Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto: An Honest, Neo-Romantic Voice

I myself wrote always as I wished, and without a tremendous desire to find the latest thing possible… – Samuel Barber in a radio interview near the end of his life An unwavering and unapologetic honesty characterizes the music of American twentieth century composer Samuel Barber (1910-1981). This is in contrast to the prevailing winds of the academic establishment of the time, who were interested in advancing the musical language in search …

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“Music for a Scene from Shelley”: Samuel Barber’s Haunting Tone Poem

… nor is it I alone, Thy sister, thy companion, thine own chosen one, But the whole world which seeks thy sympathy. Hearst thou not sounds i’ the air which speak the love Of all articulate things? Feelest thou not The inanimate winds enamoured of thee? — List! [Music. –Prometheus Unbound (Act II, Scene 5), Percy Bysshe Shelley These lines were the inspiration for Samuel Barber’s Music for a Scene from Shelley, written in …

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Barber’s “Adagio for Strings”: Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony

This may be the newest recording of Samuel Barber’s famous Adagio for Strings. It’s part of a Grammy award-winning album released last August by Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony. Recorded live in concert at Heinz Hall, it’s paired on the album with Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, another monumental twentieth century work written at virtually the same time. Adagio for Strings was originally conceived as the second movement of Barber’s 1936 String Quartet in B minor, Op. 11. Shostakovich …

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The Dreamy Nostalgia of Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915”

It has become that time of evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently and watching the street and the standing up into their sphere of possession of the trees, of birds hung havens, hangars… The opening line of Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 for voice and orchestra paints this dreamy, nostalgic scene of a summer, and America, long past. It’s a partial setting of James Agee’s autobiographical fragment …

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Barber’s Second Essay: Mid-Century American Romanticism

Samuel Barber (1910-1981) composed his first piece, a 23-measure piano composition in C minor called Sadness, at the age of seven. At the age of nine he wrote this precocious letter: Dear Mother: I have written this to tell you my worrying secret. Now don’t cry when you read it because it is neither yours nor my fault. I suppose I will have to tell it now without any nonsense. To begin with I …

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Barbara Bonney: Samuel Barber’s Four Songs, Op. 13

Think twentieth-century music and what comes to mind? Probably the atonal serialism of Arnold Schoenberg, Elliott Carter, Milton Babbitt, or Karlheinz Stockhausen, along with the witty, neoclassical utterances of Stravinsky. But we should never forget that twentieth-century music is also the distinctive, Neo-Romantic voice of American composer Samuel Barber (1910-1981). Perhaps no composer in the twentieth century contributed to the genre of the art song more profoundly than Barber, who seems to have inherited the …

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New Release: Renee Fleming’s “Distant Light” Blends Barber and Björk

Soprano Renee Fleming’s latest album, Distant Light, was released last Friday on the Decca Classics label. Recorded with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra in the acoustically opulent Konserthuset, Distant Light features a hauntingly atmospheric assortment of twentieth century Scandinavian music. The exception is the opening track: Samuel Barber’s dreamy, nostalgic Knoxville: Summer of 1915, written in 1947. (If you find yourself longing for the warmth of summer, the sultry Tennessee night air experienced in Barber’s front porch rocking …

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