easy-to-use Violin Resource




BARBER, Samuel  (1910-1981)

HISTORY                         Composers


Violin History & Timeline






Gamba, etc. 

The Roots of Famous Violinists



















Violin                                  Viola          Cello                                    Bass                                    Viol                   Bows                                               Tales             


Interesting  Sites      


Antique Instruments

Historical Photos


Barber, Samuel, American composer of

superlative gifts; b. West Chester,Pa., March 9, 1910; d. New York, Jan. 23,1981. His mother was a good pianist; her sister was the famous opera contralto Louise Homer. Barber began taking piano lessons as a child with William Hatton Green; he also improvised, and composed a piano piece, entitled Sadness. At the age of 10 he attempted to write an opera, The Rose Tree. He played piano at school functions, and had an occasional job as organist in a local church. At the age of 14 he enrolled at the newly founded Curtis Inst. of Music in Philadelphia; there he studied piano with Isabella Vengerova, composition with Rosario Scalero, and conducting with Fritz Reiner. He also took singing lessons with Emilio de Gogorza. So successful was he as a voice student that he ventured to appear in public as a mellow baritone. However, it was free composition that became his absorbing labor. At the time when most American composers exerted their ingenuity writing sophisticated ihusic laced with unresolvable dissonances, Barber kept aloof from facile and fashionable modernism. He adopted an idiom, lyrical and romantic in nature, which had a distinct originality in its melodic and harmonic aspects. His Overture to the School for Scandal, after Sheridan (1933), attracted favorable attention. It was closely followed by Music for a Scene from Shelley, which had numerous performances. In 1935 Barber received a Pulitzer traveling scholarship and the American Prix de Rome. His Symphony No. 1, in I movement, which he composed in Rome, became the 1st American work to be presented at the Salzburg Festival of Contemporary Music (July 25,1937). On Nov. 5,1938, Toscanini conducted the NBC Sym. Orch. in Barber's Essay for Orchestra No. 1 and Adagio for Strings (Arranged from Barber’s String Quartet); the Adagio was destined to become one of the most popular American works of serious music, and through some lurid aberration of circumstance, it also became a favorite selection at state funerals. It formed the background music at Roosevelt’s commemorative service in 1945; the passionate serenity of its modal strains moved the family and friends of Princess Grace of Monaco to tears when it was played at her funeral on Sept. 18, 1982. From 1939 to 1942 Barber intermittently taught orchestration at the Curtis Inst. In the autumn of 1942 he joined the Army Air Force, which commissioned him to write a sym., his 2nd. The original score included an electronic instrument producing sound in imitation of radio signals; it was successfully performed by Koussevitzky with the Boston Sym. Orch. in 1944; but aftç r the war Barber decided to eliminate such incidental intercalations; this demilitarized version was performed by the Philadelphia Orch. in 1949. Still dissatisfied with the resultant product, he discarded the work except for the 2nd movement, which he retitled as Night Flight, and had performed in Cleveland in 1964. Barber was discharged from the air force in 1945 and settled in Mount Kisco, N.Y., in a house (named “Capricorn”) that he had purchased jointly with Gian Carlo Menotti in 1943. Barber was always devoted to the art of the theater. He wrote a ballet, The Serpent Heart, for Martha Graham (1946), which was later revised and produced by her group under the title Cave of the Heart; from it he drew an arch. suite, Medea; a further version of the music was Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance. In his Prayers of Kierkegaard for Soprano, Chorus, and Orch. (1954), Barber essayed the style of modern oratorio. But it was not until 1957 that he wrote his 1st opera, Vanessa, with a romantic libretto by his lifelong friend Gian Carlo Menotti; it was produced by the Metropolitan Opera in N.Y. on Jan. 15, 1958, and earned Barber his 1st of 2 Pulitzer Prizes in music; a revised version was produced at the Spoleto Festival U.S.A. in Charleston, S.C., on May 27, 1978. A much more ambitious opera, commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, was Anton p and Cleopatra, in 3 acts, after Shakespeare, produced with a grand display of expectations at the opening of the new Metropolitan Opera House in N.Y. on Sept. 16, 1966. Unfortunately, the production was haunted by mechanical mishaps. A specially constructed revolving stage did not rotate properly, the acoustics were faulty, and the annoyed newspaper critics damned the music along with the staging. Barber attempted to recoup the work with a libretto revamped by Menotti, but the new version, performed at the Juilliard School of Music (1975), failed to justify his hopes. Disillusioned in his capacity to create a modem grand opera, Barber produced a light operatic sketch, A Hand of Bridge, to a libretto by Menotti (1959), but it passed without much notice. However, Barber was gloriously vindicated as an important composer by a succession of fine works of instrumental music; particularly notable was his Piano Concerto (1962), a striking work in an original modern idiom, spontaneously acclaimed in repeated performances in America and Europe, which won him his 2nd Pulitzer Prize. No less remarkable was his Piano Sonata, introduced by Vladimir Horowitz in 1949; in it Barber made ample use of modernistic resources, including incidental applications of 12-tone writing. Another example of Barber’s brilliant use of pianistic resources was his witty piano suite Excursions (1945). Barber excelled in new American music primarily as a melodist; perhaps the circumstance that he studied singing as a youth had contributed to his sensitive handling of vocally shaped patterns. Although the ham-ionic structures of his music remained fundamentally tonal, he made free use of chromatic techniques, verging on atonality and polytonality, while his mastery of modem counterpoint enabled him to write canons and fugues in effective neo-Baroque sequences. His orchestration was opulent without being turgid; his treatment of solo instruments was unfailingly congenial to their nature even though requiring a virtuoso technique. Barber held 3 Guggenheim fellowships (1945, 1947, 1949).

