Personalities | Samuel Barber | Modern Era | Classical

American composer

Barber came from a musical family, and was trained in singing as well as composition. At 21 he gave the premiere of his own Dover Beach, for baritone and string quartet. Many of his works are vocal, including two full-length operas, Vanessa (1957) and Antony and Cleopatra (1966), numerous fine songs and, perhaps his masterpiece, the hauntingly beautiful Knoxville: Summer of 1915 (1947), for soprano and orchestra. His two symphonies and his concertos for piano, for violin and for cello received high praise, but his conservative, lyrical style was later disdained by some critics; his later years were embittered by neglect, but produced his finest set of songs, Despite and Still (1969).

Recommended Recording:
Adagio for Strings, Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Sylvia McNair, Atlanta SO (cond) Yoel Levi (Telarc)

Sounds Familiar

‘Adagio’ for Strings
Originally the slow movement for a string quartet, Barber’s ‘Adagio’ was taken up by such conductors as Toscanini and Koussevitzky and was played on occasions of national mourning or solemnity. Its haunting melody has been used for many soundtracks, most notably the war films Platoon and The Killing Fields.

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