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Barber, Samuel

orch opera sym music

Barber, Samuel, outstanding American composer of superlative gifts; b. West Chester, Pa., March 9, 1910; d. N.Y., Jan. 23, 1981. He was the nephew of Louise Homer and her husband Sidney Homer, who encouraged him in his musical inclination. At the age of six, he began piano lessons, and later had some cello lessons. He was only ten when he tried his hand at composing a short opera, The Rose Tree . During his high school years, he gained practical experience as organist at Westminster Presbyterian Church. Even before graduating from high school at age 16, he entered the first class at the newly organized Curtis Inst. of Music in Philadelphia when he was 14, where he was a pupil of Boyle and Vengerova (piano), Scalero (composition), and Reiner (conducting). He also took voice lessons with Emilio de Gogarza and gave recitals as a baritone at the Curtis Inst., where he graduated in 1932. He then went to Vienna to pursue vocal training with John Braun, and also appeared in public as a singer there. In the meantime, his interest in composing grew apace. In 1928 his Violin Sonata won the Beams Prize of Columbia Univ. It was followed by such enduring scores as his Dover Beach for Voice and String Quartet (1931), the Serenade for String Quartet (1932), and the Cello Sonata (1932). In 1933 he won the Beams Prize again for his overture to The School for Scandal, which was favorably received at its premiere by the Philadelphia Orch. on Aug. 30 of that year. Then followed the successful premiere of his Music for a Scene from Shelley by the N.Y. Phil, on March 24, 1935, under Werner Janssen’s direction. Thanks to a Pultizer Traveling Scholarship and a Rome Prize, Barber pursued composition at the American Academy in Rome in 1935 and 1936. During his sojourn there, he wrote his First Sym., which was premiered under Molinari’s direction on Dec. 13, 1936. He also wrote his String Quartet in 1936. Rodzinski conducted Barber’s First Sym. at the Salzburg Festival on July 25, 1937, the first score by an American composer to be played there. Toscanini conducted the premiere of Barber’s (first) Essay for Orch . with the NBC Sym. Orch. in N.Y. on Nov. 5, 1938. On the same program, he also conducted the Adagio for Strings, a transcription of the second movement of the String Quartet, which was destined to become Barber’s most celebrated work, an epitome of his lyrical and Romantic bent. From 1939 to 1942 he taught composition at the Curtis Inst. His most notable work of this period was his Violin Concerto, which was first performed by Albert Spalding with Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orch. on Feb. 7, 1941. With his friend Gian Carlo Menotti, he purchased a house (“Capricorn”) in Mount Kisco, N.Y., which was to remain the center of his activities until 1974. In 1943 he was conscripted into the U.S. Army and was assigned to the Army Air Force. During his military service, he composed his Second Sym., which included an electronic instrument producing sound in imitation of radio signals. Koussevitzky conducted its premiere with the Boston Sym. Orch. on March 3, 1944. After his discharge from military service in 1945, Barber revised the score; it was first performed by the Philadelphia Orch. on Jan. 21, 1948. Still dissatisfied with the work, he destroyed the MS except for the second movement, which he revised as Night Flight, which was first performed by Szell and the Cleveland Orch. on Oct. 8, 1964. Barber had better luck with his Cello Concerto (1945), which was introduced by Raya Garbousova with Koussevitzy conducting the Boston Sym. Orch. on April 5, 1946. In 1947 it won the N.Y. Music Critics’ Circle Award. For Martha Graham, he composed the ballet Medea (N.Y., May 10, 1946), which was revised as The Cave of the Heart (N.Y., Feb. 27, 1947). He made an orch. suite from the ballet (Philadelphia, Dec. 5, 1947) and the orch. piece, Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance (N.Y., Feb. 2, 1956). One of Barber’s most distinguished scores, Knox-ville: Summer of 1915 for High Voice and Orch., after James Agee, was first performed by Eleanor Steber with Koussevitzky conducting the Boston Sym. Orch. on April 9, 1948. His remarkable Piano Sonata, premiered by Horowitz in Havana on Dec. 9, 1949, amply utilized contemporary resources, including 12-tone writing. In 1953 he composed the one-act opera A Hand of Bridge, scored for four Soloists and Chamber Orch. The work was not performed until June 17, 1959, when it was mounted in Spoleto, Italy, without much impact. In the meantime, Barber composed his finest opera, Vanessa (1956–57), to a libretto by Menotti. It was successfuly premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in N.Y. on Jan. 15, 1958, and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music. It was followed by his strikingly brilliant Piano Concerto, which was first performed by John Browning with Leinsdorf conducting the Boston Sym. Orch. at N.Y.‘s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts on Sept. 24, 1962. Barber was awarded his second Pulitzer Prize in Music for this work. A commission from the Metropolitan Opera spurred Barber on to compose his most ambitious work for the stage, the three-act opera Antony and Cleopatra . With Zeffirelli as librettist, producer, director, and designer, it was premiered at the opening of the new Metropolitan Opera House in N.Y. on Sept. 16, 1966. Unfortunately, the work found few admirers. Barber revised the score with a revamped libretto by Menotti, and the new version was given a more favorable reception at its first performance by N.Y.’s Opera Theater of the Juilliard School on Feb. 6, 1975.

During the final years of his life, Barber wrote only a handful of works. In 1945, 1947, and 1949 he held Guggenheim fellowships. He was elected to the National Inst. of Arts and Letters in 1941 and to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1958. Barber was one of the most distinguished American composers of the 20 th century. He excelled primarily as a melodist, being remarkably sensitive in his handling of vocally shaped patterns. Although the harmonic structures of his music remained fundamentally tonal, he made free use of chromatic techniques, verging on atonality and polytonality, while his mastery of modern counterpoint enabled him to write canons and fugues in effective neo-Baroque sequences. His orchestration was opulent without being turgid, and his treatment of solo instruments was unfailingly congenial to their nature even though requiring a virtuoso technique.

Barber, Tiki - Professional football player, Career, Sidelights, Selected writings [next] [back] Barbeau, (Charles) Marius

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