Samuel Barber

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Samuel Barber, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1944
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Samuel Osborne Barber II (March 9, 1910 – January 23, 1981) was an American composer of orchestral, opera, choral, and piano music. He is one of the most celebrated composers of the 20th century; music critic Donal Henahan stated that "probably no other American composer has ever enjoyed such early, such persistent and such long-lasting acclaim.". [1]

Composer person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition

A composer is a musician who is an author of music in any form, including vocal music, instrumental music, electronic music, and music which combines multiple forms. A composer may create music in any music genre, including, for example, classical music, musical theatre, blues, folk music, jazz, and popular music. Composers often express their works in a written musical score using musical notation.

Orchestra large instrumental ensemble

An orchestra is a large instrumental ensemble typical of classical music, which mixes instruments from different families, including bowed string instruments such as violin, viola, cello, and double bass, as well as brass, woodwinds, and percussion instruments, each grouped in sections. Other instruments such as the piano and celesta may sometimes appear in a fifth keyboard section or may stand alone, as may the concert harp and, for performances of some modern compositions, electronic instruments.

Opera artform combining sung text and musical score in a theatrical setting

Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are taken by singers, but is distinct from musical theater. Such a "work" is typically a collaboration between a composer and a librettist and incorporates a number of the performing arts, such as acting, scenery, costume, and sometimes dance or ballet. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble, which since the early 19th century has been led by a conductor.

Contents

His Adagio for Strings (1936) has earned a permanent place in the concert repertory of orchestras. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music twice: for his opera Vanessa (1956–57) and for the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1962). Also widely performed is his Knoxville: Summer of 1915 (1947), a setting for soprano and orchestra of a prose text by James Agee. At the time of his death, nearly all of his compositions had been recorded. [1]

<i>Adagio for Strings</i> musical composition

Adagio for Strings is a work by Samuel Barber, arguably his best known, arranged for string orchestra from the second movement of his String Quartet, Op. 11.

<i>Vanessa</i> (opera) opera

Vanessa is an American opera in three acts by Samuel Barber, opus 32, with an original English libretto by Gian Carlo Menotti. It was composed in 1956–1957 and was first performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City on January 15, 1958 under the baton of Dimitri Mitropoulos in a production designed by Cecil Beaton and directed by Menotti. Barber revised the opera in 1964, reducing the four acts to the three-act version most commonly performed today.

The Piano Concerto, Op. 38, by Samuel Barber was commissioned by the music publishing company G. Schirmer Inc. in honor of the centenary of their founding. The work's premiere was on September 24, 1962, in the opening festivities of Philharmonic Hall, now David Geffen Hall, the first hall built at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in Manhattan, with John Browning as soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Erich Leinsdorf.

Biography

Early years

Childhood home of Samuel Barber in West Chester, Pennsylvania SamBarberWChesterPA.JPG
Childhood home of Samuel Barber in West Chester, Pennsylvania

Barber was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, the son of Marguerite McLeod (née Beatty) and Samuel Le Roy Barber. [2] He was born into a comfortable, educated, social, and distinguished American family. His father was a physician; his mother was a pianist of English-Scottish-Irish (British) descent whose family had lived in the United States since the time of the American Revolutionary War. [3] His aunt, Louise Homer, was a leading contralto at the Metropolitan Opera; his uncle, Sidney Homer, was a composer of American art songs. Louise Homer is known to have influenced Barber's interest in voice. Through his aunt, Barber had access to many great singers and songs.

West Chester, Pennsylvania Borough in Pennsylvania, United States

West Chester, is a borough and the county seat of Chester County, Pennsylvania, in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. The population was 18,461 at the 2010 census.

English people Nation and ethnic group native to England

The English people are a nation and an ethnic group native to England who speak the English language. The English identity is of early medieval origin, when they were known in Old English as the Angelcynn. Their ethnonym is derived from the Angles, one of the Germanic peoples who migrated to Great Britain around the 5th century AD. England is one of the countries of the United Kingdom, and the majority of people living there are British citizens.

Scottish people ethnic inhabitants of Scotland

The Scottish people or Scots, are a nation and ethnic group native to Scotland. Historically, they emerged from an amalgamation of two Celtic-speaking peoples, the Picts and Gaels, who founded the Kingdom of Scotland in the 9th century. Later, the neighbouring Celtic-speaking Cumbrians, as well as Germanic-speaking Anglo-Saxons and Norse, were incorporated into the Scottish nation.

