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Barber, Samuel

Samuel Barber was only 28 years old when Arturo Toscanini premiered his Adagio for Strings in 1938 with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. He was an overnight success and became the most performed composer in the United States: His music is mostly unaffected by the modern tendencies of his time – he was out of step during the first half of the 20th century. Samuel Barber was as much a cosmopolitan as a romantic lyricist, and his writing unmistakably has its fixed stars: Bach, Brahms, and Fauré. We’ll explore his world, life, and music in this week’s program and finally face the inevitable question: A huge success at such a young age – a blessing or a curse? 

Program 1

Samuel Barber was a famous American composer known for his versitality, his motion picture musical features and poetry influences. Barber delved into a wide range of instrumental voices throughout his compositions. They included his own vocal baritone and an adventurous exploration of the keyboard, ranging from dark, mysterious foundations to hopeful scurrying, perhaps reflecting his own lifelong goals. 

Barber protested his mother's early hope for him to become seasoned in athletics, in a letter to her, reading, "I was meant to be a composer - and I will be, I am sure. So, please don't ask me to try and forget this and go and play football." 

Barber: Adagio for Strings (excerpt)
NY Phil/Bernstein
CBS 38484

Barber: Overture to the School for Scandal (excerpt)
NY Phil/Schippers
Sony 62837

Barber: “The Daisies” fr. Three Songs, Op. 2
Hampson, bar.; Browning, p.
DG 435867-2

Barber: Interlude No. 1- Adagio for Jeanne
Browning, p.
Musicmasters 67122

Barber: Serenade for String Orchestra, Op. 1
Symphony of the Air/ Golschmann
Van 1649

Barber: “Dover Beach”
Curtis String Quartet; Barber, bar.
Pearl 0049

Barber: Overture to the School for Scandal
NY Phil/ Schippers
Sony 62837

Barber: Sonata for Cello & Piano, Op. 6, II & III
Díaz, vc.; Sanders, p.
Dorian 90241

Barber: “Bessie Bobtail” fr. Three Songs, Op. 2
Hampson, bar.; Browning, p.
DG 435867-2


Program 2

Paired by a trip to Italy and his current literary interests, Barber combines what sounds like a loneliness onset by a lost love with a passionate arrogance. Barber uses his yearning for travel as inspiration for his string quartet piece.  

This combination of yearning and nature is what helps Barber attract the assistance of Viennese conductor Bruno Walter, who wished to conduct Barber's music, and the Maestro's desire to help him conduct for the NBC Symphony upon his arrival to Italy.

Hear the influences of Sibelius and Barber's own emotions in the several voices he harnesses here. 

Barber: Music for a Scene from Shelley
Symphony of the Air/ Golschmann
Van 1649

Barber: “I Hear an Army” fr. Three Songs, Op. 10
Hampson, bar.; Browning, p.
DG 338002

Barber: String Quartet in b minor, Op. 11
Emerson String Quartet
DG 435864

Barber: Symphony No. 1, Op. 9
NY Phil/Walter
Pearl 49

Barber: “A Nun Takes the Veil”, Op. 13 No. 1
Horne, ms.; Katz, p.,
RCA 68771

Barber: String Quartet, Op. 11finale (excerpt)
Emerson String Quartet
DG 435864

Program 3

Barber continues to explore musical sounds and heads in the neoclassical direction. To Samuel Barber, an essay is not a long, persuasive written piece to be graded. Rather, Barber argues his points through a series of aural words. This may stem from his seasoned and open background of linguistics. Once again, poetry influences the images within Barber's varying sounds, through his ability to translate his own meanings to literature through music.

Pearl Harbor brought  a military opportunity to Barber, and although his eyesight could not contribute to the war, the attack contributed to a new, dissonant and Stravinskian sound in Barber's repertoire.

Barber: Overture to the School for Scandal (excerpt)
NY Phil/ Schippers
Sony 62837

Barber: First Essay for Orchestra, Op. 12
Royal Scottish Nat’l Orch/ Alsop
Naxos 559024

Barber: “Sure on This Shining Night” fr. Four Songs, Op. 13
Studer, s.; Browning, p.
DG 338002

Barber: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14, I & II
St. Paul Chamber Orch/Wolff; Hahn, v.
Sony 89029

Barber: “A Stopwatch and an Ordinance Map”, Op. 15
Symphony of the Air/Golschmann; Robert DeCormier Singers
Van 1649
5:54, :34

Barber: Capricorn Concerto, Op. 21, III
St. Louis Symphony/Slatkin;Bowman, ob.; Slaughter, tpt.; Berg, f.
RCA 68283

Barber: Excursions, Op. 20, III & IV + II
Browning, p.
Musicmasters 67122
5:56 + 1:29


Program 4

Coast through another prime example of Samuel Barber's versatility as Bill McGlaughlin takes you from a gentle summer evening inspired by James Agee, to the demonic scheming of Medea. Then try your cards at a determined, jazzy game of Bridge. Finally, end with a sprightly gallop across the keys here.


Barber: Knoxville Summer of 1915
Orchestra of St. Luke’s/Previn; Battle, s.
DG 437787

Barber: Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance, Op. 23a
St. Louis Symphony/Slatkin
EMI 86561-2

Barber: Summer Music for Wind Quintet
NY Phil Quintet
Boston Skyline 137

Barber: A Hand of Bridge, Op. 35 (excerpt)
Symphony of the Air/Golschmann; soloists
Van 1649

Barber: Souvenirs, Op. 28, VI + IV
Browning & Slatkin, pnos.
RCA 60732
2:09 + 1:36


Program 5

Barber's life ended with a request for yet another concerto, but his death arrived before he could complete it, in 1981. But in 1962, Barber was determined to complete his piano concerto for John Browning to perform, though he struggled to formulate its conclusion. Barber later moved his "Aida"-inspired ambitions toward a request from The Met in 1966, to write an unsuccessful spectacle, "Antony and Cleopatra:" an opera featuring elephants and gargantuan headdresses. 

"Those scenes would be great in a Macy's window," Barber said upon the request. 


Barber: “Must the Winter Come so Soon?” fr. Vanessa
Met Opera Orchestra/Mitropoulis; Steber, s.,
RCA 7899

Barber: Intermezzo fr. Vanessa,Op. 32
Columbia Symphony Orch/Schippers
Sony 62837

Barber: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1, Op. 38, I
St. Louis Symphony Orch/Slatkin; Browning, p.
RCA 60732

Barber: Canzone for Flute & Piano, Op. 38a
Baxtresser, fl.; Margalit, p.
EMI 86561

Barber: Fadograph of a Yestern Scene, Op. 44
Royal Scottish Nat’l Orch/Alsop
Naxos 8.559135

Barber: Canzonetta for Oboe & Strings
Royal Scottish Nat’l Orch/Alsop; Rancourt, ob.
Naxos 8.559135

Barber: “Promiscuity” & “The Monk and his Cat” fr. Hermit Songs, Op. 29
Price, s.; Barber, p.
RCA 61983

Barber: Waltz fr. Souvenirs, Op. 28 (excerpt)
Slatkin & Browning, pnos.
RCA 60732-2


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