Samuel Barber

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Essential Albums

  • Barber: Adagio for Strings - Copland: Appalachian Spring, Rodeo & Billy the Kid

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About Samuel Barber

Samuel Barber’s immortality would have been assured even if he had written nothing other than his “Adagio for Strings,” which he finished in 1936. Broadcast upon the announcement of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death in 1945, it has a deeply cathartic, elegiac tone that cemented its stature as America’s indispensable national music of mourning; it is performed at presidential funerals, following terrorist attacks, and more recently in honor of those lost during the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, it has added an inimitable pathos to films such as The Elephant Man (1980) and Platoon (1986). But Barber wrote much more than just the Adagio, and he became one of America’s most important composers in the middle of the 20th century. Born in Pennsylvania in 1910, he studied at the Curtis Institute and in Italy; while still a student he met the Italian American composer Gian Carlo Menotti, who was to become his artistic collaborator and life partner. His Violin Concerto (1939), Cello Concerto (1945), Piano Concerto (1962), and two symphonies (1926, 1944) illustrate the sinewy strength and occasional acerbity beneath Barber’s outwardly lyrical, post-Romantic tonal style. His first full-scale opera, Vanessa (1958), received the plaudits that were denied his second, Antony and Cleopatra (1966); both have been revived and reassessed since his death in 1981. But it is the Adagio, whether performed on strings or in Barber’s own choral arrangement, that remains his lasting legacy.

West Chester, PA, United States
March 9, 1910

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