At a very early age, Barber became profoundly interested in music, and it was apparent that he had great musical talent and ability. He began studying the piano at the age of 6 and at age 7 composed his first work, Sadness, a 23-measure solo piano piece in C minor. [1] Despite Barber's interest in music, his family wanted him to become a typical athletic American boy. This meant, in particular, an interest in his playing football. However, Barber was in no way a typical boy, and at the age of nine he wrote to his mother: [4]

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 was not meant to be an athlet [ sic ]. I was meant to be a composer, and will be I'm sure. I'll ask you one more thing.—Don't ask me to try to forget this unpleasant thing and go play football.—Please—Sometimes I've been worrying about this so much that it makes me mad (not very). [5]

The Latin adverb sic inserted after a quoted word or passage indicates that the quoted matter has been transcribed or translated exactly as found in the source text, complete with any erroneous, archaic, or otherwise nonstandard spelling. It also applies to any surprising assertion, faulty reasoning, or other matter that might be likely interpreted as an error of transcription.

Barber attempted to write his first opera, entitled The Rose Tree, at the age of 10. At the age of 12, he became an organist at a local church. When he was 14, he entered the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he studied piano with Isabelle Vengerova, composition with Rosario Scalero and George Frederick Boyle, [6] [ not in citation given ] and voice with Emilio de Gogorza. [1] He began composing seriously in his late teenage years. Around the same time, he met fellow Curtis schoolmate Gian Carlo Menotti, who became his partner in life as well as in their shared profession. At the Curtis Institute, Barber was a triple prodigy in composition, voice, and piano. He soon became a favorite of the conservatory's founder, Mary Louise Curtis Bok. It was through Mrs. Bok that Barber was introduced to his lifelong publishers, the Schirmer family. At the age of 18, Barber won the Joseph H. Bearns Prize from Columbia University for his violin sonata (now lost or destroyed by the composer). [1]

Organist musician who plays any type of organ

An organist is a musician who plays any type of organ. An organist may play solo organ works, play with an ensemble or orchestra, or accompany one or more singers or instrumental soloists. In addition, an organist may accompany congregational hymn-singing and play liturgical music.

Curtis Institute of Music music school

The Curtis Institute of Music is a conservatory in Philadelphia that offers courses of study leading to a performance diploma, Bachelor of Music, Master of Music in Opera, or Professional Studies Certificate in Opera. It is among the most selective institutes of higher education in the world with a 4.8% admissions rate.

Isabelle Vengerova was a Russian, later American, pianist and music teacher.

Middle years

From his early to late twenties, Barber wrote a flurry of successful compositions, launching him into the spotlight of the classical music world. His first orchestral work, an overture to The School for Scandal , was composed in 1931 when he was 21 years old. It premiered successfully two years later in a performance given by the Philadelphia Orchestra under conductor Alexander Smallens. [1] Many of his compositions were commissioned or first performed by such famous artists as Vladimir Horowitz, Eleanor Steber, Raya Garbousova, John Browning, Leontyne Price, Pierre Bernac, Francis Poulenc, and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. In 1935, at the age of 25, he was awarded the American Prix de Rome and was the recipient of a Pulitzer traveling scholarship which allowed him to study abroad in 1935–1936. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1946. [1]

In 1938, when Barber was 28, his Adagio for Strings was performed by the NBC Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Arturo Toscanini, along with his first Essay for Orchestra . The Adagio had been arranged from the slow movement of Barber's String Quartet, Op. 11. Toscanini had only rarely performed music by American composers before (an exception was Howard Hanson's Second Symphony, which he conducted in 1933). [7] At the end of the first rehearsal of the piece, Toscanini remarked, "Semplice e bella" (simple and beautiful).

