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The composer, holding a manuscript of the Essay for Orchestra, 1938. (The Bettmann Archive)

The composer, holding a manuscript of the Essay for Orchestra, 1938. (The Bettmann Archive)


“I WAS MEANT TO BE A COMPOSER” When he was eight, Samuel Barber wrote a letter declaring his intentions to be a composer:

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 you now without any nonsense. To begin with, I was not meant to be an athlet [sic]. I was meant to be a com- poser, and will be I’m

Thus was his destiny affirmed.

Samuel Osmond Barber II was born on 9 March 1910 in West Chester, Pennsylva- nia. His father, Roy Barber, was a physician, and his mother, Marguerite (“Daisy”), was an amateur pianist. His younger sister, Sara, of a high spirited and romantic nature, was the close companion of Sam’s youth, and for her he wrote his earliest songs. From his earliest years Sam Barber expressed his creativity primarily through song. In his words, “writing songs just seemed a natural thing to do.” He wrote his first opera for his sister when he was ten—The Rose Tree—with a libretto by the family’s Irish house- keeper and cook, Annie Sullivan Brosius Noble, who had been “imported” as a young girl from Ireland by Barber’s grandmother. Noble had an unlimited repertoire of Irish songs and read lots of Irish poetry and fairy tales to the Barber children. As an adult, Sam Bar- ber never forgot her darkly humorous imagination and romantic language. To his parents’ credit, once they realized that there was no redirecting the goal of their impassioned son, they did everything they could to encourage his musical education. In 1924, at 14, Barber entered the newly founded Curtis Institute of Music established by Mary Curtis Bok, one of the grand patrons of American music. Every Friday he com- muted by train the 30 miles to Philadelphia to study at the institute, where he soon distin- guished himself as a pianist, composer, and singer—the first student allowed to take a


triple major. He studied piano with the legendary Isabelle Vengerova, of the Russian School; composition with Rosario Scalero; and voice with Emilio Gogorza. For a period in the late 1930s, Barber, a baritone, seriously considered making a career of singing on the radio. That he was a singer himself was undoubtedly one reason why he could write so empathetically for the voice. The rigorous, traditional education Scalero dispensed in counterpoint, the experience in writing for all genres, and training in all musical forms unquestionably left an indelible mark on Barber. One consistent observation made about his music throughout his career is of its remarkable sense of form and well-crafted design. At Curtis, too, began the profound relationship of Barber and Gian Carlo Menotti, leading to one of the most productive personal and professional collaborations in contem- porary musical life. From 1943 until 1973, the two composers shared their lives at “Capricorn,” their home in Mount Kisco, New York. Menotti wrote the libretto for Bar- ber’s first opera, Vanessa (1958), and he worked with Barber on the revision of Antony and Cleopatra, which had been commissioned for the opening of the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in 1966—one of the greatest tributes to Barber’s career, but which ironically was to become his nemesis. Barber’s youthful ambitions were encouraged by his maternal aunt Louise Homer, one of the leading contraltos of the early decades of the twentieth cen- tury, and her husband, Sidney Homer, a prolific composer of songs at the turn of the century. Louise Homer sang many of her nephew’s teen-age efforts on her nationwide tours. Sidney Homer is one of the heroes of Barber’s story. The wisdom and op- timism that he transmitted to his nephew for more than twenty-five years fos- tered Sam Barber’s mission, supported his inclination to adhere unwaveringly to the Romantic style, and inspired the direction of his intellectual develop- ment. Homer preached the value of sincerity—“listen to your inner voice,” he counseled Barber—even as he held up earlier masters as role models. Barber had an early and meteoric rise to fame. Many of the works he wrote in his twenties and thirties are still in the repertory today—the Overture to The School for Scandal


(1931), the Violin Concerto (1939), Knoxville: Summer of 1915 (1948), and of course, one of the great masterpieces of the twentieth century, the famous, ubiquitous Adagio for Strings—an orchestral arrange- ment of the second movement of the String Quartet, Op. 11 (1936)—which was pre- miered on a nationwide broadcast by Toscanini and the N.B.C. Symphony Or- chestra in 1938. A telling inscription appears on the last page of Barber’s student sketchbook from the ’twenties and ’thirties:

“There is a degree of innovation be- yond which one does not pass without danger—Lamartine had the gift of seiz- ing the exact point of permissible inno- vation.”

of seiz- ing the exact point of permissible inno- vation.” Barber, 1932 Although these are Franz

Barber, 1932

Although these are Franz Liszt’s words, they are Samuel Barber’s credo. He knew just how far to go without disrupting the continuity with tradition. I do not view Barber as a conser- vative in the reactionary sense; rather he is a conservator, bringing new vitality to the har- monic language of the late nineteenth century, infusing elements of twentieth-century modernism—dissonance and even serialism—without compromising lyrical expression.

About the recordings: The archival recordings presented in this set provide an overview of Barber’s creative output from his earliest published works through mid-ca- reer. The listener may also gain an understanding of the evolution of Barber’s creative process in that several works are recorded both in their original and revised versions— for example, the Symphony in One Movement; Symphony No. 2; the Violin Concerto;


Knoxville: Summer of 1915, originally a work for full orchestra and later for chamber orchestra; Medea, as a 7-movement orchestral suite and its more familiar form as a one- movement tone poem. Many recordings are premiere performances of Barber’s works, and others are, if not the first, at least among the earliest performances. The Toscanini broadcast of the Adagio for Strings, undoubtedly still Barber’s most famous work, brought the 28-year-old composer national fame. This archival recording of the live broadcast by the newly formed NBC Symphony Orchestra was selected by the Library of Congress for the Registry of National Historical Recordings in 2006. Furthermore, virtually all the recordings provide valuable clues about Barber’s pre- ferred performance practices of his music, either because they are conducted by the com- poser himself, or documented through his comments as quoted in letters and interviews. In some cases, with regard to the live performances included in this series, they more ac- curately reflect Barber’s performance intentions than some of the commercial recordings released later. This would be true of Bruno Walter’s performance of the revised version of the Symphony in One Movement (CD 3, Tracks 6–9), which, when released in a com- mercial recording the following year, did not adhere to the composer’s preferred tempos because of restrictions of early recording technology (see Barber’s comments, below). The H-numbers that accompany the titles of each composition refer to catalogue numbers in my book Samuel Barber: A Thematic Catalogue of the Complete Works (Oxford University Press, forthcoming fall 2011).

CD 1 VANESSA, OP. 32 (H-125)

Dimitri Mitropoulos conducting the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, New York, Live - 1 February 1958 Vanessa: Eleanor Steber Anatol: Nicolai Gedda Erika: Rosalind Elias


Baroness: Regina Resnik Doctor: Giorgio Tozzi Nicholas: George Cehanovsky

Resnik Doctor: Giorgio Tozzi Nicholas: George Cehanovsky Eleanor Steber, Rosalind Elias This is the only live

Eleanor Steber, Rosalind Elias

This is the only live

recording of the original production of Vanessa, which Barber revised in 1964, reducing the number of acts from four to three. This CD includes the coloratura “Skating Aria” [Track 12] that Barber wrote for Eleanor Ste- ber, which was removed from the re- vised version of the opera. A studio recording of the original version and

The Recording:

cast was made by RCA Victor Gold Seal in February and April 1958. There is also a live recording of the Salzburg Festival production on the Orfeo label, by the same cast with the exception of the Baroness.

Libretto: Gian Carlo Menotti (1911–2007). The plot was inspired by Isaac Dinesen’s Seven Gothic Tales. Set in an unnamed “northern country about 1905,” the story unfolds about two women: Vanessa, “a lady of great beauty”— who for twenty years of winter after snowy winter has awaited the return of her only love, Anatol—and her beautiful young niece, Erika. Upon this somber gothic dreamscape, in which the chandeliers are dimmed and mirrors draped against the reflection of Vanessa’s advancing age, the wiz- ened Baroness, Vanessa’s mother, through her silence condemns her daughter’s with- drawal from life. Another Anatol, the errant lover’s fatally charming son, a bounder and an opportunist, enters the manor. Vanessa, mistaking the young man for his father, pas- sionately inquires if he still loves her; she is devastated when she discovers the visitor is not her lover. Erika entreats the imposter to leave, but he refuses. A month later (act 2), Erika confesses to the Baroness that she had been seduced by


Anatol on the night of his arrival but has refused his offer of marriage because he cannot promise eternal love. Her grandmother advises, “Love never bears the image that we dream of; when it seems to, beware the disguise!” Vanessa, radiant, and Anatol return from ice skating and announce to the Old Doctor plans for a New Year’s Eve ball remi- niscent of earlier celebrations. When she realizes that her aunt is blindly in love with the rake, Erika confronts Anatol and bitterly rejects him. At the ball (act 3) Anatol and Vanessa declare their love and the Doctor announces their engagement. Erika, dazed and carrying Anatol’s child, stumbles into the bitter cold to abort the baby. Unaware of the reason for, and disturbed by, her beloved niece’s behav- ior, Vanessa, nevertheless marries Anatol. As they prepare to leave for Paris, they are joined by Erika, the Baroness, and the Doctor in a quintet, a canon (“To leave, to break, to find, to keep”). As her aunt had earlier, Erika resigns to withdraw from the world:

“Now it is my turn to wait,” she declares to the silent Baroness as the opera concludes.




Menotti incorporated into the libretto references to Barber’s past and his personal tastes:

thus a recitation of a French menu to open the opera, a skating scene, a waltz, and a Protestant hymn. The ending—each character bids farewell to the house, leaving Erika and the Baroness alone on the stage—is similar to that of Chekhov’s The Cherry Or- chard, one of Barber’s favorite plays. The sets were probably inspired by a house Barber visited in Copenhagen in 1950, a manor that reminded him, even then, of the world of Isak Dinesen. He had written about it to Sidney Homer (28 November 1950):

They picked me up that evening and it was like driving through the night and dark woods into the Seven Gothic Tales which I so love. It was a large country

manor house,

chests and high-boys, and dreadful paintings; a large number of huge marble

leading the way to the large salon opening out onto a shivering garden and a dark lake.


a strange mixture of beautiful Scandinavian furniture, great


It seems no mere coincidence that Vanessa’s country manor is described similarly in the score:

A night in early winter in Vanessa’s luxurious dressing room. A small table is laid for supper. All the mirrors in the room and one large painting over the mantelpiece are covered over with cloth. There is a large French window at the back which leads into a darkened jardin d’hiver.

Scoring: Vanessa, soprano; Erika, mezzo-soprano; Baroness, contralto; Anatol, tenor; Old Doctor, baritone; Nicholas (Major-Domo), bass; Footman, bass; and others (young pastor, servants, guests, and peasants). Orchestra: Picc; 2 Fl; 2 Ob; Eng. Hn; 2 Cl; Bass Cl; 2 Bsn; 4 Hn; 3 Tpt; 2 Trb; Tba; Timp; Perc; Harp; Strings; Accordion.

Origin: 1952–57; revised 1964–65. As early as 1942, the Metropolitan Opera had offered Barber a commission to write an opera, which he declined because a libretto by Christopher La Farge did not meet his approval. His search for a librettist—having considered Tennessee Williams, Thornton Wilder, and Dylan Thomas—was interrupted by WW II. In 1952, Menotti offered to write a libretto. He had sketched the first scene by June 1954; they worked on the opera that summer in an old farmhouse in Brooklyn, Maine, on Frenchman’s Bay across from Bar Harbor. By the end of that summer, Barber had fin- ished the music for the first scene, but it was not until a year later that Menotti completed the first draft of libretto for the entire opera. Barber began work in earnest on the music during the winter of 1956 at Capricorn and through the spring and summer on Nantucket near the Sconset Lighthouse. By early autumn, working at Capricorn and in Rome at Villa Aurelia, he finished the music for Acts II and III. Late April 1957, music for the whole opera was finished and he began work on the orchestration, completing it 3 November 1957. Subsequently, in 1964, Barber revised the opera, consolidating the four acts to three, merging Acts I and II, and eliminating the coloratura skating aria. He also altered


Erika’s lines “His child! It must not be born” to suggest that she was attempting suicide rather than abortion.

that she was attempting suicide rather than abortion. First Performance: 15 January 1958, New York City,

First Performance: 15 January 1958, New York City, Metro- politan Opera. Staged and di- rected, Gian Carlo Menotti; sets and costumes, Cecil Beaton; cond., Dmitri Mitropoulos; choreographer, Zachary Solov. Cast:

Vanessa, Eleanor Steber, sop; Erika, Rosalind Elias, mezzo- sop; Anatol, Nicolai Gedda,

tenor; Baroness, Regina Resnik, contralto; Doctor, Giorgio Tozzi, baritone; Nicholas, the Major-Domo, George Ce- hanovsky, bass; Footman, Robert Nagy, bass. Salzburg Festival: 16 August 1958, Salzburg, Austria. Vanessa was the first Ameri- can opera and first opera sung in English at the festival; also it was the first opera per- formed by an outside organization. Cast: as above except for the Baroness, Ira Malaniuk.

1958: The ensemble for the European premiere of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa. Standing (from left): Giorgio Tozzi, Ira Malaniuk, Gian-Carlo Menotti, unknown, Alois Pernerstorfer, Nicolai Gedda and Rudolf Bing. Seated (from left): Dimitri Mitropoulos, Rosalind Elias, Eleanor Steber, and Samuel Barber.

Originally, Sena Jurinac, a Yugoslavian soprano, was cast as Vanessa, but six weeks before opening night, she canceled (presumably because of illness) and Eleanor Steber stepped into the role. In what was considered a major feat, Steber learned the role of

Vanessa in six weeks. Obviously, her familiarity with Barber’s music was an asset. But

the challenge was nevertheless enormous.

part, taxed every skill she possessed, and it is understandable, then, that for the dress re-

hearsal she still had to depend on a score hidden on a mantelpiece.

The short time she had in which to learn the

Steber recalled:


You have no idea what Gian Carlo had me doing. He had me singing in incred-

ible positions.

was very difficult. I was lying on my back, the range was difficult, it was heav- ily orchestrated and took a lot of riding over the orchestra to be heard. The skating scene had a coloratura aria that was enormously difficult.

I nearly fainted when I went off the stage after the first act. It

Steber felt a strong empathy with Vanessa. “The part was made for me,” she re- called many years later, “it was both a singer’s part and an actress’s part.” But more im- portantly, far from believing the character Vanessa was eclipsed by the young Erika, Steber felt she could give the title role significance by making it her own; and indeed, eventually she was to become thoroughly identified with the opera. As rehearsals were underway Rosalind Elias, who played Erika, bemoaned to Barber that she was the only character without a major aria—and so he immediately composed for her “Must the winter come so soon,” one of the most moving arias in twentieth-cen- tury opera, one that might stand on its own as an art song. Cecil Beaton wanted his lavish costumes and sets to project an aura of “moody ele- gance”—Edwardian Gothic. Vanessa had six changes of costume. She wore diamond jewelry—a $1,500,000 collection borrowed from the prominent jeweler Harry Winston. The sets called for more bric-a-brac and greenery than had graced the stage of the Metro- politan Opera House for years. The opening night, 23 January 1956, saw a sold-out non-subscription audience, in- cluding many celebrities—Artur Rubinstein, Fritz Reiner, Lucrezia Bori, Katherine Cor- nell. Vanessa received spectacular reviews. It was hailed as “one of the most impressive


to appear anywhere since Richard Strauss’s more vigorous days.”

The Music: The libretto provided Barber every opportunity to compose forms conven- tional to grand opera—a glimpsed ball scene with a waltz, a folk-dance ballet, a col- oratura skating aria. That Barber learned well from Mozart is demonstrated by the simultaneous musical representation of different threads of action supporting the psycho- logical undercurrents of the drama. For example, a Protestant hymn sung from an offstage


chapel is pitted against the orchestral background to Erika’s brooding over Anatol; at the ball, dance music is strikingly juxtaposed against music expressive of Vanessa’s anguish. The quintet in the third act was critically viewed as one of the most brilliant climaxes of the operatic literature. In Vanessa Barber’s musical footprints are strongly apparent: shifting modality, metric flexibility that flows out of the logical rhythm of the text, a facile use of harmonic color to underscore the bittersweet poetry, and an abundance of diatonic, accessible melody. Rich orchestral sonority and lucid counterpoint are striking in the orchestral in- terludes; there are generous solos for Barber’s signature instruments—the oboe and Eng- lish horn—and throughout surges of grand sweeping lyrical gesture.

Critical Reception: Vanessa received spectacular reviews. The sold-out house to a non- subscription audience that included many celebrities was reported to have “thundered its approbation as the final curtain fell,” and Barber, brought to the stage, was greeted with “deafening delirium.” That Steber had risen to the challenge of so difficult a role on such short notice was appreciated, and if some critics found her performance uneven or her diction lacking in clarity at times, it was recognized, nevertheless, that she was ide- ally cast and would grow into the role once she became more familiar with it. Elias re- ceived brilliant notices, her portrayal of Erika was considered not only a vocal, but a

dramatic triumph.

terization of the bibulous old family doctor. The finale’s quintet (To leave, to break, to find, to keep), was called by Irving Kolodin, “the best realized episode I know in native opera lore,” and moved William Schuman to write to Barber: “I was struck again with its extraordinary beauty. Those last pages, especially, are among the finest of operatic literature.” A telling observation about the stylistic tendencies of opera at mid-century was made by a British critic (Henry Brandon): “Artists need daring in our time to express the courage of their romanticism, especially in America. ‘Vanessa’is romantic opera in the best old tradi- tions, not an adventure into the unknown but a fresh expression of already established taste.” For Vanessa, Barber was awarded the 1958 Pulitzer Prize and the Henry Hadley


Giorgio Tozzi stopped the show in act 1 with his remarkable charac-

Medal of the National Association for American Composers and Conductors, and he was nominated to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the select inner circle of the Na- tional Institute of Arts and Letters of which he had been a member for eighteen years.

