Samuel Barber – Composer Extraordinaire

[My regular readers may recall that six months ago I dwelt on the music of two composers, Borodin and Barber. It so happens that the latter’s birthday anniversary falls today: March 9. So without further ado, I’m beholden to celebrate the event in this post by delving deeper into Barber’s place in the history of modern music and share with you some of his remarkable output of orchestral and other works.]

Let’s cut to the chase! Overall, Samuel Barber permitted himself to be disciplined by traditional forms and idioms, but without smothering his natural bent for romanticism. Most of his music is lyrical, emotional, poetic; in his later works modern techniques were used with telling effect.

In Barber’s obituary, the late New York Times critic, Donal Henahan wrote: “One reason for the acceptance won by Mr. Barber’s music – apart from its undeniable craft and thorough professionalism – was its deep-seated conservatism, which audiences could find congenial even at first hearing. Although he often dealt in pungent dissonances and complex rhythms, like most of his 20th-century contemporaries, there was a lyrical quality even to his strictly instrumental pieces that from the first established him as a neo-Romantic. ”

Altogether, Barber wrote two symphonies; a violin concerto (the hotlink is to the lyrical second movement – Andante – on YouTube performed by Kelly Hall-Thompkins, with Charles Reese, at the Brevard Music Center); a cello concerto; and Capricorn Concerto for flute, oboe, trumpet and strings; various shorter works for orchestra (notably Overture to The School for Scandal, Adagio for Strings, and ballet suite for Medea); also a string quartet and a sonata and Excursions for the piano.

Fortune’s Favorite Child
In 1928, at the age of 18, he won a prize for a violin sonata. Thereafter, he was fortune’s favorite child. Honors and prizes were pressed on him: the American Prix de Rome in 1935, a Pulitzer traveling scholarship in 1935-36;  his Cello Concerto, Op. 22 (1945) was introduced by Raya Garbousova and the Boston Symphony under Serge Koussevizky and received the New York Music Critics Award; followed a Guggenheim fellowship in 1946, Pulitzer Prizes in 1958 and 1963 and many commissions from orchestras and ballet companies. He received an honorary degree from Harvard University and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

References:
Wikipedia; Encyclopedia of Concert Music by David Ewen.

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