In 1942, Barber joined the Army Air Corps; there, he was commissioned to write his Second Symphony, a work he later suppressed. (It was released in a Vox Box "Stradivari Classics" recording by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Schenck in 1988.) [8] Composed in 1943, the symphony was originally titled Symphony Dedicated to the Air Forces and was premiered in early 1944 by Serge Koussevitsky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Barber revised the symphony in 1947; it was published by G. Schirmer, [9] and recorded the following year by the New Symphony Orchestra of London conducted by the composer, [10] but in 1964 Barber destroyed the score. It was reconstructed from the instrumental parts. [11] According to another source, however, it was precisely the parts to the symphony that Barber had torn up. [12] Hans Heinsheimer was an eyewitness, and reported that he accompanied Barber to the publisher's office where they collected all the music from the library and Barber "tore up all these beautifully and expensively copied materials with his own hands" [13] Doubt has been cast on this story, however, on grounds that Heinsheimer, as an executive at G. Schirmer, would have been unlikely to have allowed Barber into the Schirmer offices to watch him "rip apart the music that his company had invested money in publishing". [14]

In 1943, Barber and Menotti purchased a house in Mount Kisco, New York. [15]

Barber won the Pulitzer Prize twice: in 1958 for his first opera Vanessa, and in 1963 for his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. [16]

Later years

Barber spent many years in isolation after the harsh rejection of his third opera Antony and Cleopatra . He suffered from depression, and was also beset by alcoholism. [17] The opera was written for and premiered at the opening of the new Metropolitan Opera House on September 16, 1966. After this setback, Barber continued to write music until he was almost 70 years old. The Third Essay for orchestra (1978) was his last major work.

Barber died of cancer on January 23, 1981 at his 907 Fifth Avenue apartment in Manhattan at the age of 70. [18] The funeral was held at the First Presbyterian Church three days later and he was buried in Oaklands Cemetery in his hometown of West Chester, Pennsylvania. [19]

Achievements and awards

Barber was the recipient of numerous awards and prizes including the Rome Prize (the American version of the Prix de Rome), two Pulitzers, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1961. [20]

Barber was awarded the Edward MacDowell Medal for outstanding contribution to the arts by the MacDowell Colony in 1980. [21] [22]

In addition to composing, Barber was active in organizations that sought to help musicians and promote music. He was president of the International Music Council of UNESCO, where he did much to bring into focus and ameliorate the conditions facing musicians and musical organizations worldwide. [23] He was one of the first American composers to visit Russia (then part of the Soviet Union). Barber was also influential in the successful campaign by composers against ASCAP, the goal of which was to increase royalties paid to composers.

Music

Orchestral

Through the success of his Overture to The School for Scandal (1931), Music for a Scene from Shelley (1933), Adagio for Strings (1938), (First) Symphony in One Movement (1936), (First) Essay for Orchestra (1937) and Violin Concerto (1939), Barber garnered performances by the world's leading conductors such as Artur Rodziński, Eugene Ormandy, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Bruno Walter, Charles Münch, George Szell, Leopold Stokowski, and Thomas Schippers.

Among his works are four concertos, one each for violin (1939), cello (1945) and piano (1962), and the neoclassical Capricorn Concerto for flute, oboe, trumpet and string orchestra (1944). He also wrote a concertante work for organ and orchestra entitled Toccata Festiva (1960).

Barber's final opus was the Canzonetta for oboe and string orchestra (1977–78), Op. 48, originally intended as the second movement of an oboe concerto. [24]

Piano

Barber's most important and most played works for the piano include his Excursions, Op. 20, which emulate four styles of classic American idioms including the boogie woogie and blues, as well as the Piano Sonata in E-flat minor, Op. 26. The Nocturne ("Homage to John Field"), Op. 33, is another respected piece which he composed for the instrument.

Opera

Menotti supplied the libretto for Barber's opera Vanessa. [25] (Menotti also contributed the libretto for Barber's chamber opera A Hand of Bridge.) In 1956, using his vocal training, Barber played and sang the score to the Metropolitan Opera's General Manager, Rudolf Bing, who accepted the work. It premiered in January 1958. Vanessa won the 1958 Pulitzer Prize and gained acclaim as the first American grand opera.