CD 2, Tracks 13–18 MEDEA, OP. 23 Orchestral Suite from the ballet (1947) (H-113arr) Samuel Barber conducting the New Symphony Orchestra of London From Decca LX-3049 Recorded 12 December 1950, Kingsway Hall, London

13. I. Parodos 2:26

14. II. Choros: Medea and Jason; III. The Young Princess, Jason 7:03

15. IV. Choros 3:06

16. V. Medea 6:08

17. VI. Kantikos Agonias 2:36

18. VII. Exodos 2:51

Track 19 MEDEA’S MEDITATION AND DANCE OF VENGEANCE, OP. 23 (H-123) Dimitri Mitropoulos conducting the New York Philharmonic

Live - 16 March 1958, Carnegie Hall


The evolution of Medea, from ballet to tone poem:

In 1945, the Alice M. Ditson Fund, Columbia University, commissioned Barber to write music for a ballet on Medea for Martha Graham, a frequent visitor at Capricorn. Barber began composing the work the end of November 1945, shortly before he was dis- charged from the army. The end of November, he wrote to his friend Henry-Louis de La Grange: “Now I must do a ballet score for Martha Graham for small orchestra of twelve instruments. She is our greatest dancer but it must be ready by February, alas!”


In December he complained to Homer:

“Art takes so long, one never allows enough time. But the cello concerto was finished three weeks ago and I am on the ballet for Graham now.” Mid-January 1946, still “sunk” in the music, Barber wrote to Anne Brown, “I must force myself to remain in a deep Medea-gloom for the Martha Graham score.The score was completed in Febru- ary 1946. The ballet was originally titled “Pain and Wrath are the Singers.” The characters, listed in a program printed for the first per- formance, were the Barbarian, a Hero, a King’s Daughter, and the Choragos. A note explained:

a King’s Daughter, and the Choragos. A note explained: Martha Graham in 1947 “Cave of the

Martha Graham in 1947 “Cave of the Heart.”

This dance is a retelling of the myth of the jealous act. Within the

cave of the heart is a place of darkness, plunging far into the earth of the past. The cave is peopled with shadows of acts of violence, terror, and magic. Try as we might to escape this monstrous heritage, we are caught up into its surge, and the past is alive.

At the last minute Graham changed the title to “Serpent Heart” and renamed the characters as follows: “One like Medea; One like Jason; Daughter of the King; and the Chorus.” The new program more explicitly connected the psychological plot to the Medea legend:

This is a dance of possessive and destroying love, a love which feeds


upon itself, like the serpent heart, and when it is overthrown, is fulfilled only in revenge. It is a chronicle much like the myth of Jason, the warrior hero, and Medea, granddaughter of the Sun. The one like Medea destroys that which she has been unable to possess and brings upon herself and her beloved the inhuman wrath of one who has been betrayed.

In 1947 the score and choreography were revised and renamed Cave of the Heart. That same year Barber drew music from the original ballet score, merging the original nine sections into a seven-movement orchestral suite with a greatly expanded orchestra. The length was re- duced by nine minutes. About this version, Ballet Suite “Medea,” (H-113arr), he wrote to Sidney Homer (10 February 1947):

We’re covered with two feet of snow, but I feel as light as a feather for I finished a full orchestral suite of the music for Graham’s ballet of last year. It makes a very nice 23 min. suite, but had to be all re-arranged from the original chamber orchestra version. I think it will be better this way: the music was too dramatic for small orchestra. That is why I haven’t written—it was sort of an idée fixe to get it finished.

Eight years later, he reworked the score as the one-movement tone poem Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance, Op. 23a (H-123), which was

Meditation and Dance of Vengeance, Op. 23a (H-123), which was D i m i t r

Dimitri Mitropoulos


completed in Rome in August l955. For this version, Barber rescored the earlier suite into one continuous movement, basing nearly all of the new version on material related to the central character: I. Parodos, IV. Choros, and V. Medea. He reduced the length to fourteen minutes (nine minutes shorter than the suite) and considerably expanded the or- chestra, adding a third flute, clarinets in E-flat and A, bass clarinet, a third trumpet, a third trombone, tuba, and extra percussion ( triangle tam-tam and whip).

First Performances:

Ballet: Serpent Heart: 10 May 1946, Second Annual Festival of Contemporary Music, McMillan Theater, Columbia University New York City. Martha Graham Dance Com- pany. Cast: One like Medea, Martha Graham; One like Jason, Erick Hawkins; The Princess, Yuriko [Kimura]; The Chorus, May O’Donnell.

Ballet (revised): Cave of the Heart: 27 February 1947, Ziegfeld Theater, New York City, Martha Graham Dance Company. Cast: Sorceress, Martha Graham; Adventurer, Erick Hawkins; Victim, Yuriko [Kimura]; The Chorus, May O’Donnell.

Orchestral Suite [H-113arr] Medea: 5 December 1947, Academy of Music, Philadel- phia, Philadelphia Orchestra, cond. Eugene Ormandy.

Tone poem, Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance [H-123]: 2 February 1956, New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra, cond. Dimitri Mitropoulos.

CD2, Tracks 13–18

MEDEA, OP. 23 (H-113arr) Orchestral Suite from the ballet I. Parodos

II. Choros. Medea and Jason

III. The Young Princess. Jason

IV. Choros


V. Medea VI. Kantikos Agonias VII. Exodos Samuel Barber conducting the New Symphony Orchestra of London From Decca LX-3049 Recorded 12 December 1950, Kingsway Hall, London

The Recording: In 1950, Barber conducted a group of his works—the Orchestral Suite Medea, Second Symphony, and the Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra—for Decca. See below, “The Decca Recordings.”

Scoring: (1947): 2 Fl; Picc; 3 Ob; Eng Hn; 2 Cl (B-flat); 2 Bsn; 4 Hn; 2 Tpt; 2 Trb; Timp, Harp; Percussion: Cym, Side Dr (without snares), Tom-Tom (Indian drum), Bass Dr, Xyl; Pf; Strings.

The Music: Barber’s description appears in the preface for the G. Schirmer 1949 edition:

The suite follows roughly the form of a Greek tragedy. In Parodos, the charac- ters first appear. The Choros, lyric and reflective, comments on the action which is to unfold. The Young Princess appears in a dance of freshness and in- nocence, followed by a heroic dance of Jason. Another plaintive Choros leads to Medea’s dance of obsessive and diabolical vengeance. The Kantikos Ago- nias, an interlude of menace and foreboding, follows. Medea’s terrible crime, the murder of the princess and her own children, has been committed, an- nounced at the beginning of the Exodus by a violent fanfare of trumpets. In this final section the various themes of the chief characters of the work are blended together; little by little the music subsides and Medea and Jason re- cede into the legendary past.

Reception: Robert Horan’s review of the ballet could apply to the orchestral score as well:

Barber’s score is brilliant, bitter and full of amazing energy. The alternation of


parts, like the swing of a pendulum, between relaxed lyrical flow and tense an-

gularity, make a wonderful scaffolding for the tragedy. of Martha Graham,” Dance Index 6, 1947)

(“The Recent Theater

Critics were of two minds, representing the extreme viewpoints of Barber’s audiences. Those of conservative tastes, who had always been drawn to Barber’s music, found the work “disappointing, heavily orchestrated, stiff in rhythm.” One Philadelphia critic claimed it “could have been culled from a study of Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring” [sic] and the latest Shostakovich” because Barber had forsaken his “earlier melodic and poetic style.” In contrast, Linton Martin embraced the work as bringing Barber “new musical stature and distinction,” claiming that Medea should be added to the limited list of works that “survive the tonal test” as concert works—for example Daphnis and Chloe, Fire- bird, and Petrouchka. Virgil Thomson viewed “a Samuel Barber freed at last from the well-bred attitudinizing and mincing respectabilities of his concert manner”:

Once more the theater has made a man out of an American composer who had passed his early years as a genteel music essayist. The public at large will, from now on, be aware of his real power…. Its style, which is broadly eclectic modernism not at all clumsily amalga- mated, is in its favor. So is its expressivity, which is intense all through. So, also, is its instrumentation, which is varied and piquant, with plenty of brutality added and not inappropriately….It brings its author suspiciously close to the clear status of a master.

Barber himself viewed the Philadelphia premiere performance as “superb.” He wrote to Sidney Homer:

It is infinitely better, of course, with a subject of such scope, in full orchestra.

Medea’s big dance was wildly exciting

ladies walked out on it (one by one, shaking their umbrellas and grumbling) to

About 200 Friday afternoon old


Mother’s intense annoyance! It really isn’t that violent. But Saturday night’s audience got it and there was cheering, and I had to come out 3 or 4 times.

The suite was one of the pieces Barber chose to conduct himself in Germany in 1951.

CD 2, Track 19 MEDEA’S MEDITATION AND DANCE OF VENGEANCE, Op. 23a (1955) (Medea’s Dance of Vengeance) Orchestral tone poem Dimitri Mitropoulos conducting the New York Philharmonic Live - 16 March 1958, Carnegie Hall 12:53

Scoring: 2 Fl; Picc; 2 Ob; Eng Hn; Cl (E-flat); 2 Cl (B-flat and A); Bass Cl; 2 Bsn; Contra Bsn; 4 Hn (F); 3 Tpt (C); 3 Trb; Tba; Timp; Perc: Xyl, Snare Dr, Bass Dr, Trgl, Cym, Tam-tam; Harp; Pf; Strings

Origin: Completed in Rome, August 1955. Dedicated to Martha Graham.

The Music: As an orchestral piece, Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance is more cohesive then its earlier counterpart: in reducing the seven movements to one, the most defined lyrical material from the suite is reworked into a logically developed structure. Especially striking is the reorchestrated opening material from Parodos, which in its transformation has acquired a mysterious aura—the opening figure on the xylophone and two flutes “appear to bump and separate like a pair of slow motion dancers.” In gen- eral, in Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance climaxes are more intense, more in- tricately and dramatically prepared. In the new version, more than the two earlier ones, expressive tempo indications mirror the psychological states of the central character’s meditations: mysterious, moving ahead, anguished, sombre, with dignity, biting, with mounting frenzy. In this sense, the more independent of the ballet the music becomes—that is, the corporal representation of


emotion is removed—the more Barber was compelled to explicitly designate psychologi- cally oriented expression markings in the score. The preface to the G. Schirmer 1956 score presents the following scenario:

Tracing her emotions from, her tender feelings toward her children through her mounting suspicions and anguish at her husband’s betrayal and her decision to avenge herself, the piece increases in intensity to close in the frenzied Dance of Vengeance of Medea, the Sorceress descended from the Sun God.

A quotation from Euripides’ Medea is an epitaph to the score and the emotional key to the music:

Look, my soft eyes have suddenly filled with tears:

O children, how ready to cry I am, how full of foreboding! Jason wrongs me, though I have never injured him. He has taken a wife to his house, supplanting Now I am in the full force of the storm of hate. I will make dead bodies of three of my enemies— Father, the girl and my husband! Come, Medea, whose father was noble, Whose grandfather God of the sun, Go forward to the dreadful act!

Reception: After the New York premiere, the New York Philharmonic played the work on nine programs in South America in 1958 and the following year played it in Greece, Russia, Germany, and Belgium. The emotional impact of the music, where brashness dis- solves into lush harmonies, the obsessive ostinato rhythmic underpinning of the piano in Medea’s dance (reminiscent of the propulsive rhythms of Le Sacre du printemps), and the drive to the climax consistently elicit ovations from audiences. The revision, more fo- cused and strident in tone, suggests that Barber may have been eager to break away from


his image as lyricist with appeal only for con- servative audiences. The distance traveled be- tween this Medea and Barber’s earlier works represents a major stylistic leap.


Werner Janssen conducting the Janssen Sym- phony Orchestra of Los Angeles From Victor 11-8591,

Recorded 11 March 1942


Scoring: Picc, 2 Fl, 2 Ob, Eng Hn, 2 Cl, Bass Cl, 2 Bsn, 4 Hn, 3 Tpt, 3 Trb, Tba, Timp, Trgl, Bass Dr, Cym, Bells, Celesta, Harp, Strings

Tba, Timp, Trgl, Bass Dr, Cym, Bells, Celesta, Harp, Strings Origin: The work was probably begun

Origin: The work was probably begun dur- ing the summer of 1931, Barber’s third summer with Menotti in Cadegliano, Italy. Every two weeks they traveled by car to Montestrutto for their lessons with Scalero. Barber does not specifically mention the work in his letters to his family and in fact is rather dis-

missive: “We’ve surely been lazy—nothing but swimming and tennis all day

getting so fond of it I don’t want to work at all.” (3 July 1931) Presumably it was the Overture that he referred to in his casual reports: “Our les- sons went well and my idea for a new piece for orchestra got by.” (6 July 1931) Nearly two weeks later he wrote:

I am

Werner Jannsen & Ann Harding

My new piece for orchestra goes well, but it is an effort to work on it! The day


seems too fast without any music. Generally we work from one until 5 in the af- ternoon, playing tennis in the morning when there are no shadows on the court.

According to the dated manuscript and programs for the early performances, he fin- ished the overture in April of 1932.

First Performance: 30 August 1933, Robin Hood Dell, Philadelphia, Philadelphia Orches- tra, cond. Alexander Smallens. The Overture was also played at the New York World’s Fair Concert by the New York Philharmonic, under Walter Damrosch, on 7 May 1939.

The Music: Barber was a voracious reader, and within two years at the Curtis Institute of Music, he had taken a total of ninety-two hours of courses in English literature, on the English novel, and French literature. His personal reading list suggests that his education did not stop with formal courses; on the last page of his student sketchbook are lists of “books to buy,” and the titles and catalogue numbers suggest that he intended to read the entire Modern Library collection: books by Dickens, Carlyle, Marlowe, Sterne, Smollet, Swift, Turgenev, Chesterton, Mansfield, Pope, Edmund Wilson, Burton, Chekhov, Mon- taigne, Virginia Woolfe, Yeats, and Whistler are interspersed with titles of books about music. That literature was a strong source of musical inspiration for Barber, even in purely instrumental compositions, is obvious from the titles of two of his earliest orchestral works—the Overture to The School for Scandal and Music for a Scene from Shelley. Al- though the title of the overture refers to the 18th-century drawing room comedy of man- ners by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the composer avowed it was not intended as a prelude to the play but as “a musical reflections of the play’s spirit.” The spirit of merriment and wily intrigue is distinctively established from the outset by seven electrifying polychordal measures—a D-major triad in the strings against an Eb-minor triad in the trumpets over the bright color of the triangle. The mood is sustained by vivacious rhythms and orchestral color, the brilliance of which results from as large a score as Barber was to use in some of his later pieces for orchestra. While there are frequent sudden shifts in


dynamics and tempo, the motion presses with sureness to the climax. Characteristic of Barber’s style is the engaging, pastoral second theme played by a solo oboe, which bears an English folk-song flavor, reinforcing the contrast between Bar- ber’s perspective and that of some of his contemporaries, who sought at this time to in- corporate American folk song idioms into their music.

Critical Reception: Apparently Barber wrote to Homer of his irritation over Fritz Reiner’s unwillingness to perform the overture and of his disappointment in having to miss the premiere of his first major orchestral work since he had to leave early for Italy. Homer counseled patience and trust:

You will have to give up speculating as to why men like R—— act as they do.

You will never know why, so you might as well ignore it and forget it. Things

have a way of righting themselves if (a big if!) we do the

and Brahms planned their works years ahead. They heard few performances and this affected them just not at all. (letter to Barber, 22 April 1933)


The Overture to The School for Scandal was enthusiastically received: of the pre-

miere the music critic Linton Martin (Philadelphia Inquirer, 31 August 1933) wrote that

.marked by a certain melodic facility and a sure sense of design,

neither purely freakish in effect in the modern manner, nor complacently old-fashioned.” The Overture continues to have frequent performances not only because of its popu- lar appeal, but because conductors covet good “curtain raisers” as well. For this work, Barber won a second Joseph H. Bearns Prize from Columbia University (the first was for an earlier Violin Sonata (H-57), which was fortuitous since the Barber family suffered financial losses in the crash of 1929 and Barber was considering leaving school the end of the spring semester in 1933. The $1,200 for musical composition in the large forms allowed him to spend another summer studying with Scalero in Italy and to extend his stay through the winter of 1934.

it was “robustly


About the Recording:

Janssen Symphony Orchestra of Los Angeles, cond. Werner Janssen, from Victor 11-8591 (recorded on 11 March 1942). Barber took issue with the tempos in Werner Janssen’s recording; his com- ments in a letter to Sidney Homer (10 February 1947) give clues as to how he wanted the work performed:

Janssen’s performance of S. for S. is wrong because the end of each rhythmic section should go faster (stretto) and he takes a “sempre più mosso” just before the end slower—inexplicably. It spoils the drive. Also the performance is not as light or elegant as some I’ve heard.”

