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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Three B’s for the First Day of School

 The essential conditions of everything you do must be choice, love, passion. To study music, we must learn the rules. To create music, we must break them. Without discipline, there can be no freedom. Music was not invented by the composer, but found. -Nadia Boulanger It’s that time of year again. As students of all ages head back to school, let’s listen to education-related pieces by the three B’s…Brahms, Boulanger, and Barber. …

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Barber’s Adagio: Five Great Recordings

Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Op. 11 is one of those pieces that remind us of the eternal and mysterious communicative power of music. When we listen to Barber’s Adagio, we all know, intuitively, what the music is saying, even if we can’t put its message into words. For many listeners, the Adagio is filled with mournful lament. Collectively, we have turned to this music in times of national tragedy, from September 11 to …

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American Neo-Romanticism: Barber’s Symphony in One Movement

The opening of Samuel Barber’s First Symphony tells us everything we need to know about the piece that lies ahead. It hits us immediately with an almost overwhelming sense of bigness, as if a force of titanic strength has suddenly been released. Majestic, intensely passionate, yet made up of raw, primal energy, it roars to life with a series of wide open fifths. A soaring theme takes flight, opening boldly with an …

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Samuel Barber’s Twelfth Night

The promise of spring amid the darkest, gloomiest depths of winter…that’s the Christmas metaphor of cyclic rejuvenation found in Laurence “Laurie” Lee’s poem, Twelfth Night. American composer Samuel Barber had fallen into his own personal depths of depression when he created this chilling setting in December 1968. His second opera, Antony and Cleopatra, commissioned for the opening of the Metropolitan Opera house at New York’s brand new Lincoln Center, had been poorly received by critics. …

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