Samuel Barber

Biography

Born: 1910   Died: 1981   Country: USA   Period: 20th Century
An open-hearted yet tough romantic, Samuel Barber was one of the few twentieth century American composers to fight for the primacy of lyricism. In his last decades he seemed to be losing the battle, but by the end of the century Barber had posthumously become one of America's most widely performed and recorded composers. In particular, his emotive Violin Concerto and Adagio for Strings have gained a popularity exceeded only by certain works of Read more Aaron Copland.

Barber entered the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia in 1924, where he met future opera composer Gian Carlo Menotti; the two would become lifelong lovers. Barber was an able pianist and a baritone of some talent, but he was an even more precocious composer. His 1933 Curtis graduation piece, the spirited School for Scandal Overture, has become a beloved concert opener.

Barber developed into America's most enduring composer of art songs; most popular is his tender setting for soprano and chamber orchestra of James Agee's Knoxville: Summer of 1915. Barber had unerring taste in texts, and his literary interests led him to compose some allusive short orchestral pieces. Yet he was particularly adept at writing abstract works, such as Music for a Scene from Shelley. Many of these are in large forms: two symphonies, one string quartet (from which was drawn the Adagio for Strings, first popularized by Arturo Toscanini), an ambitious piano sonata, and one concerto each for violin, cello, and piano. While following traditional formats, they are propelled by a dramatic expressivity that hadn't been fashionable since Sibelius. Equally direct in their emotional content are his three Essays for Orchestra, the second being the best crafted and most acclaimed.

Barber would have seemed an ideal composer for the stage, but he had limited success in that realm. Medea, a 1947 dance score for Martha Graham, has found greater longevity in orchestral excerpts. His 1958 Vanessa garnered him the first of two Pulitzer Prizes (the second was for his Piano Concerto), but, like most other American operas, it quickly dropped out of sight. Barber wrote Anthony and Cleopatra to open the new Metropolitan Opera House in 1966, but critical reaction was so hostile that he produced very little during his remaining 15 years. Barber was too conservative to be fashionable; his harmony could be astringent, but his tonality remained secure, his rhythms were strong and clear, and he was not above writing a good melody. Read less
Barber: Vanessa / Slatkin, Graham, Brewer, Et Al
Release Date: 11/09/2004   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 5032   Number of Discs: 2
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1930s Violin Concertos Vol 1 - Barber, Hartmann, Berg, Stravinsky, Britten / Gil Shaham
Release Date: 02/25/2014   Label: Canary Classics  
Catalog: 12   Number of Discs: 2
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Barber: Symphony No 1;  Beach: Gaelic Symphony / Järvi
Release Date: 10/28/1992   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 8958   Number of Discs: 1
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Barber, Bristow: Symphonies, Etc / Järvi, Detroit So
Release Date: 12/30/1993   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 9169   Number of Discs: 1
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Barber: Complete Works For Solo Piano / Eric Parkin
Release Date: 07/26/1994   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 9177   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Songs (4), Op. 13: no 3, Sure on this Shining Night

 

About This Work
Sure on this shining night is the third of four songs that make up Barber's Opus 13 collection (1937-1940). It is a relatively early work, though as most of his admirers are aware, Barber divulged a mastery of his craft even in his earliest Read more compositions. Here he produces a song of about two minutes in duration and uses a text by poet James Agee.

The mood is dark, the music having a passionate post-Romantic cast, almost Rachmaninovian in its gloomy but lovely lyrical flow. The beautiful main theme is sung to the title words, at first bringing a hopeful feeling, but the trajectory of the music gradually works downward and turns pessimistic. Still, in its second subject it rises defiantly and passionately, but again loses energy and sinks lower. On its last appearance the main theme is slightly darker and resigned to the desolate mood expressed in the text: "Sure on this shining night I weep for wonder wandering for alone...." The accompaniment on piano (or in the orchestral version) is lovely, often echoing the vocal line in sparing but deftly imagined writing. This is a beautiful song that will appeal especially to lovers of Romantic and American vocal music. Read less

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