CD 3 Tracks 2–5; 6–9 SYMPHONY IN ONE MOVEMENT, OP. 9 (H-84)

Artur Rodzinski conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra Live - Studio 8H, 2 April 1938

2. I. Allegro ma non troppo 7:23

3. II. Allegro molto 3:23

4. III. Andante tranquillo 5:16

5. IV. Con moto 4:12

Scoring: 2 Fl; Picc; 2 Ob; Eng Hn; 2 Cl; Bass Cl; 2 Bsn; Contra-Bsn; 4 Hn; 3 Tpt; 3 Trb; Tba; Timp, Cym, Bass Dr; Strings

Origin: The symphony was begun during the summer of 1935 in Camden, Maine, according to a letter Barber wrote to his classmate Jeanne Behrend in August 1935:

We are working



.and I am well ahead with an orchestra piece of ambitious colony is not exciting, but we do not see much of them or anybody.


Barber intended to continue work on the symphony in the fall of 1935 at the American Academy in Rome, and although the period was unusually prolific for composing songs—by early January he had composed seven new songs, six of which were written within four weeks— little progress was made on the symphony. He derived much pleasure working in a studio apart from the academy, a little yellow house approached from the garden by a winding stair—a renovation of the stables of the old Villa Aurelia—yet he was bombarded with aesthetic stimuli that distracted him: he took lessons in Dante, strolled the gardens by moonlight, and was dazzled by the beauty of Rome, in particular the Sistine Chapel, where he was allowed to view Michelangelo’s fres- coes from a temporary scaffolding:

Michelangelo’s fres- coes from a temporary scaffolding: Artur Rodzinski, 1937 To be able to touch with

Artur Rodzinski, 1937

To be able to touch with your

hand all the

.to see the

guidelines which he made to keep the giant perspective. And then most wonderful of all, to lie on your back for three hours in the plaster and dust and stare up at the magnificent It was as if someone discovered some beautiful new work of Beethoven, after knowing every note of his for a lifetime, and see- ing all of a sudden some of his most intimate

The symphony was completed on 24 February 1936 during a two-week stay at the Anabel Taylor Foundation in the French Alpine village of Roquebrune.


Revised version: Completed January 1943. Dedication: To Gian Carlo Menotti.

First Performances: 13 December 1936, Adriano Theatre, Rome. Philharmonic Augus- teo Orchestra, cond. Bernardino Molinari.

First performances in U.S.

21 January 1937, Severance Hall; Cleveland Orchestra, cond. Rudolf Ringwall (substitute

for Artur Rodzinski).

24 March 1937, New York, New York Philharmonic, cond. Artur Rodzinski.

Barber recalled: “Right after the first rehearsal, the tuba player of the orchestra came up

to me and congratulated me. ‘Maestro,’he said,

like that for fifteen years!’” (interview with James Fassett, CBS, 19 June 1949)

‘I’ve been waiting for a tuba part

Subsequent performances in Europe:

24 June 1937, London, London Symphony Orchestra, cond. Artur Rodzinski.

25 July 1937, Salzburg Festival, Vienna Philharmonic, cond. Artur Rodzinski. This

event was a landmark in that it was the first time in the history of the festival that a sym- phonic work by an American composer was performed.

The Music: The symphony is, in Barber’s words, quoted in program notes for its New York premiere: “a synthetic treatment of the four-movement classical symphony.” An exposition—with a main theme, a second more lyrical theme, and a closing theme—is followed by a brief development. Instead of a recapitulation, the first theme in diminution is the basis of a scherzo section; the second theme (oboe over muted strings) appears in augmentation as an extended Andante tranquillo; the finale is a passacaglia based on the first theme, into which is woven the other themes, serving as a recapitulation for the entire symphony. In that the entire symphony is generated from themes present at the outset, the


symphony shares a similarity with Sibelius’s one-movement Symphony No. 7, which was in fact the model for Barber’s work as documented by an outline in his student sketchbook.

CD 3, Tracks 6–9 Symphony in One Movement, Op. 9 (Revised Version) (H-84) Bruno Walter conducting the New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra Live - 12 March 1944, Carnegie Hall

6. I. Allegro ma non troppo 6:40

7. II. Allegro molto 4:29

8. III. Andante tranquillo 4:28

9. IV. Con moto 3:50

Origin: In 1942 Barber began revisions on the symphony, honing the structure into a more focused unity. Minor changes mostly involved condensing and tightening the Alle- gro and Andante, and the Passacaglia. The scherzo was replaced with an entirely new

one —in a quasi-fugal style—built on a diminution of a figure of the chief subject of the

first movement.

with “sardonic humor and imaginatively orchestrated, as providing a more vivid contrast to the rest of the symphony than the original one.”

Olin Downes, who heard both versions, regarded the new scherzo, filled

First performances of 1943 revision:

18 February 1944, Academy of Music, Philadelphia; Philadelphia Orchestra, cond.

Bruno Walter.

About this performance, Barber wrote:

I had a wonderful week with Bruno Walter and the Philadelphia Orches- tra, one of the best performances I’ve ever had. The symphony sounds so

much better in its revision. Walter conducted superbly (by memory, every

note) and the men came to life as never under

“an astonishing work, no one is composing today who handles form that

.[Walter] said:


way.” Kept saying, “Kolassal.”

Two weeks later, on 9 March 1944, Walter conducted the New York Philharmonic- Symphony Orchestra in a performance at Carnegie Hall.

Critical Reception: After conducting the U.S premiere of the symphony, Rodzinski

viewed the twenty-seven-year-old composer as “a leading musical hope.”

ber’s “musical godfather,” as the conductor was called, became a zealous missionary dur-

ing the symphony’s first season in bringing it to audiences around the world. Music critic Francis D. Perkins, of the Herald Tribune, declared that the symphony displayed:

Indeed, Bar-

clearly defined musical ideas of considerable cogency in an instrumental

garb wrought with unusual knowledge of the orchestral .and how to attain it.

.and an exceptionally well-developed .with a definite idea of what he

When, in December 1938, it was finally given performances in Philadelphia by the Philadelphia Orchestra, under Ormandy, music critic Henry Pleasants enthusiastically wrote, “It is hard to believe that a composition so much discussed has not been played at least once by every orchestra in the land.” Walter’s performance of the revised symphony in New York received equally splen- did reviews. But especially interesting was the canniness with which he programmed Barber’s work with Schumann’s Fourth Symphony. Both works, though written a century apart, are in cyclical form; in both the four divisions are played without pause; both begin with an allegro, followed by a lengthy development without any recapitulation; and in both works there is a dramatic crescendo that leads from the third division to the finale. The juxtaposition was not overlooked by New York Times critic Noel Straus:

That Mr. Barber’s revised symphony was able to hold its ground and not appear


anticlimactic after the Schumann masterpiece spoke worlds in its favor.

lacked the melodic invention, simplicity and freshness of that opus, it neverthe-

less was so skilled in its craftsmanship, so knowingly orchestrated and filled with character that it scored heavily with its hearers, even if it was forced to bear comparison with the Schumann creation.

If it

Subsequently, after the Carnegie Hall performance, Walter made a commercial recording of the symphony which was released by Columbia Records in 1945 and reissued on CD by Sony Classical (SMK 64466) in 1995. Because the recording was made at a time when tempos were dictated by the economics of available space on 78-rpm discs, there are, ac- cording to Barber’s report, distortions of tempos: “Walter loses breadth in the slow part of my symphony to squeeze it on four sides. But he does the beginning and scherzo very well.” The recording is a landmark, however, because it is one of the few works by an American composer Walter ever chose to record. The live performance included in this set, however, more accurately reflects Barber’s performance intentions.

CD 3 Track 10 ADAGIO FOR STRINGS, OP. 11 (H-91) Arturo Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra Live - Studio 8H, 5 November 1938

About this recording: This broadcast, which brought Barber nationwide attention, was selected for the Registry of National Historical Recordings in 2006.

Scoring: 2 Vln, Vla, 2 Vlc, Cb.

Origin: This arrangement of the second movement of Barber’s String Quartet in G minor, Op. 11 (H-88), was begun early in 1938 for Toscanini and completed before


summer that same year. It is unquestion- ably Barber’s most famous piece. In August 1933, Barber and Menotti had visited Toscanini’s villa on Isola di San Giovanni, Italy, after which the con- ductor told Barber he was interested in performing one of his works. Advice from Sidney Homer was conveyed in a letter, 15 January 1934:

The thing now is to write some- thing for Toscanini that expresses the depth and sincerity of your You know as well as I do that the Maestro loves sincere straight-forward stuff, with gen- uine feeling in it and no artificial pretense and padding.

uine feeling in it and no artificial pretense and padding. Arturo Toscanini, 1938 More than three

Arturo Toscanini, 1938

More than three years would pass before Bar- ber produced a work that he felt was worthy of for the legendary conductor’s attention. In 1937, after Toscanini heard Rodzinski conduct Barber’s Symphony in One Move- ment at the Salzburg Festival, he was thinking about including a work by an American composer on his winter program for the newly formed NBC Symphony Orchestra created especially for him, and he showed renewed interest in seeing a new short piece by Barber. In the spring of 1938, Barber sent Toscanini two scores—the Adagio for Strings, the arrangement of the second movement of his earlier string quartet to which he had added a bass part, and the Essay for Orchestra. Shortly before he departed for Italy, the conductor returned the scores to Barber without comment. Unaware that Toscanini had committed them to memory, Barber was “annoyed” and decided not to visit the conductor that summer,


sending Menotti on without him. The meeting was reported by Barber many years later:

Toscanini said to Menotti, “Where’s your friend Barber?” “Well, he’s not feeling

.Toscanini said, “I don’t believe that. He’s mad at

me. Tell him not to be mad. I’m not going to play one of his pieces, I’m going to play both.” (interview by Robert Sherman, WQXR, 30 September 1978)

very well,” said Gian

First Performance: 5 November 1938, NBC radio broadcast, Rockefeller Center, New York City; NBC Symphony Orchestra, cond. Arturo Toscanini.

The Music:

The Adagio for Strings has withstood the test of time and earned permanent stature. Its place in the international repertoire is unchallenged. There are some who may never have heard or recall the name of the composer of the Adagio yet who recognize the music even without knowing its title. On a BBC retrospective broadcast, 23 January 1982, the anniversary of Barber’s death, the musicologist Peter Dickinson asked a group of prominent American composers why they thought the Adagio was such a “perfect piece of music.” They focused, not on technique, but on the emotional response it elicited from listeners.

Aaron Copland:

He’s not just making it up because he thinks that would sound well. It comes

straight from the the satisfaction of the arch

and it makes you believe in the sincerity which he obviously put into it.

The sense of continuity, the steadiness of the flow,

from beginning to

gratifying, satisfying,

William Schuman:

You are not aware of any technique at

It works because it is so precise emotionally. The emotional climate is never left in doubt. It begins, it reaches its climax, it makes its point, and it

It seems quite effortless and natu-



I’m always moved by it.

Virgil Thomson:

I think it’s a love scene

scene. Not a dramatic one, but a very satisfactory one.

a detailed love scene

a smooth successful love

Kenneth Nott has provided an insightful discussion of the influence of Barber’s study of 17th-century music on the Adagio for Strings, in particular Purcell’s Fantasias.

Critical Reception:

Toscanini’s selection of Barber’s music as representative of American works sparked an intense debate, which took place in a series of letters in the New York Times. The torch was lit by Ashley Pettis:

One listened in vain for evidence of youthful vigor, freshness or fire, for use of a


music—utterly anachronistic as the utterance of a young man of 28, A.D. 1938!

Mr. Barber’s was “authentic,” “dull,” “serious”

Responses came from advocates of Barber’s music, among whom were several composers:

Menotti (18 November 1938):

“Must there be in art one ‘modern idiom’?

If Mr. Barber dares to defy the

servile imitation of that style (which has been called American music) and ex- periments successfully with melodic line and new form, is he not to be praised for his courage?”

Roy Harris (27 November 1938):

For years there has been a cultural storm gathering in our land. The old and the


new are digging up the time-worn battleaxe again. The old was ever venerable—the

new ever

court of appraisal to order and render final judgment on what is offered. No amount of wish-thinking on the part of either party will alter the real stature of what we do.

And Time, who is no respecter of persons, will call his own

Sidney Homer put the controversy into perspective for his nephew (letter to SB, 31 January 1939):

[Y]ou can only listen to the inner voice that is working with you. Stick by your-

self and your written anything

quarters, and even when sincere, can arise from inability to understand.

That is what every man has had to do who has Opinions are like the wind and blow from all

CD 3, Track 11 ESSAY (No. 1) FOR ORCHESTRA, OP. 12 (H-92) Arturo Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra Live - Studio 8H, 5 November 1938

Scoring: 2 Fl; 2 Ob; 2 Cl; 2 Bsn; 4 Hns; 3 Tpt; 3 Trb; Tba; Timp; Pf; Strings

Origin: The work was probably completed spring 1938. Dedication: To C.E. [Carl Engel, head of G. Schirmer, Inc.] A letter to Orlando Cole, January 1938, refers to an orchestra piece Barber was “rushing to finish.” This was one of two compositions Barber gave to Toscanini the spring of 1938, the other being the Adagio for Strings.

First Performance: 5 November 1938, N.B.C. broadcast; N.B.C. Symphony Orchestra, cond. Arturo Toscanini. At the last rehearsal, on the day of the performance, Toscanini decided that the ending


Barber in 1944, with score of Second Symphony would be improved by the addition of

Barber in 1944, with score of Second Symphony

would be improved by the addition of a trumpet to reinforce the strings. His frantic attempts to reach Barber by tele- phone to secure his permission to make the change were unsuccessful. So con- fident was he of the validity of his alter- ation that at the performance, the septuagenarian conductor incorporated the trumpet part anyway, afterward apologizing to Barber for “taking liber- ties with his score.” Toscanini’s change was not retained in GS 1941, however.

The Music: Barber’s inspiration from literature had, of course, found voice

earlier in the Overture to The School for Scandal and Music for a Scene from Shelley, but unlike these works, in Essay he places little emphasis on orchestral sensuousness. He had earlier explored this literary form as a musical genre as a student in 1926 with Three Essays for Piano. The First Essay—as it came to be called after Barber wrote a second one in 1942 — is similar but not exactly equivalent to the first movement of a symphony. As its title im- plies, the substance of the work derives from a single subject, but in this case the discourse unfolds in two contrasting sections: the first, a somber postulation of the princi- pal theme; the second, a scherzo based on a rhythmic diminution of the principal theme and in which the first theme surfaces again to ultimately provide material for a brief coda. This seems to realize to some extent a design Barber described to Menotti: a two-part form, the first section containing two themes (in this case, the second derived from the first), each stated and developed, and a second section in which the two themes are com- bined. (interview, 11 March 1990)


Critical Reception: On 16 December 1938, Barber sent Jean Sibelius copies of

Toscanini’s recordings of Essay and the Adagio for Strings, writing, “Your music means so much to us who are trying once more to compose after the years of post-war experi- mentation into which we were born—your example as an artist is so beautiful and en-


Sibelius, reportedly responded enthusiastically to Barber’s music.

The literary analogy of the title sparked one music critic to observe that Essay has a

“brevity and conciseness, an almost epigrammatic neatness, that might have been de- rived from Addison and Steele.” Barber himself, when asked by Walter Damrosch to rec- ommend a work for performance at the World’s Fair, replied that “The Essay for orchestra’seems to me too intimate and tenuous for a program of such character and does not stand alone very well.”

CD 3, Track 12 SECOND ESSAY, OP. 17 (H-101) 11:08 Orchestral work in one movement Bruno Walter conducting the New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra Live - 16 April 1942, Carnegie Hall

Scoring: Picc; 2 Fl; 2 Ob; Eng Hn; 2 Cl, Bass Cl; 2 Bsn; 4 Hn; 3 Tpt; 3 Trb; Tba; Timp, Cym, Side Dr, Bass Dr, Tam-tam; Strings

Origin: A letter to Katherine Garrison Chapin (22 March 1942) gives the date of comple-

tion as 15 March 1942.

It appears likely—given that fragments of the work appear in Barber’s student sketchbook—that thematic ideas were conceived at least three years, if not more, earlier. In August 1940 Barber was commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky for a new piece by Oc-

tober. The advent of World War II delayed its completion for two years; Barber would later say about the Second Essay, “Although it has no program, one perhaps hears that it was written in war-time.”


Dedication: To Robert Horan

Bruno Walter, 1941 First Performance: Ironically, the work was not premiered by Koussevitzky after all.

Bruno Walter, 1941

First Performance: Ironically, the work was not premiered by Koussevitzky after all. After Essay was completed, Barber showed the work to Bruno Walter, who had asked him for a piece for the cen- tennial of the New York Philharmonic–Symphony Orchestra. Walter conducted the work on 16 April 1942, in Carnegie Hall.

The Music: Like the First Essay, but broader in scope and for a larger orchestra, the work is based on a literary form in which ideas—three themes, in this case—are developed with conciseness of ex- pression. The work could serve as the first move- ment of a symphony. The angular opening theme notated in F minor, but in the Dorian mode, is pre- sented in an andante tempo by solo flutes against a G-flat pedal in low brasses and a pianissimo bass drum roll. The restless and sweeping lyrical second theme, introduced by the violas, grows organically

out of the first and is developed. In this first section, brasses hint at a fragment of the

theme that ultimately becomes the full-blown chorale of the coda.

ushers a fugue, which is based on a motive of the first theme, played by chattering wood- winds molto allegro ed energetico. One of the most striking aspects of the Second Essay is its sophisticated use of or- chestral color: abundant solos for timpani, for brass choirs, and for individual woodwinds are cast vividly against—indeed flow out of—the contrapuntal texture.

