Samuel Barber
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1910-03-09
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Samuel Barber

Samuel Barber Biography (BBC)

Samuel Barber’s fame rests largely on the huge popularity of his Adagio for Strings. Atypical in many respects, it does betray the fundamental principles that lay behind his art. He was a diehard romanticist, in that he liked his work to relate personal responses and emotions, and he enabled it to do so through a lyric gift underpinned by a harmonic sensibility based very much on the manners of the 19th century. This is not to say that he was an unoriginal composer – far from it. The songs have a clarity and an originality that puts one in mind of a figure like Poulenc. The Violin Concerto of 1939 contains elements of modernity not so far removed from the Violin Concerto of Berg. There is always a sense of refinement, of careful shaping and self-criticism. Perhaps the most accurate way to describe his music is as something courageously free. He felt unencumbered by the trends of the day. That was his singular strength.

Barber began learning the piano at 6 and composing at 7, encouraged by his aunt, the contralto Louise Homer, and his uncle, the song composer Sidney Homer. He entered the Curtis Institute at the age of 14. There he studied singing – he had a fine baritone voice and later recorded his own song-cycle Dover Beach – and conducting (with Fritz Reiner), as well as composition and piano. He remained at the Curtis for eight years, producing his earliest fully formed pieces. An award in 1928 for his Violin Sonata enabled him to go to Europe for the first time. He was drawn to Italy, and spent time at the American Academy in Rome (1935–7), where he wrote his First Symphony and a string quartet. The symphony was the first American work to be played at the Salzburg Festival; the slow movement of the quartet became the famous Adagio for Strings.

Barber taught for three years at the Curtis (1939–42), then set up house with the composer Gian Carlo Menotti, a fellow student who had travelled with him in Europe and remained his partner for the rest of his life. He wrote a Second Symphony in 1943 to a commission from the Army Air Force, but was dissatisfied with it; he attempted a revision in 1947 but withdrew it completely in 1967.After the war, he returned to Europe and produced a stream of large-scale works, including the Cello Concerto, the ballets Medea and Souvenirs, the vocal pieces Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Hermit Songs and Prayers of Kierkegaard and the Piano Sonata. There were also two important operas: Vanessa, to a libretto by Menotti, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1958; and Antony and Cleopatra, to a libretto by Franco Zeffirelli, which on its 1966 premiere (to open the new Metropolitan Opera in New York) was a spectacular flop. Barber claimed to have been unaffected by the disaster, but left for Italy after the premiere, isolating himself for the next five years. In 1974, however, he and Menotti began revising the piece and the second version proved far more successful. After that, Barber’s output slowed to a halt as he suffered the onset of the cancer that was to kill him at the age of 70.

Profile by Stephen Pettitt © BBC

Samuel Barber Biography (Wikipedia)

Samuel Osborne Barber II (March 9, 1910 – January 23, 1981) was an American composer of orchestral, opera, choral, and piano music. He is one of the most celebrated composers of the 20th century: music critic Donal Henahan stated that "Probably no other American composer has ever enjoyed such early, such persistent and such long-lasting acclaim."

His Adagio for Strings (1936) has earned a permanent place in the concert repertory of orchestras. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music twice: for his opera Vanessa (1956–57) and for the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1962). Also widely performed is his Knoxville: Summer of 1915 (1947), a setting for soprano and orchestra of a prose text by James Agee. At the time of his death, nearly all of his compositions had been recorded.

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Samuel Barber Performances & Interviews


Samuel Barber Tracks

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Samuel Barber
Capricorn Concerto (Allegro con brio)
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Capricorn Concerto (Allegro con brio)
Trad, Samuel Barber, Samuel Barber & Samuel Barber
Waly, waly
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Waly, waly
Samuel Barber
Vanessa Act II
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Vanessa Act II
Samuel Barber
The School for Scandal (Overture)
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The School for Scandal (Overture)
Samuel Barber
Concerto for violin and orchestra (Op.14)
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Concerto for violin and orchestra (Op.14)
Samuel Barber
Violin Concerto (feat. Chloë Hanslip) (BBC Hoddinott Hall 2016-17)
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Violin Concerto (feat. Chloë Hanslip) (BBC Hoddinott Hall 2016-17)
Samuel Barber
1st movement; Allegro (Allegro moderato) from Violin concerto, Op.14
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1st movement; Allegro (Allegro moderato) from Violin concerto, Op.14
Samuel Barber
Prayers of Kierkegaard Op.30
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Prayers of Kierkegaard Op.30
Samuel Barber
Nocture, Op.33
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Nocture, Op.33
Samuel Barber
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op 16
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Piano Concerto in A minor, Op 16
Samuel Barber
Agnus Dei for chorus [arr from Adagio of Quartet for strings]
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Agnus Dei for chorus [arr from Adagio of Quartet for strings]
Samuel Barber
Medea's Meditation & Dance of Vengeance Op. 23a
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Medea's Meditation & Dance of Vengeance Op. 23a
Samuel Barber
Summer Music Op.31 For Wind Quintet
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Summer Music Op.31 For Wind Quintet
Samuel Barber
Summer Music Op.31
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Summer Music Op.31
Samuel Barber
Dover Beach Op.3
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Dover Beach Op.3
Samuel Barber
On the death of Cleopatra
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On the death of Cleopatra
Samuel Barber
String Quartet in B minor, Op. 11
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String Quartet in B minor, Op. 11
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