Barber's Antony and Cleopatra was commissioned to open the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in 1966. The elaborate production designed by Franco Zeffirelli was plagued with technical disasters; it also overwhelmed and obscured Barber's music, which most critics derided as uncharacteristically weak and unoriginal. The critical rejection of music that Barber considered to be among his best sent him into a deep depression. In recent years, a revised version of Antony and Cleopatra, for which Menotti provided collaborative assistance, has enjoyed some success. [26] [27]

Violin

In 1939 Philadelphia industrialist Samuel Simeon Fels commissioned Barber to write a violin concerto for Fels's ward, Iso Briselli, a graduate from the Curtis Institute of Music the same year as Barber, 1934. [28] The Barber biographies written by Nathan Broder (1954) and Barbara B. Heyman (1992) discuss the genesis of the concerto during the period of the violin concerto's commission and subsequent year leading up to the first performance. Heyman interviewed Briselli and others familiar with the history in her publication. In late 2010, previously unpublished letters written by Fels, Barber, and Albert Meiff (Briselli's violin coach in that period) from the Samuel Simeon Fels Papers archived at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania became available to the public. [29] The film "The Deep Blue Sea", released in 2011, directed by Terence Davies and starring Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddleston, featured in its soundtrack Barber's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14, performed by Hilary Hahn and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra conducted by Hugh Wolff.

Notable compositions

Notes

  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Donal Henahan (January 24, 1981). "Samuel Barber, Composer, Dead: Twice Winner of Pulitzer Prize". The New York Times .
  2. Broder 1954, 9–10.
  3. Heyman 1992, 8.
  4. Gorman, Robert F. (2008). Great Lives From History: The 20th Century. Pasadena, California: Salem Press. p. 230. ISBN   9781587653452.
  5. Heyman 1992, 7.
  6. Records International. Retrieved 21 October 2014
  7. Heyman 1992, 164.
  8. Heyman, Barbara B. (2012). Samuel Barber: A Thematic Catalogue of The Complete Works. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 513. ISBN   9780199744640.
  9. Samuel Barber, Second Symphony, op. 19, G. Schirmer's Edition of Study Scores of Orchestral Works & Chamber Music, no. 55 (New York: G. Schirmer, 1950; reprinted 1990).
  10. Samuel Barber: Symphony no. 2, op. 19, LP recording, 10-inch, London LPS 334 (New York and London: London Records, 1951); reissued as Samuel Barber: Symphony no. 2, op. 19; Medea Ballet Suite, op. 23, LP recording, 12-inch, London LL 1328 (London: London Records, 1956); reissued in this same pairing on 12-inch LP recording, Everest SDBR 3282 (Los Angeles, CA: Everest Records, 1970); reissued as Samuel Barber: Symphony no. 2, op. 19; Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra, op. 22; Media, op. 23: Orchestral Suite from the Music to the Ballet Cave of the Heart, with Zara Nelsova (cello), CD recording, Pearl GEM 1051 (Wadhurst, E. Sussex, England: Pearl, 2001).
  11. Vox Records liner notes[ full citation needed ]
  12. Schenck 1988.
  13. Heinsheimer 1968.
  14. Wright 2010, 95.
  15. Smith 2002, [ page needed ].
  16. Rodger, Liam; Bakewell, Joan (2011). "Barber, Samuel". Credo Reference. Retrieved 20 May 2018.
  17. Heyman 1992, 461.
  18. Quinn, Iain (April 2011). "Samuel Barber's Organ Music". Tempo - A Quarterly Review of Modern Music. 65: 50 via ProQuest.
  19. Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Location 2498). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition.
  20. "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved May 17, 2011.
  21. "Sonny Rollins Named 2010 Edward MacDowell Medalist - JazzTimes". JazzTimes. Retrieved 2017-11-23.
  22. "MacDowell Medal winners 1960-2011". 2011-04-13. ISSN   0307-1235 . Retrieved 2017-11-23.
  23. "Samuel Barber - Long Biography - Music Sales Classical". www.musicsalesclassical.com. Retrieved 2017-11-23.
  24. Heyman 2001.
  25. Osborne, Charles (2004). "Samuel Barber". The Opera Lover's Companion. New Haven, Conneticut: Yale University Press. ISBN   978-0-300-10440-0.
  26. Smith 2002, citing Heyman 1992 as a general reference.
  27. Heyman 1992, 455–58, citing Henahan 1975 and Valente 1983.
  28. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-12-10. Retrieved 2014-03-29.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  29. Mostovoy 2010.

References and further reading

Biography

Audio and video

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