A sharp tutti chord

Critical Reception: Howard Taubman, in his review of the premiere, declared Barber was “not merely flexing his muscles in a bit of harmless exercise” but attempting to say


something in a “concise form.” “In a short space he creates and sustains a

worked out with economy of knowledge and

but a composer entitled to his own thesis.” Donald Fuller pointed out the Second Essay as Barber’s best work to that time; ad- miring Barber’s capacity for “real thematic invention” and comparing the score to those of Copland and Harris. A West Coast critic labeled Barber “a musical American Shelley.”

perhaps a shade too solemn,

CD 3, Track 13 COMMANDO MARCH (H-105) 3:48 Serge Koussevitzky conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra Live - 30 October 1943, Boston Symphony Hall


Original band version: Picc; Fl; Ob; Cl (e-flat); 3 Cl (b-flat); Alto Cl; Bass Cl; Bsn; 2 Alto Sax; Tenor Sax; Bar Sax; 3 Cor; 2 Tpt; 4 Hns; 3Trb; Bass Trb; Euphonium; Tba; String Bass; Xyl; Snare Dr; Cym; Kettle Dr; Bass Dr Orchestral version: 3 Fl; Picc; 3 Ob; Eng Hn; 2 Cl (B-flat); E-flat Cl; Bass Cl; 3 Bsn; Contrabsn; 4 Hn; 3 Tpt; 3 Trb and Tba; Snare Dr; Bass Dr; Cym; Tri; Xyl; Timp; Wood Block; and Strings.

Origin: Completed February 1943, while Barber was serving in the U.S. Army Air Forces. Barber was inducted into the U.S. Army on 2 September 1942 and reported for service on 16 September. On the eve of his departure he wrote to Serge Koussevitzky, who had told Barber that, in spite of the war, the government wanted such things as the Berkshire Festival to continue:

I am a private in the U.S. Army, and leave tomorrow for service—I have

no idea where I will be

that I have followed the success of this summer’s Berkshire Festival, and

It is with the greatest satisfaction


Serge Koussevitzky potential usefulness and influence.” I have admired your courage and your conviction in

Serge Koussevitzky

potential usefulness and influence.”

I have admired your courage and your conviction in carrying it through. Such things are so important in times like these, and there are few people who, like you, think so clearly and so My next piece will

be for you, dear Maestro. (letter

to Koussevitzky, 14 September


A letter to the poet Katherine Garrison

Chapin (22 March 1942), at the time his career was ascending internation- ally, suggests that Barber’s low ap-

petite for military duty was not for lack


patriotism but rather out of a desire


continue writing music: “It is

strange that they do not use us com- posers more than they do for propa- ganda, or perhaps I overestimate our

He wrote to the conductor William Strickland, sometime after Feb. 1943:

I’ve finished a march for band and think I shall ask Thor Johnson to try it out for me. I wonder how his band is. It must be played in this Service Command first. It was a nuisance to score—millions of euphoniums, alto clarinets and D-flat piccolos to encumber my score page.


First Performance: 23 May 1943 by the Symphonic Band of the Army Air Forces Tech- nical Training Command (comprising the 28th and 29th Air Force Bands), Convention Hall, Atlantic City, New Jersey; cond. Chief Warrant Officer Robert L. Landers. Subsequent performances: 8 July 1943, cond. Goldman; 20–21 July 1943, cond. Barber; Edwin Franko Goldman Band, Central Park, New York City. Recorded for the Office of War Information, cond. Barber. After this performance, Barber wrote to Serge Kousse- vitzky, 16 August 1943:

Due to your encouragement, my debut as a band conductor was quite success- ful and I had a re-engagement in Central Park! I orchestrated “Commando March and will send it to you as soon as it is copied.

First performance of orchestral version: 29 October 1943, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Symphony Hall, Boston; cond. Serge Koussevitzky. After this performance, Barber sug- gested changes in the trumpets’ entrance and the trombone part:

If you play the little march again, I have a couple of changes to suggest and ask you to be so kind as to tell the players and Dr. K. They are very small:

1. When the five trumpets come in, in the measure just before the recapit-

ulation, they play flutter-tongue on a written “c”. I don’t like this and would prefer the following (no double tonguing)

2. on the last note of the trombones’glissando, both times, please add a sf

for the bass

Many thanks for bothering with this.

The Music: The march has all the characteristics necessary to its function: jaunty rhythms, plentiful woodwind and percussion flourishes, and an easily remembered theme that incorporated a triplet figure from the introduction. The music was viewed as representative of a “new kind of soldier, one who did not march in straight lines across parade grounds” but “struck in stealth with speed, disappear- ing as quickly as he came,” inspiring a different kind of music that departed from tradition.


Critical reception: The music critic Fredric V. Grunfeld described Commando March as an “old-fashioned quickstep sporting a crew cut.” The march was played frequently dur- ing World War II and gained a permanent place in the band repertory after its publication by G. Schirmer in 1943. A review in Modern Music declared the Koussevitzky performance of the new orchestral arrangement “lavish, but quite appropriate, good and fast-spirited as a march should be.”

CD 4 SYMPHONY NO. 2 (“FLIGHT SYMPHONY”), Op. 19 (H-107) Original version Tracks 1–3 Revised version, Tracks 4–6 Revised version rehearsal, Track 7

Symphony No. 2 (“Flight Symphony”), Op. 19 (original version) (H-107) Serge Koussevitzky conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra Live - 4 March 1944, Boston Symphony Hall

1. I. Allegro ma non troppo

2. II. Andante, un poco mosso 8:17

3. III. Presto 6:57


Symphony No. 2, Op. 19 (revised version, 1947) (H-107)

Samuel Barber conducting the New Symphony Orchestra of London From Decca LX-3050 Recorded 13 December 1950, Kingsway Hall, London

4. I. Allegro ma non troppo 10:28

5. II. Andante, un poco mosso 7:35

6. III. Presto, senza battuta - Poco sostenuto - Allegro risoluto - Allegro molto 8:47


Symphony No. 2, Op. 19 (revised version) (H-107): Rehearsal Samuel Barber conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra

Live – in prep. for 6–7 April 1951 performances, Boston, Symphony Hall From delayed broadcast of 23 June 1951

7. Rehearsal 25:37


1943 version: Picc, 2 Fl, 2 Ob, Eng Hn, 2 Cl (E-flat and A), Bass Cl (B-flat), 2 Bsn, Contra Bsn, 4 Fr Hn (F), 3 Tpt (C), 3 Trb, Tba; Timp, Wood Blocks, Tom-tom, Bass Dr, Cym, Pf; Strings; electrical tone-generator (constructed by Bell Telephone Laboratories, New York; designated in score as “Radio-B”).

Revised, GS 1950: In II, an E-flat clarinet replaces the tone generator; and a tenor tuba ad lib is added.

Origin: Commissioned by and dedicated to the United States Army Air Forces, the sym- phony was completed on 3 February 1944. Letters to Sidney Homer document that the work was begun about 11 September 1943, in Mount Kisco; the sketch of the first two movements was completed and the third movement begun by September 27. The sym- phony was revised in 1947. Shortly after his induction into the army, Barber thought of composing a symphonic work about flyers for the air corps: This subject is of great fascination to the public and is being celebrated in all the arts,” he wrote to Sidney Homer on 11 September 1943. In preparation for composition, Barber wanted to experience first-hand the sensation of flying under adverse conditions. After submitting a brief proposal of his project, he was transferred to the army air corps 30 August 1943 and sent to the Forth Worth, Texas, air force headquarters for the entire country. After two days of frustrating, aimless wan- dering around—“no one had the faintest idea why I was there,” he saidhe got up be- fore dawn on the third day and found a crew that allowed him to join them on a six-hour training flight:


Serge Koussevitzky bomber at We took off with two young pilots, nervous and sweating, and

Serge Koussevitzky

bomber at

We took off with two young pilots, nervous and sweating, and a gruff


banked, we twisted, and twisted and turned, dived, then the young plots, who seemed al- most too young and small for the huge ma- chine—they were only twenty-five—flew blind- folded. It was exciting to be up front with them and roam around the I had been to the Psychopathic Ward to talk to

flyers back from combat, and about their various mental problems


lack of musical climax in flying, the unrelieved tension, the

crescendo of decent rather than mounting, and the discovery of a

new dimension. How to put this in music, I do not some way I will try to express some of their emotions.

Many pilots talked about the sensation of flying, the


Barber told General Barton K. Yount about his preparations for the symphony, who took the matter with such seriousness he assigned the composer to West Point and allowed him to work on the symphony at home in Mount Kisco. He was given four months or longer, if necessary, to write the symphony. The army would receive royalties forever. When the colonel in charge was presented with the completed symphony, he said,

“Well, Corporal, it’s not quite what we expected from you. Since the Air Force


uses all sorts of the most modern devices, I’d hoped you’d write this symphony

in quarter-tones. But do what you

.” (CBS broadcast, 19 June 1949)

To accommodate the colonel’s request, Barber used an electronic tone generator built by Bell Telephone laboratories to simulate the sound of a radio beam in the second move- ment, which later took on an independent life as the tone poem Night Flight.

First Performance: 3 March 1944, Symphony Hall, Boston. Boston Symphony Orches- tra, cond. Serge Koussevitzky. Revised version: 5 January 1949, Philadelphia Academy of Music, Curtis Institute of Music Symphony Orchestra, cond. Alexander Hilsberg, 21 January 1949, Philadelphia Orchestra, cond. Alexander Hilsberg.

The Music: Although Barber did not want the symphony to be considered program music in the conventional sense, a letter to Sidney Homer (27 September 1943) strongly sug- gests that he did at least have an emotional program in mind:

The first movement tries to express the dynamism and excitement of flying—and ends way up 50,000 feet! The second is a lonely sort of folk-song melody for English horn, against backgrounds of string-clouds. It might be called solo flight at night. Otherwise there is no program.

The Second Symphony marks a departure from Barber’s earlier style, for in this work there is an emotional climate of greater tension and energy. This is accomplished by use of persistent ostinato dotted rhythms, more dissonant intervals, and angular lines: the first few measures of the symphony, for example, concentrate on sevenths and clusters of seconds, which in their linear form combine to become the jagged first theme. The thematic material of the symphony, stated Barber, was designed to express the sensation of flying. The last movement begins very fast with no bar lines. Barber is re- ported to have wanted to express a spiral, believing the way to accomplish this was to have the music flow very freely with no accents.


The Revised Version: Revisions consisted of redistribution of woodwind parts—to clar- ify melodic lines and reduce the “muddiness” of the orchestration of the early version— and of shortening the score by condensing passages to fewer measures.

A major change is made in the scoring of the second movement, where an E-flat

clarinet replaces “Radio-B.” (electronic “tone-generator”) for the last 22 mm. of the movement. This, of course, is to remove from the symphony any traces of programmatic intent and, in particular, association with war.

Epilogue: In 1964, infrequent performances and Barber’s general dissatisfaction with the

work led him to tear up all parts and score in the Schirmer Library with his publisher, Hans Heinsheimer, as a witness. Although the score was still available in libraries after it was withdrawn, the lack of parts discouraged performance.

In spite of Barber’s dissatisfaction with the symphony, he never quite put to rest the

first movement, for its opening themes, in particular the “turn motive,” were incorporated

in works composed toward the later part of his career—the opera Antony and Cleopatra (H-134), and Fadograph of a Yestern Scene (H-142). Some twenty years after Barber withdrew the symphony, a set of parts that turned up in a London warehouse resuscitated the symphony and led to performances, a recording by Andrew Schenck and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in 1989, and a new print- ing by G. Schirmer.

CD 5, Track 1 DIE NATALI, Op. 37 (H-131) 19:38 For orchestra Charles Munch conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra Live - 23 December 1960, Symphony Hall, Boston

About the recording: This live performance followed the premiere by one day.


Scoring: Picc (fl III), 2 Fl; 2 Ob; Eng Hn; 2 Cl (B-flat); Cl in A ad lib; Bass Cl; 2 Bsn; 4 Hn (F); 3 Tpt (C); 3 Trb; Tba; Timp; Perc (Tenor Drum, Bass Drum, Cym, Antique Cym, Tam-tam, Triangle, Xyl, Bells); Harp; Strings.

Origin: Commissioned in celebration of the 75th season of the Boston Symphony Or- chestra, Charles Munch, music director. Dedication: To the memory of Serge and Na- talie Koussevitzky. Although the piece was commissioned in 1954 by the Koussevitzky Music Founda- tion, Barber did not begin work on the composition until July 1960. He completed it in Santa Cristina, Italy, on 3 September 1960.

First Performance: 22 December 1960, Boston; Boston Symphony Orchestra, cond. Charles Munch.

The Music: Die Natali comprises a sequence of chorale preludes based on familiar Christmas carols—“O come, O come, Emmanuel;” “Lo, how a rose e’er blooming;” “We three Kings of Orient are” (with separate preludes for each of the Magi); “God rest you merry, gentlemen;” “Good King Wenceslas,” “Silent night,” and “Adeste fideles.” Barber composed an ingenious fabric of harmonically colored contrapuntal varia- tions, employing such devices as canon, double canon, augmentation, and diminution. In 1979, dissatisfied with the beginning, Barber made some revisions in anticipation for a performance by the Philadelphia Orchestra. He advised the conductor Eugene Ormandy:

This is a piece which has both good and bad places, and I am sure you will

doctor up the bad ones to my advantage

simply doesn’t come off. I wanted very distant string harmonics, like an echo, but I’m afraid it is a bad key for harmonics. Perhaps if you just play it sor- dina and forget the harmonics, it will solve the problem; or maybe you have a better idea. The rest goes along quite well and I particularly like the varia- tions on “Silent Night.”


The beginning, for instance,

CD 5, Tracks 2–5 Prayers of Kierkegaard, Op. 30 (H-122) Charles Munch conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra & the Boston Cecilia Society Chorus; Leontyne Price, soprano; Jean Kraft, mezzo-soprano; Edward Munro, tenor Live - 3 December 1954, Symphony Hall, Boston

About the Recording: As noted below, Barber was critical of this premiere performance, attributing the flaws to an under-rehearsed chorus.

2. O Thou Who art unchangeable 5:05

3. Lord Jesus Christ, who suffered all life long 2:59

4. Father in Heaven, well we know that it is Thou 4:58

5. Father in Heaven! hold not our sins up against us 5:26

For Mixed Chorus, Soprano Solo, and Orchestra, with incidental Tenor Solo and Alto

Solo ad libitum.

Perc, Xyl, 2 Bells (in E; but C and G for premiere), Hp, Pf, Str.

Orch: Picc, 2 Fl , 2 Ob, 2 Cl, Bass Cl, 4 Hn, 3 Tpt, 3 Trb, Tba, Timp,

Text: For the text Barber drew from selections of prayers interpolated through the writ- ings and sermons of Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855), written between 1847 and 1855 in his journals; one from “Christian Discourses;” and one on which Kierkegaard gave his

last sermon, “The Unchangeableness of God.”

chronological order and took liberties in fashioning the text to his musical needs: reorder- ing the sequence of lines, excising internal phrases, and substituting his own translation for specific words.

Barber arranged the prayers in reverse

Male chorus: O Thou who art unchangeable, whom nothing changes, May we find our rest and remain at rest in Thee unchanging. Thou art moved and moved in infinite love by all things: the need of a sparrow, even this moves Thee and what we scarcely see, a human sigh, this moves Thee, O infinite Love!


SATB: But nothing changes Thee, O Thou unchanging. May we find rest and remain at rest. Thou art moved and moved in infinite love for all things; the need of a sparrow; Even this moves Thee and what we scarcely see, a human sigh, This moves Thee, O infi- nite Love! But nothing changes Thee, O Thou unchanging!

Soprano solo: Lord, Jesus Christ who suffer’d all life long that I, too, might be saved And whose suff’ring still knows no end, This, too, wilt Thou endure saving and redeem- ing me, this patient suff’ring of me whom thou hast to do, who so often goes astray Lord Jesus Christ!

Chorus: Father in Heaven, well we know that it is Thou that giveth both to will and to do, that also longing—when it leads us to renew the fellowship with our Saviour and Re- deemer—is from Thee. Father in Heaven, Longing is Thy gift.

Tenor solo and tenors: But when longing lays hold of us, O that we might lay hold of the longing when it would carry us away, that we also might give ourselves up.

Double chorus: Father in Heaven, when Thou art near to summon us that we also in prayer might stay near Thee, when Thou, in the longing, offer us the highest good— Oh, that we might hold it fast!

Concluding Chorus: Father in Heaven! Hold our sins up against us— but hold us up against our sins, so that the thought of Thee should not remind us, of what we have committed, but of what Thou didst forgive; Not how we went astray, but how Thou didst save us!

First Performance: 3 December 1954, Symphony Hall, Boston; Boston Symphony Or- chestra, cond. Charles Munch; Cecilia Society Chorus, dir. Hugh Ross; soloists: Leontyne Price, sop; Jean Kraft, contralto; Edward Monroe, tenor. After this performance, Barber made many corrections in the score.


He considered definitive a subsequent performance at an international festival in Vi- enna in May 1955, conducted by Massimo Freccia, with Hilde Gueden, sop. In his “Travel Log,” Barber describes the effect on him:

All the rest was such a wonderful experience for me that I even hesitate

to report

and perfection of style, her voice soaring and disembodied

such fervor and impact,

the solo with such purity


moved me very

and Freccia

succeeded in

creating a mystical and at the same time passionate

Here at last was my work as I meant it to be, the chorus dominating, shattering, moving: not stodgy and oratorio-like. The deep German

I think

I had never heard a work of mine in a foreign language before and that too encouraged me with a sense of power.

basses and altos and the sopranos with body, like trumpets

Origin of the composition: Commissioned by the Koussevitzky Music Foundation in 1942. Gregorian chant, a preoccupation with monastic solitude, the approaching death of his uncle Sidney Homer, and perhaps questioning his own religious faith were all on Bar- ber’s mind as he began work on Prayers in May of 1953. The work was completed in January 1954. Barber wrote the soprano solo with Leontyne Price’s voice in mind. Barber viewed the Danish theologian as “a major literary figure and an exciting but enigmatic intellec- tual force.” (Barber, quoted in program notes of Boston Symphony premiere).

