Barber’s “Summer Music” for Wind Quintet: A Soundtrack for Languid Days

With the title, Summer Music, Samuel Barber did not have anything specifically programmatic in mind. Instead, the single movement piece for wind quintet conveys a general atmosphere. Barber said, “It’s supposed to be evocative of summer—summer meaning languid, not killing mosquitoes.”

Indeed, the lazy opening moments of Summer Music are enveloped in haze and humidity. Fleeting blues strains combine with primal echoes of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. As the piece continues, the musical conversation among the flute, oboe, bassoon, clarinet, and horn becomes more playful and animated. Yet, this action takes place against a backdrop of introspection and nostalgia. It might remind you of the exuberant, passing shouts of young children on an otherwise serene summer day.

Barber wrote Summer Music in 1953 in response to a commission from the Chamber Music Society of Detroit. In an early example of crowdfunding, Barber’s payment came in the form of donations from the audience, with the Society acting as a guarantor for a minimum of $2,000. While the principal players of the Detroit Symphony gave the premiere in March of 1956, Barber had the sounds of another ensemble, the New York Wind Quintet, in his ear while writing the piece. That group went on to perform Summer Music, frequently.


  • Barber: Summer Music for Wind Quintet, Op. 31, Ensemble Wien-Berlin Amazon

Featured Image: “Summertime” (1943), Edward Hopper

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

2 thoughts on “Barber’s “Summer Music” for Wind Quintet: A Soundtrack for Languid Days”

  1. First, I loved ‘Summer Music’. Also, I am interested in the painting at the top of this page. I didn’t see an atribution. Who is the artist and what is the name of the painting? I love your emails because they both reminds of pieces I have not heard for a while and new ones I have never heard. Thanks so much!

    • Hi Jim, So glad you enjoyed the music. The painting is Edward Hopper’s “Summertime.” The attribution is always at the bottom of the page beneath the recording links.


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