral March (1943); Commando March for Band (Atlantic City, May 23, 1943, composer conducting; also for Orch., Boston, Oct. 29, 1943, Koussevitzky conducting); Capricorn Concerto for Flute, Oboe, Trumpet, and Strings (N.Y., Oct. 8, 1944, Saidenberg conducting); Cello Concerto (1945; Boston, April 5, 1946, Garbousova soloist, Koussevitzky conducting); Horizon (c. 1945; Merrick, N.Y., Jan. 19, 1985); Adventure for Flute, Clarinet, Horn, Harp, and Exotic Instruments (1954); Toccata festiva for Organ and Orch. (Philadelphia, Sept. 30, 1960, Callaway soloist, Ormandy conducting); Die natalie, choral preludes for Christmas (Boston, Dec. 22, 1960, Munch conducting); Piano Concerto (N.Y., Sept. 24, 1962, Browning soloist, Leinsdorf conducting); Fadograph of a Yestern Scene (Pittsburgh, Sept. 11, 1971, Steinberg conducting); Canzonetta for Oboe and Strings (orchestrated by C. Turner, 1977–78; N.Y., Dec. 17, 1981, H. Gomberg soloist, Mehta conducting). CHAMBER: Serenade for String Quartet (1928; Philadelphia, May 5, 1930, Swastika Quartet; also for String Orch.); Violin Sonata (Philadelphia, Dec. 10, 1928, Gilbert violinist, composer pianist; not extant); Cello Sonata (1932; N.Y., March 5, 1933, Cole cellist, composer pianist); String Quartet (Rome, Dec. 14, 1936, Pro Art Quartet; 2nd movement arranged as the Adagio for Strings, 1936); Commemorative March for Violin, Cello, and Piano (n.d.); Summer Music for Wind Quintet (1955; Detroit, March 20, 1956); Canzone (Elegy) for Flute or Violin and Piano (1962; transcription of the 2nd movement of the Piano Cocnerto): Mutations from Bach for 4 Horns, 3 Trumpets, 3 Trombones, and Tuba or Timpani (1967; N.Y., Oct. 7, 1968). KEYBOARD: Piano: Interlude I (Adagio for Jeanne) (Philadelphia, May 12, 1932, composer pianist); (4) Excursions (1942–44; first complete perf., N.Y., Dec. 22, 1948, Behrend pianist); Sonata (Havana, Dec. 9, 1949, Horowitz pianist); Souvenirs (1952; also for Piano, 4-Hands, and as a ballet); Nocturne: Homage to John Field (San Diego, Oct. 1959, Browning pianist); Ballade (Fort Worth, Sept. 11, 1977). Organ: Wondrous Love: Variations on a Shape Note Hymn (Grosse Pointe, Mich., Oct. 19, 1958, Roeckelein organist). VOCAL: 10 Early Songs for Voice and Piano (1925–37; nos. 1-9 first perf., Rome, Jan. 5, 1936, composer singer and pianist); Dover Beach for Medium Voice and String Quartet (1931; N.Y., March 5, 1933, Bampton singer, N.Y. Art Quartet); The Virgin Martyrs for Women’s Voices (1935; CBS, May 1, 1939, composer conducting); Let Down the Bars, O Death for Chorus (1936); I Hear an Army for Voice and Piano (1936; Philadelphia, March 7, 1937; also for Voice and Orch., CBS, May 5, 1945, Tourel soloist, composer conducting); God’s Grandeur for Double Chorus (Shippensburg, Pa., Jan. 31, 1938); Sure on this Shining Night for Voice and Piano (1938; Philadelphia, April 4, 1941; also for Voice and Orch., CBS, May 5, 1945, Tourel soloist, composer conducting; also for Chorus and Piano); Nocturne for Voice and Orch. (1940; CBS, May 5, 1945, Tourel soloist, composer conducting; also for Voice and Piano, Philadelphia, April 4, 1941); A Stopwatch and an Ordnance Map for Men’s Voices, Brass Ensemble, and Timpani (first perf. without brass, Philadelphia, April 23, 1940, composer conducting; first perf. with brass, N.Y., Dec. 17, 1945, Shaw conducting); Reincarnations for Chorus (1940); Monks and Raisins for Medium Voice and Piano (1943; also for Medium Voice and Orch., CBS, May 5, 1945, Tourel soloist, composer conducting); Knoxville: Summer of 1915 for Voice and Orch. (1947; Boston, April 9, 1948, Steber soloist, Koussevitzky conducting; rev. version for Voice and Chamber Orch., Washington, D.C., April 1, 1950); (5) Mélodies Passagères for Voice and Piano (1950; first complete perf., Paris, Feb. 1952, Bernac singer, Poulenc pianist); (10) Hermit Songs for Voice and Piano (1952–53; Washington, D.C., Oct. 30, 1953, Price singer, composer pianist); Prayers of Kierkegaard for Soprano, Chorus, and Orch. (Boston, Dec. 3, 1954, Price soloist, Munch conducting); Andromache’s Farewell for Soprano and Orch. (1962; N.Y., April 4, 1963, Arroyo soloist, Schippers conducting); Easter Chorale for Chorus, Brass Sextet, Timpani, and Organ ad libitum (Washington, D.C., May 7, 1964); Agnus Dei for Chorus and Piano or Organ ad libitum (1967; arranged from the 2nd movement of the String Quartet, 1936); Despite and Still, song cycle for High or Medium Voice and Piano (N.Y., April 27, 1969, Price singer, Garvey pianist); The Lovers for Baritone, Chorus, and Orch. (Philadelphia, Sept. 22, 1971, Krause soloist, Or-mandy conducting).


N. Broder, S. B. (N.Y., 1954); R. Friedewald, A Formal and Stylistic Analysis of the Published Music of S. B. (diss., Univ. of Iowa, 1957); L. Wathen, Dissonance Treatment in the Instrumental Music of S. B. (diss., Northwestern Univ., 1960); S. Carter, The Piano Music of S. B. (diss., Tex. Tech. Univ., 1980); D. Hennessee, S. B.: A Bio- Bibliography (Westport, Conn., 1985); J. Kreiling, The Songs of S. B.: A Study in Literary Taste and Text-Setting (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1987); B. Heyman, S. B.: The Composer and His Music (Oxford, 1991); P. Wittke, S. B.: An Improvsatory Portrait (N.Y., 1994; includes works list by N. Ryan).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

Samuel Barber

views updated May 21 2018

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).


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). □

Barber, Samuel

views updated Jun 08 2018

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. 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 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).

Barber, Samuel

views updated May 23 2018

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.

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