The Music: The work is in four contrasting but musically continuous sections that could be called movements. Barber has fused his neo-Romantic perspective with elements of twentieth-century, Baroque, and medieval practice. Prayers opens with an incantation—a chant of Barber’s invention—in the Dorian mode by male chorus, a capella and in uni- son, the tempo “grave and remote,” thus establishing a liturgical mood in accord with Barber’s conviction that Gregorian chant should be sung without accompaniment:



got up early this morning and went alone to Mass at St.

The whole Aventine hill was very quiet in the morning mist, a few birds

singing and the sun coming up over snowy hills. Only a few nuns were there, one of whom showed me the text to follow, but there must have been 80 monks in the chorus and the Gregorian sounded better than

ever. For me it is the only religious music

wish they wouldn’t use organ at all! (Letter to Charles Turner, spring, 1953, from Rome)

.I think; only I

Barber was presumably unaware of the dodecaphony in the passage “but when long- ing lays hold of us,” in which the solo tenor theme is based on a ten-tone scale and simul- taneously sung in augmented rhythm by the tenor sections. The concluding chorale is also of Barber’s invention. Barber’s concerns about the bells and incidental alto and tenor solos were expressed in a letter (undated, autumn 1954) to Leonard Burkat, then artistic administrator of the Boston Symphony Orchestra:

I have two messages for M. Münch: I have worked with Leontyne on the

solo and she does it beautifully. Tell him please that I hope the alto and tenor soloists are more than “adequate”; they come at a strategic place in the score and theoretically should have just as fine voices as Leontyne; so I hope that you have found two first-rate “church soloist” voices which can be fine in Boston, and have not promoted a tenor eunuch or contralto Amazon from the ranks of the chorus! Ditto for New Münch mentioned the wonderful bells used for the Berlioz to me. Although they are in C and G (if I recall) instead of E as in my score, I would like to suggest that we try them, placing the lower one well off stage with an assistant conductor. It would be wonderful to have a really distant effect, like a monastery bell, an effect only approximated by tubular bells, I feel.


The bells to which he referred were real bells of cast iron that Münch had had built espe- cially for his first Boston performance of Symphonie Fantastique in 1950. In order to use these bells, Barber transposed the score of Prayers of Kierkegaard. Later, for a planned performance which was to be conducted by William Strickland, he instructed:

[On the words Father in Heaven] we used two real bells, not tubulars (weight 250 lbs. each, any pitch will do), the lower in pitch should be off stage and the effect is wonderful if it can be off-stage to the oppo- site side of the on-stage bell (possible in Boston, but not Carnegie). (Letter, January 1955)

Critical Reception:

Olin Downes:

The thoughts of the poetry, the attempt

elemental, so Blake-like in its conception and tonal design, that one wonders whether the pages of the score are symbolic rather than expressive of what can-

not be

has the flavor of plainchant, reshaped, freely recast in forms of our own mod- ern consciousness. Sometimes the music becomes nearly barbaric and in- tensely dramatic in its effect. Polytonality is used freely, logically, with destination. (New York Times, 9 December 1954)

Free-metered recitation in carefully shaped recitative

.of the music, is so far from dogma, so

Paul Henry Lang, of the New York Herald Tribune, found the “cantata” a “seri- ous, moving and convincing piece” and extolled Barber’s impeccable craftsmanship, taste, good judgment, and adeptness at avoiding obvious climaxes by “landing on points of quiescence with stunning surprise.” His reservations about the performance itself—“the choral diction was often cloudy, the orchestra a bit raw, and the soloists, with the exception of Leontyne Price, timid”—echoed Barber’s unhappiness about the performance. Munch, too, was “disgusted with the chorus, inadequately rehearsed,


both in Boston and New York.” (Letter from Barber to Strickland, January 1955) After these performances, Barber made numerous corrections, many of which have been incorporated in the published edition.

CD 5, Tracks 6–8 CONCERTO FOR VIOLIN AND ORCHESTRA, OP. 14 (H-94) original version Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra Albert Spalding - Violin Live - 7 February 1941, The Academy of Music, Philadelphia

6. I. Allegro 10:15

7. II. Andante 8:01

8. III. Presto in moto perpetuo 4:19

About the Recording: This is a recording of the first performance.

Scoring: 2 Fl; 2 Ob; 2 Cl; 2 Bsn; 2 Hn; 2 Tpt; Timp; Tamburo Militaire; Pf; Strings; and Solo Violin.

Origin: In May 1939 Samuel Fels, the Philadelphia soap manufacturer and philanthropist, offered Barber a commission of $1,000 to compose a violin piece for his foster son Iso Briselli, a former classmate of Barber’s and an accomplished virtuoso violinist. The work, for violin and orchestra, was to be of fifteen minutes duration or longer. At that time, Fels gave Barber a check for $500, one-half of the commission, the remainder to be turned over on completion of the finished score on 1

the remainder to be turned over on completion of the finished score on 1 A l

Albert Spalding


Eugene Ormandy October 1939. Barber agreed to give Briselli sole playing rights for a year

Eugene Ormandy

October 1939. Barber agreed to give Briselli sole playing rights for a year of the completion of the score. G. Schirmer waived all performance fees for five pairs of concerts. Barber composed the first two movements of the “con- certino,” as he called it, during the summer of 1939 in Sils Maria, Switzerland. At the end of August, when Americans were warned to leave Europe because of the impending invasion of Poland by the Nazis, Barber re-

turned to the U.S. A recently located letter from Barber to Fels, reveals what transpired with regard to the third movement and the commission:

My dear Mr. Fels:

As you may have already heard, after several weeks of consideration, Iso has decided that the concertino I wrote for him is not exactly what he wanted, and has given it back to me. I am left in a quandary as to what to do about the $500 you already sent me, and which I spent on my expenses of the last three months, while completing this work. I am writing to ask whether you wish me to return the money. At the same time I hope you will allow me to present my side of the pic- ture. I was, as you know, held up in Europe at the outbreak of the war, but im- mediately upon landing September 1st went to the mountains to work [the family cottage, “Hermit,” in the Poconos]. I must confess I was surprised to


see on landing that the first performance was already announced for January:

neither Iso nor Ormandy had told me this had been decided. The middle of Oc- tober I gave Iso the completed first two movements (about 15 minutes of music). At that time he seemed disappointed that they were not of virtuoso character, a bit too easy. I asked him what type of brilliant technique best suited him; he told me he had no preference. At that time he did not apparently dislike the idea of a “perpetual motion” for the last movement. During my father’s illness I worked very hard in far from ideal circum- stances and finished the last movement, the violin part of which I sent to Iso about two months before the scheduled Philadelphia Orchestra premiere. It is difficult, but only lasts four minutes. At the same time I had a violinist from the Curtis [Herbert Baumel] play it for me to see that it was practical and playable. My friends [among whom were Mary Bok, Edith Braun, Menotti, and Vladimir Sokoloff] heard it and liked it, so did I. But Iso did not. His reasons were: 1st, he could not safely learn it for Janu- ary; 2nd, it was not violinistic; 3rd, it did not suit musically the other two move- ments, it seemed rather inconsequential. He wished another movement written. But, I could not destroy a movement in which I have complete confidence, out of artistic sincerity to myself. So we decided to abandon the project, with no hard feelings on either side. I am sorry not to have given Iso what he hoped for. While it is Iso’s complete right not to accept a work he finds unsuitable, I ask myself if the composer who has given four months’time entirely to this work , and who has done his best in submitting a work for which he makes no apology—should not be paid something. I believe this is generally the case when a commissioned work is not accepted by the commissioner. I count on your understanding and generosity, and thank you for consid- eration of this matter. With kindest regards, Sam Barber


This letter presents a view contrary to that previously presented by Barber’s publisher, Nathan Broder. It documents that Barber arranged a trial run-through of the movement, before Briselli expressed his unhappiness with it, not afterward. There is no evidence that Barber received the balance of the commission, but Briselli and Barber remained friends long after they agreed to abandon the commission. The concerto was completed in July, 1940, at Pocono Lake Preserve, Pennsylvania.

First Performances: 7 February l941, Philadelphia. Albert Spalding, vln; Philadelphia Orchestra, cond. Eugene Ormandy. Premiere of the revised version: January 1949, Boston. Ruth Posselt, vln; Boston Symphony Orchestra, cond. Serge Koussevitzky. European premiere: 21 February 1951, Berlin. Charles Turner, vln; Rias-Sym- phonie-Orchester; cond. Samuel Barber.

The Music: Barber described the concerto in the program notes for the premiere performance:

The work is lyric and rather intimate in

gro molto moderato—begins with a lyrical first subject announced at once by the solo violin, without any orchestral introduction. The movement as a whole has perhaps more the character of a sonata than a concerto form. The second movement—andante sostenuto —is introduced by an extended oboe solo. The violin enters with a contrasting and rhapsodic theme, after which it repeats the oboe melody of the beginning. The last movement, a perpetual motion, exploits the more brilliant and virtuoso characteristic of the violin.

.The first movement—alle-

The vitality of the concerto lies in the spare but poignant lyricism of the first move- ment and the poetry of the second movement, those very qualities that are intrinsic to Barber’s strength as a composer. Though predominantly diatonic music, more stringent harmonies are introduced to heighten expressiveness or dramatic tension. The concerto is likely to be played by a performer who aims to display the idiomatic lyrical attributes of the violin rather than virtuosic brilliance. For despite the perpetual


motion last movement, there are no major technical challenges that an experienced vio- linist would find difficult to execute. Even the conventional virtuoso cadenza is absent from the first and last movements, as Barber was reported to have an aversion to caden- zas. Thus the unaccompanied passages in the first movement at m. 181 and at the end of the last movement are more akin to vocal ornaments than bona fide cadenzas. The controversial perpetual-motion third movement has a rondo theme that rarely returns verbatim, more often digressing into virtuosic excursions. It is one of the virtu- ally nonstop concerto movements in the violin literature (the solo instrument plays for 110 measures without interruption). The rondo theme, played by the violin at so breath- less a tempo it almost resembles a technical etude, is supported merely by terse orchestral chords. The movement abruptly climaxes in the penultimate measure with two poly- chordal arpeggios that seem to foreshadow Barber’s tendency towards bolder dissonant harmonies, which increasingly mark his works in the following decade. Barber told the violinist Louis Kaufman, who made the first commercial recording of the concerto, that he preferred a “livelier” tempo for the first movement than what Koussevitzky directed. However, Kaufman’s tempo was still below the metronome mark in the score. Barber’s continuing concern about the tempo of this movement was appar- ent from a comment he made to John Ardoin (“Samuel Barber at Capricorn,” Musical America, March, l960, p. 5): “I wish there might be a good version of my Violin Concerto in which the first movement is not taken too slowly.”

Critical Reception: Newspaper accounts of the premiere report that the concerto scored an “exceptional popular success,” with a “storm of applause showered on both soloist and composer.” Philadelphia critics concurred that Spalding’s performance on his 1755 Guarnerius was “brilliant and sympathetic,” and they gave recognition to Barber’s strength in composing with “unfaltering facility” a concerto “refreshingly free from arbi- trary tricks and musical mannerisms,” a work in which “straight-forwardness and sin- cerity are among its most engaging qualities.” On the other hand, the conservative critic Henry Pleasants faulted the concerto on the texture of the orchestration as “insufficiently contrasted” to the violin tone; he


viewed Barber’s aesthetic is a nineteenth-century one, in which the solo instrument is “an integral part of the whole.” About the last movement, opinion was divided, one critic

finding it “most effective,” another, “thin and not too brilliantly

weak movement.” After the New York premiere, on 11 February 1941,Virgil Thomson wrote that al-

though the concerto “cannot fail to charm by its gracious lyrical plenitude and its com-

the only reason Barber can get away with elementary

musical methods it that his heart is pure.” He continued:

the only

plete absence of tawdry

Barber cannot legitimately be considered a neo-romantic composer, as that term has been understood to represent the dominant Parisian school of the past


poetic are based on

His abstention from ostentatious dissonance and his cult of the

.penetrative esthetic

He is simply an

not the storming, dissonance-mongering, fancily orchestrating

academic we have been used to for some years


but the gentle sweet-singing

we used to have in Edward MacDowell and his brothers Nevin.

CD6, Tracks 1–3 Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14 (H-94) (revised version) Serge Koussevitzky conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra Ruth Posselt - Violin Live - 7 January 1949, Boston, Symphony Hall

1. I. Allegro 10:30

2. II. Andante 9:37

3. III. Presto in moto perpetuo 4:04

About the Recording: This recording is of the first performance of the revised concerto.


The Revised Version: To remedy what Barber considered the weakness of the concerto—an “un- satisfactory climax” in the adagio and some muddy orchestration in the finale—in November 1948 he began revisions in anticipation of the forthcoming performance by Ruth Posselt and the Boston Sym- phony. Few alterations were made to the first movement and none involved the violin part. Sub- tle changes were made to the orchestration in the in- terest of clarifying the texture and tightening the formal structure, A brief cadenza replaced the orig- inal florid ossia passage for solo violin. In the second movement, changes were made to achieve a more transparent orchestral texture. The solo violin underwent minor changes that elicit

a brighter sound .

tory climax,” Barber rewrote the last 20 mm., transferring material from the solo violin to the first violins in the orchestra and deleting woodwind doublings, thus freeing the solo instrument to pay a counterpoint against strings. The passage culmi-

nates in a new, short lyrical cadenza—a cascade of descending triplets that close the movement. In the third movement, small changes were made in the balance of instrumentation; and ten bars of solo violin were cut. A noticeable reworking of the piano part in the sec- ond half of the movement preserves its role as a percussion instrument. Toward the end of the movement a glissando is added for the piano, flute and piccolo, which enhances the brilliance of the orchestration and prepares for the final climax.

Ruth Posselt & Serge Koussevitzky

orchestration and prepares for the final climax. Ruth Posselt & Serge Koussevitzky To achieve “a more

To achieve “a more satisfac-


CD 6, Tracks 4–6 CAPRICORN CONCERTO, Op. 21 [H-109] Samuel Barber conducting the CBS Orchestra Julius Baker - Flute, Mitchell Miller - Oboe, Harry Freistadt - Trumpet Live – 2 May 1945, WABC “Invitation to Music” program [Source: Broadcast transcription discs of the 20 June 1945 rebroadcast]

4. I. Allegro ma non troppo 6:35

5. II. Allegretto 2:50

6. III. Allegro con brio 4:31

5. II. Allegretto 2:50 6. III. Allegro con brio 4:31 Barber during WWII Scoring: Solo Flute,

Barber during WWII

Scoring: Solo Flute, Oboe, and Trum- pet (in C; alternately, a B-flat Tpt may be used, and is indispensable in the 2nd mov’t); Strings

Origin: Completed 8 September 1944. After the success of the Second Sym- phony, Barber was able to realize his goal of continuing to compose without restriction during his military service. He had approached Daniel Saidenberg, then head of the Music Department of the Office of War Information (O.W.I.),

which produced musical recordings into which propaganda material was later inserted. In an effort to show the “Allied, neutral, and enemy nations that the United States was not lacking in culture,” Saidenberg selected and recorded live performances of concert music to be broadcast overseas and thought it important to have a “world famous composer” on the staff (author’s interview with


Saidenberg, 7 June 1985). Walter Damrosch, too, advocated on behalf of Barber to General Matthew Arnold:

I consider Barber one of the most gifted American composers. I hope he may be permitted by Army authorities to continue his creative work.

On 21 March 1944, Barber expressed his appreciation to Damrosch:

I am awaiting their decision, having suggested to them an assignment to the

Music Department of OWI in New York. I feel that I would be of some help there and a job is open: at the same time I should be allowed to continue some composing of my own. It seems to me I’m just getting into stride as a composer and I don’t want to slip.

Barber’s assignment to OWI was confirmed on 1 May 1944, one month before the Anglo-American invasion of Western Europe. As he was the only composer employed by the office—and even though he was not required to punch a time clock and could retreat to Mount Kisco most of the time to write music—his correspondence to William Strickland documents that he was kept busy with recording sessions for overseas broadcasts. Capricorn Concerto was composed for Saidenberg and as a tribute to Barber’s and Menotti’s home in Mount Kisco, New York, which Mary Curtis Bok had helped them purchase in 1943. The house, a modern chalet, was designed earlier by the Swiss archi- tect William Lescaze and met the requirements of the two composers—a studio apiece, each large enough for a grand piano, and far enough away from each other so that they would not be hearing double when both were at work. Named “Capricorn” because it re- ceived sun year round, the house overlooked Croton Lake and far hills and provided a refuge for Barber, who admittedly needed the absolute silence of the country to compose.

First Performance: 8 October 1944, New York, Town Hall, John Wummer, Fl; Mitchell Miller, Ob; Harry Freistadt, Tpt; Saidenberg Little Symphony, cond. Daniel Saidenberg.