WORKS:     OPERAS: Vanessa, to a libretto by Menotti (Metropolitan Opera, N.Y., Jan. 15, 1958; rev. version, Spoleto Festival U.S.A., Charleston, S.C., May 27,1978); Antony and Cleopatra, after Shakespeare (N.Y., Sept. 16, 1966; rev. version, juilliard School of Music, N.Y., Feb. 6,1975); A Hand of Bridge, 1-act opera, to a libretto by Menotti, for 4 Solo Voices and Chamber Orch. (1958; Festival of Two Worlds, Spoleto, Italy, June 17, 1959).

BALLETS:     The Serpent Heart (perf. by Martha Graham and her dance group, N.Y., May 10, 1946; rev, and produced under the title Cave of the Heart, N.Y., Feb. 27, 1947).

ORCH.:     Overture to the School for Scandal, after Sheridan (Philadelphia, Aug. 30, 1933); Music for a Scene from Shelley (N.Y., March 24, 1933); Symphony No. 1, in I movement (Rome, Dec. 13, 1936); Adagio for Strings, arranged from the slow movement of the String Quartet (N.Y., NBC Sym. Orch., Nov. 5,1938, Toscanini conducting; his Essay No. I was perf. at the same concert); Essay No. 2 (N.Y. Phil., April 16, 1942, Bruno Walter conducting); Commando March, orig. for Military Band (symphonic version, Boston Sym., Oct. 29, 1943, Koussevitzky conducting); Symphony No. 2 (Boston, March 3,1944, Koussevitzky conducting; an antiseptic version, radically cleansed of instrumental irrelevancies, was perf. by the Philadelphia Orch., Ormandy conducting, Jan. 21,1949; in another surgical operation, the 2nd movement was reworked, retitled Night Flight, and 1st perf. in Cleveland, Oct. 8, 1964); Capricorn Concerto for Flute, Oboe, Trumpet, and Strings (N.Y., Oct. 8,1944); Medea, suite from the ballet The Serpent Heart (Philadelphia, Dec. 5,1947); Souvenirs, ballet suite (orig. for Piano, 4-hands) for Orch. (Chicago, Nov. 13, 1953; stage production, N.Y., Nov. 15, 1955); Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance, a rev. version of the symphonic suite Medea (N.Y., Feb. 2,1956); Toccata festiva for Organ and Orch. (Philadelphia, Sept. 30, 1960); Die Natali, choral prelude for Christmas (Boston Sym. Orch., Lincoln Center, N.Y., Dec. 22, 1960); Fadograph from a Yes tern Scene, after a line in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (Pittsburgh, Sept. 10, 1971); Essay No. 3 for Orch. (N.Y., Sept. 14, 1978); Canzonetta for Oboe and String Orch. (1980; incomplete; orchestrated by Charles Turner, and 1st perf. by the N.Y. Phil., Dec. 17, 1981).

