Work: The School for Scandal Overture, Op. 5
About This Work
With the stunning success of his first orchestral work, Overture to The School for Scandal (1931-1933), Samuel Barber was recognized as one of the most promising talents of his generation. Over the following four decades, he emerged as one of the
signal personalities in American music and produced a body of works that have become staples -- orchestral, chamber, vocal, operatic -- of the concert repertoire. Richard Sheridan's play The School for Scandal (1777) is a comedy of manners that contains plenty of wit and amorous intrigue. Barber's overture is not so much incidental music as it is a sophisticated tone poem; while it wasn't written for any particular production of the play, it deftly captures the atmosphere of Sheridan's work. Characterized by the composer's trademark lyricism and effervescent, frolicsome orchestral color, the music convincingly reflects the play's general tone. The overture is a miniature rondo in which themes and fragments of themes are intertwined with all the ingenuity of Sheridan's complicated story. The splashy, hectic opening is followed by a pastoral theme for oboe, repeated by lushly scored strings. The slyly twisted tonality of the middle section provides subtle allusion to the scheming and duplicity that make up the play's tortuous plot. Barber makes ingenious use of the children's game-song, "I sent a letter to my love," while harmonic conflicts and rhythmic eccentricities maintain the buoyant mood. A thoroughly modern work with no concessions to eighteenth century pastiche, this composition possesses all the glitter and panache of a true theater piece and remains a firm favorite with concert audiences.
- Roy Brewer
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