In December 1945, three months after the war had ended, Barber sent the score and parts of Capricorn Concerto to the cultural attaché of the American Embassy in Paris, “in case anyone there would like to perform it.” Six months later he was invited to a meeting of international musicians in Prague; while there he conducted the Czech Radio Orchestra in Capricorn Concerto and the suite from Medea. He wrote to his publisher, Gustave Schirmer, on 11 June 1946:

It was a good idea to go there. The best Russian, French, and English musi-

cians had come, the first real meeting of artists since the

This was the

first time the Russian musicians had met an American composer— indeed, any

foreign composer—and we had three weeks together


They are crazy to know about American music, want more of it, and I found

their reactions to Bernstein’s American concert quite interesting.

The Music: The first movement, in rondo form, has five shifts of tempo between allegro and andante con moto. Like in earlier works, material from the introduction dominates the progress of the movement, including a slow-moving, lyrical three-voice fugue. In the second movement, oboe and trumpet, or flute and oboe, cheerfully march along in dotted rhythms over a pizzicato viola continuo. A trumpet fanfare in the third movement surely alludes to Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2. Barber’s note to Henry-Louis de La Grange (5 December 1945) provides a perspec- tive on the style of Capricorn Concerto: “It’s hard to explain, and you may find this music rather new for me, but it is in a sense decorative, slightly baroque à la Branden- burg Concerto, less romantic.” Sidney Homer described the concerto as “an abstract conversation of angels, who seem to understand each other.” Their tonal language is contemporary—the use of chords with added tones and other coloristic devices (polychords, for example) often obscures the harmony at any given moment. Rhythmically, too, the piece represents a new direction for Barber. Seldom does any regularity of the underlying meter continue for long: frequent and sudden shifts from divisions of 2 to 3 and between 8, 12, 5, and 9 provide rhythmic vigor,


suggesting the nervous dance-generated syncopations of Copland’s orchestral music. One cannot fail to take in the strong influence of Stravinsky in this work, especially with regard to timbres and textures, rhythmic freedom, and treatment of solo woodwinds. The third movement most certainly evokes the spirit of the trumpet march in Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat. In fact, in 1966, Leonard Bernstein included Capricorn Concerto on the opening con- certs of a Stravinsky festival program titled “Stravinsky and American Music.”

Critical Reception: Lou Harrison’s review of the premiere, in Modern Music, presents a promising appraisal of Barber at midcareer:

Samuel Barber’s new Capricorn Concerto is a brilliant work, and takes the cake for orchestration this month. The charming combinations he achieves with the wind concertino are very telling indeed and produce a bubbling opalescence. The music is well-worked, although very Stravinskian, and makes

intentional use of that old academic bugaboo, the general pause, Actually Bar- ber has done an obvious but seldom thought of thing. When he comes to the end of a section of material, instead of making the fluid and highly professional transition into the next idea, he simply stops. Dead silence for a fraction of a second, and then everything begins at once with the new material already in

Barber has tremendous techni- .If he ever catches up with

himself , he certainly will be a composer of power and interest.

full action. The device is effective and cal grasp and an essential urge to expression

In Chicago, Capricorn Concerto was an unqualified success. The critic Cecil M. Smith wrote:

While there can be no doubt that Barber has observed what Stravinsky had to show younger composers, he nevertheless invents his own themes, maintains them with his own special kind of rhythmic urgency, and orchestrates them with his own pointed economy. More than most of his contemporaries, Barber


understands the difference between beginning, middle, and end. He evolves movements out of new material, which are reasonable, consecutive, and emula- tive, and he does not distain to be friendly or communicative along the way.

CD 6, Tracks 7–9 CONCERTO FOR VIOLONCELLO AND ORCHESTRA, OP. 22 (H-112) Zara Nelsova - Violoncello Samuel Barber conducting the New Symphony Orchestra of London From London Decca LPS 332 Recorded 11 December 1950, Kingsway Hall, London

7. I. Allegro moderato 11:30

8. II. Andante sostenuto 6:51

9. III. Molto allegro e appassionato 9:07

sostenuto 6:51 9. III. Molto allegro e appassionato 9:07 Scoring: 2 Fl; Ob; Eng Hn; 2

Scoring: 2 Fl; Ob; Eng Hn; 2 Cl (B-flat, A); Bass Cl; 2 Bsn; 2 Fr Hn; 3 Tpt; Timp, Snare Dr; Strings; solo Vlc. Origin: Commissioned by John Nicholas Brown for Raya Garbousova for a fee of $1,000. Dedication: To John and Anne Brown. Completed at Capricorn 27 November l945. Letters to Sidney Homer (17 March 1945 and 17 December 1945) document that the concerto was begun in March l945, while Barber was working at OWI; it was completed three weeks prior to 17 December l945.


An amateur cellist himself, Brown was the first non-Bostonian trustee of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. A longtime patron and friend of Garbousova, he gave her one of the great Stradivarius violoncellos, the “Archinto” (1689). Originally, Koussevitzky suggested that Garbousova commission a work from Bohuslav Martinů, but Brown preferred Barber for the commission: “Of all the composers I considered asking to write a cello concerto, I feel sure that you are the one most fitted for the task,” he wrote to Barber in November 1945.

First Performance: 5 April 1946, Symphony Hall, Boston. Raya Garbousova, vlc; Boston Symphony Orchestra, cond. Serge Koussevitzky.

First performance of revised version: December 1950, Kingsway Hall, London; Zara Nelsova, vlc; New Symphony Orchestra, cond. Samuel Barber. 29–31 January 1959.

The Music: Before embarking on composition of the concerto, Barber had Garbousova play through her entire repertory—including etudes, caprices, and other works that ex- plored the whole range of the fingerboard—in order to demonstrate her particular technical resources and the potential of the instrument. Their collaboration established a pattern that Barber would repeat with other musicians, so that he might write to their predilections and use the complete resources of their particular instrument. Garbousova had a reputation for enjoying the high registers of the cello, departing from the notion that, in her words, “the only way to break somebody’s heart was to vibrate on the C string.” The Cello Concerto is acknowledged as one of the most challenging works in contem- porary cello literature. Leonard Rose believed it was the most difficult concerto he ever played. Astonishing ascents to the extreme registers of the instrument, sudden wide descend- ing leaps, sweeping runs and arpeggios interspersed with pizzicato and harmonics, multiple stops, and complicated rhythmic patterns contribute to the technical demands of the work. The concerto is in three movements: Allegro, Andante, and Allegro. The first movement is a loosely structured sonata form with a double exposition, but divisions between sections are diffused because of a continuous developmental texture. With the succinctness that is characteristic of Barber, within the first twenty-five measures


all the material that forms the basis for the movement is presented by the orchestra. The solo cello enters with a cadenzalike solo discourse—a warm-up soliloquy as it were— based on a triplet motive from the earlier orchestral introduction. This cadenza, placed so early in the movement, may seem out of character with Barber’s professed aversion to cadenzas, but here it serves a musical function rather than merely providing a display of virtuosity for the soloist. In this sense it foreshadows the opening solilo- quy of Barber’s Piano Concerto, written two decades later. The second movement spins a sad and romantically tender siciliana in canon between the cello and orchestra in a set of free variations. A long, descending cantilena is cast against the siciliana theme; both themes are worked out imitatively by cello and orchestra. The third movement, a kind of rondo-fantasy, has a restless theme characterized by a persistently reiterated descending semitone and an arpeggiated seventh chord. There are many discursive cello passages based on thematic or, in some cases, new material. Twice the mood is contrasted by interpolations of a sombre, dirgelike theme over a ground bass. The dramatic tension of the finale is accentuated by the argumentative nature of the dia- logue between the solo instrument and orchestra.

Critical Reception: Although Boston review of premiere were tepid—describing the work as “nervous and jittery,” one critic saw a triumph for Barber in the “brilliant and probably idiomatic treatment of the solo instrument.” This comment confirms that Bar- ber’s method of working with Garbousova was effective. The cellist’s performance was declared unanimously brilliant. One critic commended her style as a “distaff version of Piatigorsky, with emotional fervidity, pure tone and wonderful technique.” In New York, Virgil Thomson generously praised the work:

It is full of thought about musical

devices for accompanying the instrument without drowning it. And full of rea-

sonably good

sustained structure is musical, masterful, thoughtful, and not without a certain Brahms-like grandeur.

full of ingenious orchestral

.The working up of these into a richly romantic, well-


Olin Downes commended Barber’s directness and confidence of manner, especially showering praise on the middle movement:

It grows in melodic interest and in intensity of mood, and for its coda, a young

American composer dares to express himself is remarkable for its structure, even tragical.

.The last movement

Barber was awarded the Fifth Annual Award of the Music Critics Circle for the con- certo as “exceptional among orchestra compositions performed for the first time in New York City during the concert season.” The following year, however, on a second listening of the concerto conducted by

Mitropoulos, Downes found the concerto “overlong for its contents, with many good melodic ideas but not enough physiognomy.” Barber brooded over this review—“It is such a difficult problem to balance the solo cello (with all of its limitations of sonority) and orchestra”— and ultimately made revisions that achieve greater transparency in the orchestral score, thus producing a leaner texture and lessening the competition between the solo cello and the orchestra, especially in the first movement. The revised score was published in 1950 and recorded by Zara Nelsova that same year (CD#6, tracks 7,8,9) with Barber conducting (see below, “The Decca FFRR Record-


different work.” After hearing Nelsova, he commented, “for the first

He was pleased with the revision, and felt they made the concerto “an altogether

I heard the

first movement fast enough.” (Letter to Sidney Homer)

The Decca Recordings: The composer as conductor In order to meet the challenge of conducting his own music for the London FFRR (Decca) recordings of the Cello Concerto, the Second Symphony, and the Orchestral

Suite Medea, Op. 23, Barber took a series of lessons with the Danish conductor Nicolai Malko, beginning with a week in New York and then continuing in Copenhagen early

1951. Malko had hired musicians from the Danish Opera for Barber’s practice sessions.

Barber’s goal was to be secure in the three works but not go over budget. Because


he knew there was not enough time in Denmark to work out some of the more difficult passages, he engaged Malko to come to the London recording sessions and continue coaching him for a fee of $25 a lesson per day. He had been engaged to conduct the same works in Berlin and Frankfurt after the first of the year, where he would be on his own. In Denmark he found his interest in Malko’s lessons “unflagging”: “I consider him a teacher in the great line of Scalero and Vengerova,” he wrote to Sidney Homer. With the exception of “two frightfully difficult places in Medea,he said he “felt happy con- ducting them; occasionally even conducting, that is making music as opposed to mere time-beating.” After one rehearsal, spent entirely on the Second Symphony, Malko congratulated him. Barber wrote, “He said that for every minute of the rehearsal I knew exactly what I wanted and so did the orchestra.”

In London, he had two days of piano rehearsals with Nelsova and was optimistic: “She did what I wanted and played it beautifully indeed, with imposing tone and better intonation than Raya.” Two days of re- hearsals were held with the Decca recording orchestra, and a third day of three sessions at Kingsway Hall where they would make the records—“a very old wooden auditorium, now used as a sort of mission home, but they still con- sider it the finest hall from the point of view of acoustics and for recording,” he wrote to Homer. As Barber’s works were to- tally unknown to the orchestra and had to be learned technically from scratch,

orchestra and had to be learned technically from scratch, Barber rehearsing the Second Symphony (revised version)

Barber rehearsing the Second Symphony (revised version)

it was “nerve-wracking work” to


record all three works in four days. He reported his experience to his uncle:

I went out on the stage with that queasy feeling which every artist knows so .but my fears were soon dispelled by the excellence and malleability of the orchestra, carefully chosen for the recording. I was told that many of the men did not regularly play in symphonies but were chamber music players of high caliber. Only the brass and pianist—especially the latter—and I had re- peatedly warned them from America—left something to be desired.

Nevertheless, Barber wrote:

The English engineers, who are supposed to be the finest in their profession and were hidden with their machines in a room somewhere behind the organ pipes, managed to give a sense of calm which one does not feel making records in America. A calm British voice saying, “Carry on” does much to assuage the terror engendered by that little red light which means the tapes or disks are turn- ing. A telephone on my music desk would give me private instructions from the engineer, and as soon as we made a record, we would go behind stage, have a sort of Salvation Army tea, and discuss the merits or demerits of the playbacks.”

The results of the recording sessions were beyond all Barber’s expectations. He wrote to his family:

I am absolutely delighted about the whole venture. Acoustically they are su-

perb. As you may know, London FFRR has the highest technical standard of record-making extant today, and they told me they are using a new improve- ment for the first time on my records in order to improve them further; and that after each session the same engineers go back to the studio and work until mid- night improving my recordings. When I went to hear the records they seemed enthusiastic and as delighted


as I was. Mr. Olaf, the head musical director, says I am the only composer he knows—and he knows them all—who can conduct his own music and wishes me to do further work for them.

The final word came from Barber’s coach, Nicolai Malko: “The hall is very cold, but Bar- ber makes the orchestra not only very hot, but even warm, which is much more difficult.”

CD 7 Tracks 1–4 SONATA FOR VIOLONCELLO AND PIANO, OP. 6 (H-65) Orlando Cole - Violoncello Vladimir Sokoloff - Piano Live - Curtis Hall, The Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia 28 January 1973

1. Spoken introduction by Orlando Cole 0:57

2. I. Allegro ma non troppo 8:48

3. II. Adagio 4:04

4. III. Allegro appassionato 5:58

Origin: Completed 9 December 1932 (Source A).

Dedication: To my teacher, Rosario Scalero. Begun in Cadegliano, summer 1932, the sonata is the last work Barber composed under Rosario Scalero’s tutelage. Within two weeks, having completed the first movement and working on the scherzo section of the second, Barber wrote to his parents:

Maestro looked over my cello sonata and thinks I am always making progress. I wrote it entirely without piano, and next Sunday Domenico is bringing the


first cellist of La Scala Orchestra to Cadegliano to play it (30 July 1932).

The cellist Orlando Cole’s edition bears the inscription: To Orlando, physician at the birth of this sonata in appreciation of his help and interest, Samuel Barber, seven years late. This suggests the importance of the relationship between the composer and Cole, which es- tablished a pattern that would repeat throughout Barber’s career—that of enlisting the coop- eration of the performer in order to familiarize himself with idioms and scope of virtuosic possibilities of a particular instrument. When Barber returned to school in the fall, he showed the partially completed sonata to Cole, and as he continued working on the piece the two met weekly to go over new material, with Cole playing and offering suggestions, usually about notation, that were incorporated in to the score. The title page on a holograph score at the Library of Congress bears the inscription:

Sonata for Violoncello and Piano / Samuel Barber to be considered for Pulitzer scholar- ship or Bearns prize.

to be considered for Pulitzer scholar- ship or Bearns prize. Vladimir Sokoloff & Orlando Cole in

Vladimir Sokoloff & Orlando Cole in 1976. Photo: Jules Schick; courtesy The Curtis Institute of Music, Collection: Photographs

First Performance: 5 March 1933, League of Composers con- cert, New York City, French Insti- tute. Orlando Cole, vlc; Samuel Barber, pf.

The Music:

The thematic material in the first movement, especially the turbulent opening and the lyrical second theme, betrays the influence of Brahms, with whose cello sonatas Barber was thoroughly familiar. Yet Bar- ber’s personal style is not by any


means submerged. While the sonata is Romantic in spirit, it is generally viewed as hav- ing some contemporary features, especially with regard to its complex rhythmic struc- tures and the dynamic balance of key relationships. The presto section of the second movement is challenging to the performer because there are many shifts between duple and triple meter as well as conflicting rhythms between the piano and cello that occur at brutally rapid tempos.

Critical Reception: A review in Musical America noted that “The composer places to his credit that he never forgets that the instrument he is writing for was intended to sing and he gives it ample opportunity to do so,” Cole himself, some fifty years after the work was composed, said: “It takes advantage of the best qualities of the instrument.” Another critic (unnamed) found that the sonata revealed an individual approach throughout “without any of the intellectual striving after originality which is characteris- tic of most of the efforts of our younger moderns.”

CD7 Tracks 5–7 STRING QUARTET IN B MINOR, OP. 11 (H-88), original version The Curtis Quartet:

Jascha Brodsky and Charles Jaffe - Violins Max Aronoff – Viola; Orlando Cole - Cello

Live -14 March 1938, Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia

5. I. Molto allegro e

appassionato 9:06

6. II. Adagio 7:06

7. III. Molto adagio-Presto 4:55

About the Recording: This recording of the Quartet in B minor, Op. 11, preceded by one day the first public performance of the original version of the complete quartet at Town Hall, New York.


Scoring: 2 Vln, Vla, Vlc.

Origin: Begun in May 1936 at the American Academy in Rome. Dedication: To Louise and Sidney Homer In May 1936, while on a fel- lowship in Europe, Barber wrote to the cellist Orlando Cole:

lowship in Europe, Barber wrote to the cellist Orlando Cole: The Curtis String Quartet ca. 1938.

The Curtis String Quartet ca. 1938. Courtesy The Curtis Institute of Music;

Collection: Photographs

I have vague quartet- tish rumblings in my innards, and need a bit of celestial Ex Lax to restore my equilib-

rium; there is nothing to do but get at it, and I will send the excrements to you by registered mail by mid-August.

From May to November, Barber and Gian Carlo Menotti lived in a game-warden’s cottage in the little village of St. Wolfgang, high up in the mountains near a forest over- looking a lake. That summer was described by Barber as “perfection” and by Menotti as the kind of summer when “you have to stop in the middle of the day and say to yourself, ‘This is too wonderful!’” Barber had hoped to finish the quartet in time for the Curtis String Quartet to play it on their European tour. But progress on the work was slow, perhaps partly because Barber was haunted by ghosts of past masters—at that time he was particularly enamored with the instrumentation of Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll. He wrote to his teacher Rosario Scalero,

How beautiful the instrumentation of “The Idyll” is! And of course I



I have started a string quartet: but how difficult it

is! It seems to me that because we have so assiduously forced our personalities on Music—on Music, who never asked for them!—we have lost elegance; and if we cannot recapture elegance, the quartet form has escaped us forever. It is a struggle.”

