Samuel Barber


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
American Classics - Barber: Orchestral Works Vol 2 / Alsop
Release Date: 03/20/2001   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8559088   Number of Discs: 1
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Barber: Vanessa / Slatkin, Graham, Brewer, Et Al
Release Date: 11/09/2004   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 5032   Number of Discs: 2
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Thompson: Symphony No. 2 - Adams: Drift & Providence - Barber: Symphony No. 1 / Ross, Natioinal Orchestral Institute
Release Date: 06/09/2017   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8559822   Number of Discs: 1
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Barber, Shostakovich: Cello Concertos / Wallfisch, Simon
Release Date: 10/09/1992   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 8322   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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Work: Hermit Songs, Op. 29

Browse 1-10 of 10 Available Recordings
  • 1.
    A Portrait / Emalie Savoy
    Label: Genuin Musikproduction   Catalog: 16436 Release Date: 09/09/2016   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Maurice Ravel,  Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky,  Antonín Dvorák,  Carl Maria von Weber  ... 
    Performer:  Emalie Savoy,  Jonathan Ware
    Conductor:  Matthias Foremny
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Brandenburg State Orchestra Frankfurt
    CD: $18.99
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  • 2.
    The Reckless Heart  / Colton, Iwama
    Label: Oberlin Music   Catalog: 15 Release Date: 04/14/2015   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Samuel Barber,  Ivor Gurney,  Benjamin Britten,  Andy Vores  ... 
    Performer:  Kendra Colton,  Kayo Iwama
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  • 3.
    Melodies Passageres - Barber: Songs / De Pledge, Jeffers
    Label: Quartz Records   Catalog: 2079 Release Date: 02/12/2013   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Samuel Barber
    Performer:  Stephen de Pledge,  Gweneth-Ann Jeffers
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  • 4.
    Despite & Still / Melissa Fogarty
    Label: Cd Baby   Catalog: 5637848434 Release Date: 10/20/2011   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Samuel Barber
    Performer:  Melissa Fogarty,  Marc Peloquin
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  • 5.
    Samuel Barber: Songs / Gerald Finley, Julius Drake
    Label: Hyperion   Catalog: 67528 Release Date: 11/13/2007   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Samuel Barber
    Performer:  Julius Drake,  Gerald Finley,  Jennifer Stumm,  Nadia Wijzenbeek  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Aronowitz Ensemble
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  • 6.
    Barber: The Songs / Studer, Hampson, Browning, Emerson Quartet
    Label: Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog: 000338002 Release Date: 10/12/2004   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Samuel Barber
    Performer:  Thomas Hampson,  John Browning,  Cheryl Studer
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Emerson String Quartet
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  • 7.
    Leontyne Price & Samuel Barber - Historic Performances (1953 & 1938)
    Label: Bridge   Catalog: 9156 Release Date: 10/05/2004   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Francis Poulenc,  Samuel Barber,  Henri Sauguet,  Gabriel Fauré  ... 
    Performer:  Leontyne Price,  Samuel Barber
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  • 8.
    Modern American Vocal Works - Premiere Recordings 1950-1953
    Label: Sony Classical Masterworks   Catalog: 60899 Release Date: 06/29/1999   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Virgil Thomson,  Aaron Copland,  Samuel Barber
    Performer:  Virgil Thomson,  William C. Smith,  Joseph James,  Clyde S. Turner  ... 
    Conductor:  William Strickland
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Music Quartet,  Dumbarton Oaks Chamber Orchestra
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  • 9.
    Sallie Chisum Remembers Billy The Kid / Bonney, Previn
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 455511 Release Date: 01/27/1998   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Dominick Argento,  Samuel Barber,  Aaron Copland,  André Previn
    Performer:  Barbara Bonney,  André Previn,  Sato Knudsen
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  • 10.
    Lefanu, Kinsella, Wilson, Et Al: Songs / Jones, Martin
    Label: Altarus   Catalog: 9010 Release Date: 02/18/1997   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  James Wilson,  Samuel Barber,  John Buckley,  John Kinsella  ... 
    Performer:  Penelope Price Jones,  Philip Martin
    On sale! $25.98
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