CONCERTOS:      Violin Concerto (Philadelphia, Feb. 7, 1941; Albert Spalding, soloist; Ormandy conducting); Cello Concerto (Boston Sym., April 5, 1946; Raya Garbuzova, soloist; Koussevitzky conducting); Piano Concerto (Boston Sym., Lincoln Center, N.Y., Sept. 24, 1962; John Browning, soloist; Erich Leinsdorf conducting).

VOCAL:     Dover Beach, after a poem by Matthew Arnold, for Voice and String Quartet (1931; N.Y., March 5,1933); A Stopwatch and an Ordnance Map for Male Chorus, Brass, and Timpani (Philadelphia, April 23,1940); Sure an This Shining Night, to words by James Agee, for Voice and Orch. (1938); Knoxville:

Summer of 1915 for Voice and Orch., to a text of James Agee from his novel A Death in the Family (Boston Sym., April 9, 1948, Koussevitzky conducting); Prayers of Kierkegaard for Soprano, Chorus, and Orch. (Boston Sym., Dec. 3,1954); Andromache’s Farewell for Voice and Orch. (N.Y., April 4,1963); The Lovers for Baritone, Chorus, and Orch., to words by Pablo Neruda (Philadelphia, Sept. 22, 1971).

CHAMBER:   Serenade for String Quartet or String Orch. (Philadelphia, May 5,1930); Cello Sonata (1932); String Quartet (1936; 2nd movement, Adagio, extracted from it and arranged for String Orch., was widely perf.); Summer Music for Woodwind Quintet (Detroit, March 20, 1956); Canzone for Flute and Piano (1962; arranged from the 2nd movement of the Piano Concerto); Mutations from Bach for Brass and Timpani 1968)

SONGS:            The Daisies, to words by James Stephens (1927);

   With Rue My Heart Is Laden, to words by A.E. Housman (1928);

3 Songs to poems from Chamber Music by James Joyce (1936);

A Nun Takes the Veil, to words by G.M. Hopkins (1937); The

Secrets of the Old, to words by W.B. Yeats (1938); The Queen’s

Face on the Summery Coin, to words by Robert Horan (1942);

   Monks and Raisins, to words by J.G. Villa (1943); NuvoLetta, to words by James Joyce (1947); Melodies passagères, 5 songs, to words by Rilke (1951); Hermit Songs, 10 songs after old Irish texts (Washington, D.C., Oct. 30, 1953; Leontyne Price, soloist); Despite and Still, 5 songs to words by Graves, Roethke, and Joyce (1969); 3 Songs for Baritone and Piano (N.Y., April •.~‘ 30, 1974; Fischer-Dieskau, soloist).

CHORAL:    The Virgin Martyrs (1935); Let Down the Bars, 0 Death (1936); Reincarnation, 3 songs after poems by Stephens, for Mixed Chorus a cappella (1940).

PIANO SOLO: Excursions (1944); Piano Sonata in E-flat minor (Havana, Cuba, Dec. 9, 1949; Horowitz, soloist; N.Y. perf., also by Horowitz, Jan. 23,1950); Souvenirs for Piano, 4-hands, also for Orch. (1953); Nocturne: Homage to John Field (1959); ~ Ballade (1977); also Wanderous Love, variations on a shape- note hymn, for Organ (1958).