In September, with uncanny prescience about a work that in its orchestral arrange- ment—the Adagio for Strings—would be considered one of the sublime masterpieces of the twentieth century, Barber wrote again to Cole, “ I have just finished the slow move- ment of my quartet today—it’s a knockout! Now for a finale.” Although the third movement was completed by the end of October 1936, Barber’s effort to give the first performance to the Curtis group failed. The Pro Arte Quartet had been engaged to play it at the American Academy and were already rehearsing the first two movements. Barber was so uneasy about the third movement that he withdrew it im- mediately after the concert for revision. Further work on the movement was delayed when Barber returned to the States to attend the premiere of his first symphony. Prodding him further about the quartet, Sidney Homer urged his nephew not to let anything stop his work in this form:

You make the four instruments sound gigantic,” he wrote, “I also want from you the greatest intimacy in spirit. If Mozart could trust and love his listener, so can you.” Subsequently, the Curtis Quartet performed only the first two movements at a pri- vate concert at the Institute on 7 March 1937 in honor of Barber’s birthday. The two movements of the “unfinished quartet” were viewed by a Philadelphia critic as


effects better suited to orchestral expression. The slow movement succeeded in evoking mood, but suffered from repetitiousness.

in the opening allegro, Mr. Barber seemed to be seeking

Ironically, it was of course the second movement that ultimately achieved the greatest recognition.


First Performances:

Premiere: 14 December 1936, Villa Aurelia, American Academy, Rome; Pro Arte Quartet. First performance in U.S.: 20 April 1937, Washington, D.C., for the Friends of Music in the Library of Congress, the Gordon Quartet. First public performance in U.S.: 15 March 1938, New York, Town Hall; Curtis String Quartet: Jascha Brodsky, Charles Jaffe, vlns; Max Aronoff, vla; Orlando Cole, vlc.

The Music

The quartet opens with an energetic unison presentation of the primary theme that seems to evoke the spirit—if not the shape—of Beethoven’s Op. 18, No. 1, or of Op. 95. A sec- ond, choralelike theme is followed by a more lyrical section. The development is continu- ous, pervading the movement. The musicologist Kenneth Nott observes that the second movement of the quartet (as well as its arrangement for string orchestra, Adagio for Strings)—was influenced by Barber’s “encounter” with seventeenth-century music in Vienna during the winter of

1934. He notes the similarities between Barber’s works and Purcell’s Fantasias for

strings in their reliance on suspensions and cross relations. Barber’s use of these two ex-

pressive devices conforms to Baroque and Renaissance practices. The harmony of the Adagio for Strings occupies a territory somewhere between modality and tonality. The original third movement, on this recording, was eventually discarded. It centers on a cheerful rondo in F# major, introduced by an andante mosso, un poco agitato pas- sage in B minor. Sprightly in character and more than four times as long as the revised version that we know today, this original version seems an unbalanced conclusion to the dramatically taut first movement and the elegiac second. The revisions, probably completed probably by the end of 1938, provide a cohe- siveness and integrity of design that strengthen the work. The new “third movement”— indicated in the G. Schirmer 1943 edition as molto allegro (come prima)—contains material taken from the ending of the original first movement, thus creating a cyclical form. It follows without pause the Adagio.


Critical Reception: After hearing the Curtis Quartet play the three movements on March 15, 1938, Howard Taubman remarked that the work “combines sincerity of purpose, freshness of feeling, and a capacity to realize one’s ideas,” the first movement in particu- lar displaying “virility and dramatic impact” and the second movement, “the finest of the work,” being “deeply felt and written with economy, resourcefulness, and distinction.” Like Barber, he believed the shortcomings were in the last movement, “a scrappy work- ing out of unexciting ideas.” Perhaps it was the lackluster appraisal of this movement that convinced Barber to withdraw the finale once more and rewrite it altogether.

CD 7, tracks 8–11 FOUR EXCURSIONS, OP. 20 [H-108] Rudolf Firkusny - Piano From Columbia LP ML-2174 Recorded 17 November 1950, Columbia 30th Street Studios, New York

8. I. Un poco allegro 2:47

9. II. In slow blues tempo 3:33

10. III. Allegretto 2:23

11. IV. Exuberant and joyous barn dance 1:51

About the Recording: Barber’s enthusiasm about Firkusny’s performance of these pieces is expressed in a letter to his Uncle Sidney Homer (see Critical Reception, below).

Origin: I, completed June 1942; II and IV, completed 16 June 1944; III, completed September, 1944. In the years surrounding World War II there was a trend among American composers to write piano music reflecting popular influence. Barber once remarked lightly that he wrote Excursions just to prove he could write American music. The work was prompted by his classmate and longtime friend, the pianist Jeanne Behrend, who promoted American


music on her recitals throughout the United and States and Latin America.

First Performances:

I: May 1944, Jeanne Behrend, pf, WQXR. I, II, and IV: 4 January 1945, Vladimir Horowitz, pf, Academy of Music, Philadelphia; 28 March New York, Carnegie Hall. (An article

in the West Chester Daily Local News states that Horowitz first played the pieces in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Washington, D.C., before the Philadel- phia performance.) The blues’ movement had a tepid reception by one critic, which may have been due to the Russian pianist’s unfamiliarity with American genres. Earlier, Barber had written to Behrend (22 July 1944): “I had Schirmers send

[Horowitz] a copy [of the score]

can’t figure out how to play the blues. Prefers the last one.”

He says he

how to play the blues. Prefers the last one.” He says he Rudolf Firkusny, 1946 I,

Rudolf Firkusny, 1946

I, II, and IV: 18 January 1946, Rudolf Firkusny, pf, New York.

I, II, III, IV: 21 November 1947, Nadia Reisenberg, Carnegie Hall. 22 December 1948, Jeanne Behrend, pf, New York Times Hall, “Concert of American Piano Music,” a benefit for the purchase of manuscripts of Louis Moreau Gottschalk for the American Music Collection in the New York Public Library.

The Music:

Barber’s introduction to the G. Schirmer 1945 edition reads:


These are “Excursions” in small classical forms into regional American id- ioms. Their rhythmic characteristics, as well as their source in folk material and their scoring, reminiscent of local instruments, are easily recognized.

The words classical forms and rhythmic characteristics that are reminiscent illumi- nate Barber’s intentions. For, rather than parody, he seems to have had in mind stylized concert pieces, refined and elaborated versions that compare to their sources in much the same way Stravinsky’s Piano-Rag-Music does to popular prototypes.

No. 1:

A “boogie-woogie” rhythm is established through the repeated “walking

bass” figurations in 8-bar phrases, interrupted by measures of irregular beats, “blue notes,” syncopations, and unexpected dissonances (“crushed notes”) —polite discords, as it were, compared to the real thing.

No. 2: In slow blues tempo. The relation to the blues style is reinforced by typical harmonic progressions and melodic features.

This set of variations over an ostinato bass, with a theme similar

No. 3: Allegretto.

to the cowboy song “The Streets of Laredo,” bears rhythmic similarities to Latin Ameri-

can popular music, especially dance music. No. 4: Opening block chords and exclusive use of tonic and sub-dominant har- monies suggest those of the harmonica with melodic patterns indigenous to fiddle-play- ing in a barn dance.

Critical Reception: After hearing Rudolf Firkusny play Excursions, six months after the end of W.W. II, at an international meeting of musicians in Prague, Barber wrote to his publisher, Rudolf Schirmer:

After Firkusny played my “Excursions” at his piano concert I could have sold a hundred copies on the spot! Of course they all want the Schirmer agency. (letter, 11 June 1946)


CD 7 tracks 12–17 SOUVENIRS, Op. 28 (H-119) Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale, Duo Pianos From Columbia LP ML-4855 Recorded 15 August 1952

12. Tempo di waltz 3:39

13. Schottisch 2:09

14. Adagio 4:17

15. Two-Step 1:40

16. Hesitation Tango 3:06

17. Galop 2:09

Scoring: Originally for piano four-hands. Arrangements: Two-pianos; piano solo; orches- tral suite, for concert hall and as a ballet.

solo; orches- tral suite, for concert hall and as a ballet. Arthur Gold & Robert Fizdale

Arthur Gold & Robert Fizdale

Origin: Written in 1952, for Barber and Charles Turner to play together, piano-four hands. In 1950 Turner was introduced to Barber by Gore Vidal at the Palm Court of the Plaza Hotel in 1950. One of Turner’s and Barber’s favorite haunts was the Blue Angel Club, where they would often listen to a two-piano team, Edie and Rack, play sophisti- cated arrangements of popular and Broadway show music. Encouraged by Turner to write something in a similarly light vein, Barber wrote the 4-hands version of Souvenirs, which they often played at parties. The genesis of the orchestral version was described by Barber himself in the preface to the miniature orchestra score, 1954:

In 1952 I was writing some duets for one piano to play with a friend [Charles Turner], and Lincoln Kirstein suggested that I orchestrate them for a ballet. Commissioned by the Ballet Society, the suite consists of a


waltz, schottische, pas de deux, two-step, hesitation tango, and gallop. One might imagine a divertissement in a setting reminiscent of the Palm Court of the Hotel Plaza in New York, the year about 1914, epoch of the first tangos; “Souvenirs”— remembered with affection, not in irony or with tongue in cheek, but in amused tenderness. / S.B.

First Performances:

Four-hand version: Private performances by Charles Turner and Samuel Barber. Two-piano version: 11 March 1953, Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale, Museum of Mod- ern Art, New York City. Orchestral Suite: 12 November 1953, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, cond. Fritz Reiner. Ballet: 15 November 1955, New York City Ballet; chor. Todd Bolender; design, Rouben Ter-Artounian; dancers, Todd Bolender, Jillana, Herbert Bliss, Roy Tobias, Irene Larsson (vamp); Carolyn George, Jonathan Watt, John Madia, and Robert Barnett. Television premiere as ballet with two-pianos: 12 January 1959, NBC-TV, Bell Tele- phone Hour, “Adventures in Music,” New York City Ballet; Janet Reed, vamp; Jonathan Watts and Marian Horosko, tea-dancing couple; Roy Tobias and Roland Vasquez, men- about-town; Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale, pianists.

The Music: Barber arranged this two-piano version, but it was edited by Gold and Fiz- dale, and, like its predecessor, is in 6 movements. Although the original version for four hands put more emphasis on the primo part, in this version both pianists share the domi- nant musical themes and virtuosity. Moreover, the ending has been extended several measures and displays more bravura. Barber’s attitude toward these pieces is suggested by this letter he wrote to Sidney Homer while he was working on the orchestration for the ballet:

I have taken your advice to do something enjoyable and have finished a ballet score for Balanchine (the best choreographer) which gave me great pleasure to compose. Very light. A waltz, schottische, galoppe,


tango, pas de deux, and two-step. Think of that coming out of your seri-

ousminded West Chester Presbyterian

and will be done by the City Center Ballet next season. It will take place circa 1910, but neither story nor title is set yet. I shall do the scoring in Europe, for that is something that can be done in hotels.

.It will be for the whole

Even before he finished the ballet score, he spent time with dancers who would eventu- ally perform Souvenirs: Balanchine, Nora Kaye, Jerome Robbins, and Tanaquil LeClercq. After the conclusion of the IMC meetings, he worked on the score in Ireland at Castle Glenveagh, as a guest of Henry McIlhenny:

There are two towers in the castle, six drawing rooms, with fires always burning; so I confiscated one at once and messed it up p.d.q. with orches- tration, paper, and pencils, et al, announcing that I would see no one until lunch time; and I worked very well every day and almost finished two numbers of the ballet; lots of fun working on it. (SB to his family, 4 July 1952)

Critical Reception: Reviews of the recording of Gold and Fizdale suggest that Souvenirs

was recognized as salon music: “an exceedingly lightweight

to the cute: it is almost a pure recreation of the past with the crudities and vulgarities lost

in a happy sentimental haze.” “The six sections of the new Barber work

lack of inventiveness”; “airy gracious, inventive and lighthearted”; and “a facile trifle.” As a ballet the work was greeted as one of the funniest and most perceptive ballets

of the season.

.but it never resorts

show no


CD 8, Track 1 DOVER BEACH, OP. 3 (H-63) 7:50 Samuel Barber - Baritone The Curtis String Quartet Jascha Brodsky & Charles Jaffe - Violins Max Aronoff – Viola; Orlando Cole - Cello From Victor-8998. Recorded 13 May 1935

Text: Matthew Arnold (1822–1888), “Dover Beach,” The sea is calm tonight, The tide is full, the moon lies fair Upon the straits;—on the French coast the light Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand, Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay. Come to the window, sweet is the night air!

Only, from the long line of spray Where the sea meets the moon-branched land, Listen! you hear the grating roar Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling, At their return, up the high strand, Begin, and cease, and then again begin, With tremulous cadence slow, and bring The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow Of human misery; we Find also in the sound a thought,

Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled. But now I only hear Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, Retreating, to the breath Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true To one another! For the world, which seems To lie before us like a land of dreams, So various, so beautiful, so new, Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light. Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain; And we are here as on a darkling plain Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Scoring: Medium voice and string quartet.

Origin: Completed 7 May 1931. Composed during winter 1931, Dover Beach foreshadows the restlessness and distraction the young composer experienced during his Italian summer of 1931, when he wrestled with self- doubts about previously unquestioned career goals. The song may well have represented a personal statement about his vulnerability as he emerged from the protective cocoon of his childhood into the adult world. The dark side of Barber’s personality, in contrast to the charming affability known to his friends at Curtis, finds eloquent expression in Dover Beach.


First Performances: 12 May 1932, Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia. Rose Bamp- ton, mezzo-sop; James Bloom and Frances Weiner, vlns; Arthur Granick, vla; Samuel Geschichter, vlc. First public performance: 5 March 1933, French Institute, League of Composers concert, New York. Rose Bampton, contralto, New York Art Quartet.

The Music: Perhaps no other work of Barber’s student years more eloquently expresses the sensitive and penetrating design of melancholy so characteristic of Barber’s musical style than does his setting of Victorian poet Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach. Many years later, in 1978, after having endured personal and professional disap-

pointments, Barber professed that the poem still held validity for him: “It’s extremely pes- simistic” he said, “the emotions seem contemporary.” A striking feature of the song is the use of especially effective musical imagery. Barber establishes time and place immediately in the miraculous setting of the opening

Here, the voice and first violin float languorously over a

shimmering, slow tremolo of bare open fifths and fourths, suggesting gently lapping waves. In the central section the mood of restlessness that is expressed in the words is heightened musically through abrupt chromatic and enharmonic modulations to keys re- mote from the D-minor tonality. So thoroughly had Barber’s rigorous studies in counterpoint with Scalero been ab- sorbed that the expressive nuance of the poem is conveyed spontaneously and unselfcon- sciously, with surprising maturity for a composer of twenty-one. His interest in 16 th -century Italian vocal music, Gesualdo, among others seems to find a voice in this work: the relation- ship between voice and instruments, points of imitation that coincide with beginnings of text lines, alternating homophonic and contrapuntal fabric all suggest a quasi-motet style.

words, The sea is calm tonight.

About this recording: On 4 February 1935, Barber had made his nationwide debut as a singer on the NBC Music Guild series. Charles O’Connell, of RCA Victor Record Company, hearing the broadcast, asked Barber to do the recording of Dover Beach himself. “I am secretly delighted to be able to do my own interpretation,” Barber wrote to Cole, March 1935.


Nevertheless, he found the recording session “nerve-wracking.” As it was recorded on 78-rpm discs and the whole song had to fit on two sides, if someone made a mistake, the performers had to go back to the beginning. Barber recalled:

I ran out of voice after the third

time. When we finally got a good performance, the second violinist hit his music stand with his bow.

So you hear this little “ting,” like

a triangle. But I wasn’t about to

sing the piece again, so that “clink” is still on the record. (Kozinn, “Samuel Barber: The Last Interview and the Legacy,” High Fidelity, July 1981).

Regarding performance practice, some fifty years later, Barber said, “The difficulty with Dover Beach is that nobody is boss—not the singer, not the string quartet. It’s chamber music.” (quoted in the G. Schirmer edition,


music.” (quoted in the G. Schirmer edition, 1936). The Curtis String Quartet with Samuel Barber, Rome,

The Curtis String Quartet with Samuel Barber, Rome, 1936. Courtesy The Curtis Institute of Music Collection: Photographs

Critical Reception: The song gained high

praise from Ralph Vaughan Williams when Barber sang it for him privately at Bryn Mawr College in 1932: “I tried several times to set ‘Dover Beach,’but you really got it!” said the older composer.



8, Track 2

KNOXVILLE: SUMMER OF 1915, OP. 24 (H-114), original version 16:55 Bernard Herrmann conducting the CBS Symphony Orchestra Eileen Farrell, soprano First Broadcast Performance, 19 June 1949

CD 8, Track 3

Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Op. 24 (H-114) 15:24 Eleanor Steber - Soprano Edward Biltcliffe - Piano Live, Carnegie Hall, October 1958 Courtesy VAI [from VAI Audio CD-1005] This Eleanor Steber performance, recorded live from Carnegie Hall, was issued under the title Eleanor Steber in Concert.

Scoring: Originally written in 1947 for mezzo soprano and symphony orchestra, Knoxville was revised in 1950 for voice and chamber orchestra.

Original version, 1947: 3 Fl; Picc; 2 Ob; Eng Hn; 2 Cl, Bass Cl; 2 Bsn; 2 Hn; 2 Tpt; 2 Trb; Timp; Trgl; Harp; Strings.

Text: James Agee (1909–1955). The prose-poem “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” first ap- peared in print in the Partisan Review: A Literary Monthly, vol. 5, no. 3 (August-Septem- ber, l938), pp. 22–25, which was probably Barber’s first reading of the text. It was reprinted in The Partisan Reader (Dial Press, l946), which was the source of the words for Barber’s composition. In 1957, the text was inserted, by Agee’s publishers, as a prologue to his posthumously published autobiographical novel, A Death in the Family (New York: McDowell and Obolensky, 1957).


When interviewed by James Fasset, CBS broadcast, 19 June 1949, Barber said:

I have always admired Mr. Agee’s writ- ing, and this prose-poem particularly struck me because the summer evening he describes in his native southern town reminded me so much of similar evenings when I was a child at home. I found out, after setting this, that Mr. Agee and I are the same age, and the year he described was 1915 when we were both five. You see it expresses a child’s feeling of loneliness, wonder, and lack of identity in that marginal world between twilight and sleep.

identity in that marginal world between twilight and sleep. Eleanor Steber Origin: Completed 4 April l947.

Eleanor Steber

Origin: Completed 4 April l947. Knoxville: Summer of 1925, for soprano and orchestra, was commissioned by Eleanor Steber at the suggestion of Serge Koussevitzky, then conductor of the Boston Symphony. Barber had already begun work on the piece before Steber agreed to the commission. It was the first time an American singer had ever commissioned a work for voice. Barber’s setting of Knoxville represents a spiritual return to West Chester, Pennsylvania. The work immortalizes his native city as Everyman’s hometown. Thus, he transcends the specificity of the subject, giving it universality. Barber had been moved deeply by Agee’s memoir because it resonated strongly with his own memories. His nostalgia was heightened by the fact that, at the time he read the text, his father’s health was deteriorating and his beloved aunt Louise Homer, the cele- brated contralto, was gravely ill. The dedication of Knoxville—In memory of my father—commemorates Roy Barber,


who died on 12 August 1947. Louise Homer died 6 May that same year. A letter from Barber to Sidney Homer, 11 February l947, reveals his mindset as he began this work:

We have been through some difficult times in West

I enclose

the text of a new work, just finished, for lyric soprano and orchestra. The text moved me very much. It is by the same man who did “Sure on this Shining Night,”—James Agee. He also did a wonderful book on Southern share-croppers, with whom he lived in a spirit of humility and compassion (not the usual spirit of “social investigator”); it was called “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.” I met him last week and admired him. This was actually prose, but I put it into lines to make the rhythmic pattern clear. It reminded me so much of summer evenings in West Chester, now very far away, and all of you are in it! Eleanor Steber will probably do it with Koussevitzky, if she likes it.

First Performances: 9 April l948, Boston. Eleanor Steber, sop.; Boston Symphony Or- chestra, cond. Serge Koussevitzky. After the premiere, because Barber believed the work deserved a more intimate set- ting, he reduced the score for chamber orchestra, which is the version we are familiar with today. First performance of chamber version: 1 April l950, Dumbarton Oaks, Eleanor Steber, sop; Dumbarton Oaks Chamber Orch., cond. William Strickland.

Choreographed: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, 27 November 1960.

The Text:

Barber rearranged Agee’s prose into lines that make the rhythmic patterns clear. The score begins with an epigraph:

We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville Tennessee in the time that I lived


there so successfully disguised to myself as a child.

Vocal text:

It has become that time of evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently and watching the street and the standing up into their sphere of possession of the trees, of birds’hung havens, hangars.

of possession of the trees, of birds’hung havens, hangars. Bernard Herrmann Eileen Farrell People go by;

Bernard Herrmann

the trees, of birds’hung havens, hangars. Bernard Herrmann Eileen Farrell People go by; things go by.

Eileen Farrell

People go by; things go by.

A horse, drawing a buggy,

breaking his hollow iron music on the asphalt;

a loud auto; a quiet auto;

people in pairs, not in a hurry, scuffling, switching their weight of

aestival body, talking casually, the taste hovering over them

of vanilla, strawberry, pasteboard and

starched milk,


the image upon them of lovers and horsemen, squared with clowns in hueless amber. A streetcar raising its iron moan; stopping; belling and starting, stertorous; rousing and raising again its iron increasing moan and swimming its gold windows and straw seats on past and past and past, the bleak spark crackling and cursing above it like a small malignant spirit set to dog its tracks; the iron whine rises on rising speed; still risen, faints; halts; the faint stinging bell; rises again, still fainter; fainting, lifting, lifts, faints foregone:


Now is the night one blue dew.

Now is the night one blue dew, my father has drained, he has coiled the hose. Low on the length of lawns, a frailing of fire who breathes. Parents on porches; rock and rock. From damp strings morning glories hang their ancient faces. The dry and exalted noise of the locusts from all the air at once enchants my eardrums.

On the rough wet grass of the back yard my father and mother have spread quilts. We all lie there, my mother, my father, my uncle, my aunt,


and I too am lying there.

First we were sitting up, then one of us lay down, and then we all lay down, on our stomachs, our on our sides, or on our backs, and they have kept on talking.

They are not talking much, and the talk is quiet, of nothing in particular, of nothing at all in particular, of nothing at all. The stars are wide and alive, they seem each like a smile of great sweetness, and they seem very clear [sic].

All my people are larger bodies than mine, quiet, with voices gentle and meaningless like the voices of sleeping birds.

One is an artist, he is living at home. One is a musician, she is living at home. One is my mother who is good to me. One is my father who is good to me. By some chance, here they are, all on this earth;

and who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this earth, lying on quilts, on the grass, in a summer evening, among the sounds of the night.


May God bless my people, my uncle, my aunt, my mother, my good father, oh, remember them kindly in their time of trouble; and in the hour of their taking away.

After a little I am taken in and put to bed. Sleep, soft smiling, draws me unto her; and those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and well-beloved in that home:

but will not, oh, will not, not now, not ever; but will not ever tell me who I am.

The Music: Describing Knoxville as a “lyric rhapsody” in a letter to his former teacher Rosario Scalero, Barber wrote that he viewed the new work as “perhaps in some ways going back to the old days of ‘Dover Beach’,” although he hoped it was better. While Knoxville is completely lyrical and displays the same predilection for instrumental tone painting, it is a mature expression of Barber’s artistry in setting text, bringing into focus his strongest creative powers as a musical poet and master of orchestral color. James Agee’s prose poem is at once contemplative and anguished. Barber’s music mirrors these affects. From the very first measures, Barber establishes a quasi-pastoral mood through meditative chords and a gentle arpeggiated introduction against which the voice is set in a declamatory style—suggesting both the narrow range and swinging rhythms that haunt the chants of childhood, a lullaby—and at the same time—as a nod to the adult world —the gentle motion of rocking chairs. Throughout Knoxville, Barber uses tone painting techniques to make vivid the im-

ages of the summer evening.

here, the vocal line soars upward and floats above the orchestra to a high b-flat, dissolv- ing into an exquisitely mysterious, impressionistic passage—each section of strings, muted and divided in four, reaching to the highest register by means of harmonics, then poising and hanging motionless, as dew.

Stunning examples: “Now is the night one blue dew”—


With the passage “The dry and exalted noise of the locusts from all the air at once enchants my eardrums,” Barber paints a veiled, gauzy image that rivals, in my opinion, the so-called night music of Béla Bartok. The work is in one movement, moving naturally through three major tempo changes without abrupt breaks—adagio ma non troppo, allegro agitato, and tempo primo. It is in a rondo-like form with a thrice recurring refrain. The music is characterized by shifting major-minor modes and hints of blues (especially in the use of the “bluesy” flatted-sev- enth with the second and third recurrence of the refrain). Barber worked closely with Steber in preparation for the premiere performance. At her suggestion, one of the most difficult passages—Now is the night one blue dew”and the substantial passage at the end, beginning May God bless my people,” were moved to a higher register to allow the voice to be heard over the orchestra.

Critical Reception: Knoxville is considered to be the most “American” of Barber’s works, not only because of the text—wherein Agee’s nostalgic reflections identify with the folklore of growing up in small-town America—but also because the music so accu- rately evokes the emotions of these reflections. This is confirmed over and over again by performers who sing it. Eleanor Steber and Leontyne Price, for example, speak of the perfect correspondence between Barber’s

music, Agee’s introspection, and their own experience: “That was exactly my childhood,” declared Steber, who grew up in Wheeling, West Virginia. (interview with the author, 2

September 1983); “As a southerner, it expresses everything I know about

You can smell the South in it,” said Price (interviewed by Robert Sherman, WQXR, 30 September 1978). David Diamond, another American composer, regarded Barber’s setting of the quin- tessentially American text as “clear and original and American as anything yet . the pinnacle beyond which many a composer will find it impossible to go.” (Notes, March 1950)



CD 8, Track 4 KNOXVILLE: SUMMER OF 1915, OP. 24 (H-114), revised for chamber orchestra (1950) 14:38 Thomas Schippers conducting the New York Philharmonic Leontyne Price, soprano

Live, Carnegie Hall 15 November 1959


Scoring: Fl, Ob, Eng Hn, Cl, Bsn, 2 Hn, Tpt, Harp, Strings Reorchestration involved several obvious changes—reduction in number of flutes and oboes to primo voices only, each alternating respectively with piccolo and English Horn; using one bassoon instead of two; one trumpet instead of two; timpani and bass clarinet were removed altogether. The horn part, on the other hand, was increased to two. Triangle, harp, and strings re- main intact. Reorchestration for smaller ensemble has, for the most part, preserved all the voices of the original version.

Ten measures were cut at m. 147, at First we were sitting unapparent because the musical transition is seamless, the text maintaining logical continuity as well.

.The cut is

Thomas Schippers
Thomas Schippers

Origin: During the winter of 1949, while attending a re- hearsal of the broadcast by Eileen Farrell and the CBS Or- chestra (on this recording), Bar- ber and William Strickland discussed the possibility of a chamber orchestra version of Knoxville for an all-Barber con- cert Strickland was planning to


Leontyne Price conduct at Dumbarton Oaks. In a letter to Sidney Homer, 9 January 1949,

Leontyne Price

conduct at Dumbarton Oaks. In a letter to Sidney Homer, 9 January 1949, Barber wrote:

As so few singers sing with symphony orchestra these days, I am thinking of making an arrange- ment of “Knoxville” for small orchestra (say 10 or 12 players) which could be used all over; they tell me there is great activity in the colleges for this sort of thing.

About this recording: The Leontyne Price perform- ance of the chamber orchestra version included on this CD was recorded live in 1959. A studio record- ing was made by Price and Schippers with the New Philharmonia Orchestra and released in 1968 on an RCA LP, reissued on CD by BMG Classics. Barber was very enthusiastic about Leontyne Price’s voice from their earliest collaboration in 1953

on the premiere of Hermit Songs. He composed two other works with her voice specifi- cally in mind: the opera Antony and Cleopatra (1966) and the song cycle Despite and Still, Op. 41 (1971).

First performance of chamber version: 1 April l950, Dumbarton Oaks, Eleanor Steber, sop; Dumbarton Oaks Chamber Orch., cond. William Strickland.


Jennie Tourel CD 8, Tracks 5–7 [FOUR] ORCHESTRATED SONGS “Sure on this shining night,” “Nocturne,”

Jennie Tourel

CD 8, Tracks 5–7 [FOUR] ORCHESTRATED SONGS “Sure on this shining night,” “Nocturne,” and “I hear an army” Jennie Tourel, mezzo-soprano Samuel Barber conducting the CBS Orchestra Live – 2 May 1945, WABC “Invitation to Music” program [Source: Broadcast transcription discs of the 20 June 1945 rebroadcast]

This recording: This recording is of the premiere performance of Barber’s orchestral arrangements of these songs, which were published by G. Schirmer as Four Orchestral Songs. The fourth song, not included here, is “Monks and Raisins,” Op. 18, No. 2.

CD 8, Track 5 SURE ON THIS SHINING NIGHT, Op. 13, No. 3 [H-093c] 2:10

Sure on this shining night Of star-made shadows round, Kindness must watch for me This side is ground. The late year lies down the north. All is healed, all is health. High summer holds the earth. Hearts all whole.

Sure on this shining night I weep for wonder wand’ring far alone Of shadows on the stars.


Text: From James Agee (1909–1955), “Description of Elysium,” in Permit Me Voyage, 1934 (Agee’s first published volume of poems). Although the two artists eventually formed a lasting friendship, they did not meet until after Barber composed Knoxville: Summer of 1915 (H-114). Of the twelve quatrains of Agee’s poem, Barber used only three (the sixth, seventh, and eighth).

Origin: The song was completed September 1938. Dedication: To Sara [Barber’s sister]. It was orchestrated by Barber, ca. 1943–44, as Four Orchestrated Songs, No. 2.

Scoring: Voice, Oboe, Clarinet; Bassoon; 2 Horns; Strings

First Performance: 4 April 1941; Barbara Troxell, sop; Eugene Bossart, pf; Curtis Insti- tute of Music. First performance with orchestra: 2 May 1945, CBS Radio Broadcast; Jennie Tourel, mezzo-sop; CBS Symphony Orch., cond. Barber.

The Music: The setting is modeled after the songs of Schumann and Brahms, suggested not only by the long lyrical melodic line and by the two-voice canon—where first the voice leads, then the orchestra—but more specifically in similarities between Barber’s pulsating chordal-style accompaniment and that of Schumann’s Ich grolle nicht or Liebestrau. It is one of the most frequently programmed of Barber’s songs in the United States and Europe.

CD 8, Track 6 NOCTURNE, Op. 13, No. 4, [H-93d] 3:37

Close my darling both your eyes, Let your arms lie still at last. Calm the lake of falsehood lies And wind of lust has passed, Waves across these hopeless sands


Fill my heart and end my day, Underneath your moving hands All my aching flows away.

Even the human pyramids Blaze with such a longing now:

Close, my love, your trembling lids, Let the midnight heal your brow. Northward flames Orion’s horn, Westward the Egyptian light. None to watch us, none to warn But the blind eternal night.

Text: Frederic Prokosch (1906–1989), “Nocturne,” in The Carnival (Harper & Brothers, 1938). Of the five verses published, Barber set only the four that are most unified in their focus on the theme of love, omitting the middle one. It is likely he set this somewhat enigmatic poem because the poet was a friend. Barber confessed of another poet, Katherine Garrison Chapin, that he was “not very keen” about the text, but “the music just popped out for it.”

Scoring: Fl; Ob; Cl; Bass Cl; 2 Bsn; 3 Hn; 2 Tpt; 2 Trb; Timp; Hp; Strings

Origin: The song was completed February 11, 1940 Orchestral version completed ca. 1943–44 as Four Orchestrated Songs, No. 1.

First Performance as a cycle: April 4, 1941, Philadelphia, Curtis Institute of Music His- torical Series, “Modern American Music”; Barbara Troxell, sop; Eugene Bossart, pf.

First performance with orchestra: 2 May 1945, CBS Radio Broadcast; Jennie Tourel, mezzo-sop; CBS Symphony Orch., cond. Barber.


CD 8, Track 7 I HEAR AN ARMY, Op. 10, No. 3 [H-81c]


I hear an army charging upon the land, And the thunder of horses plunging, foam about their knees:

Arrogant, in black armour, behind them stand, Disdaining the reins, with fluttering whips, the charioteers.

They cry unto the night their battle-name:

I moan in sleep when I hear afar their whirling laughter. They cleave the gloom of dreams, a blinding flame, Clanging, clanging upon the heart as upon an anvil.

They come shaking in triumph their long, green hair:

They come out of the sea and run shouting by the shore. My heart, have you no wisdom thus to despair? My love, my love, my love, why have you left me alone?

Text: James Joyce (1882–1941), Chamber Music, No. XXXVI (New York: B.W. Heub- sch, 1918, 1923). Reprinted in Collected Poems (New York, Viking Press, 1957), p. 44.

Scoring: Voice; Flute; Oboe; Clarinet; 2 Bassoons; 3 Horn; 2 Trumpets; 2 Trombones; Timpani; Strings

Origin: This anguished song was completed 13 July 1936 in St. Wolfgang, Austria, the same “idyllic” summer that Barber composed his string quartet in G minor. The song is the last of three songs on texts by Joyce published as Op. 10. (The other two, “Rain has fallen,” Op 10, No 1, and “Sleep now,” Op. 10, No. 2, were written in November 1935, while Barber was in residence at the American Academy in Rome.)

First Performances: This song was first performed on 7 March 1937 in Philadelphia at


the Curtis Institute of Music, by Rose Bampton, mezzo-soprano, with Barber at the piano. First performance with orchestra: 5 May 1945, CBS Radio Broadcast; Jen- nie Tourel, mezzo-sop; CBS Symphony Orch., cond. Barber.

CD 8, Track 8 Statement by Gian

Carlo Menotti Samuel Barber’s 70th Birthday celebra- tion, Curtis Institute concert, Philadel- phia, 9 March 1980 5:58

CD 8, Track 9 Interview with Samuel

Barber by James Fassett, New York Philharmonic concert intermission, 16 March 1958 9:48

© Barbara B. Heyman, 2011

Fassett, New York Philharmonic concert intermission, 16 March 1958 9:48 © Barbara B. Heyman, 2011 97


Gian Carlo Menotti