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

Work: Essay for Orchestra no 1, Op. 12

Browse 1-16 of 16 Available Recordings
  • 1.
    Barber: Concerto Per Piano; 3 Essays
    Label: Stradivarius   Catalog: 33814 Release Date: 02/08/2011   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Samuel Barber
    Performer:  Giampaolo Nuti
    Conductor:  Daniel Kawka
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  • 2.
    Barber: Complete Orchestral Works / Alsop, Royal Scottish National Orchestra
    Label: Naxos   Catalog: 8506021 Release Date: 09/28/2010   Number of Discs: 6
    Composer:  Samuel Barber
    Performer:  Stephane Rancourt,  Louise Winter,  Lesley Craigie,  Roderick Williams  ... 
    Conductor:  Marin Alsop
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
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  • 3.
    Adagio - Samuel Barber 100th Anniversary
    Label: Emi Classics   Catalog: 87286 Release Date: 02/23/2010   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Samuel Barber
    Performer:  Thomas Allen,  Roger Vignoles,  Judith LeClair,  Joseph Robinson  ... 
    Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin,  Michael Tilson Thomas,  Simon Rattle
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Endellion String Quartet,  St. Louis Symphony Orchestra,  London Symphony Orchestra  ... 
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  • 4.
    Eternal Barber
    Label: Naxos   Catalog: 8572133 Release Date: 09/30/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Samuel Barber
    Performer:  James Buswell,  Daniel Pollack
    Conductor:  Marin Alsop
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra,  Ormond College Choir
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  • 5.
    EMI American Classics - Barber / Tilson Thomas, Slatkin, Hendricks, Oliviera, Et Al
    Label: Emi Classics   Catalog: 06625 Release Date: 06/24/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Samuel Barber
    Performer:  Elmar Oliveira,  Barbara Hendricks
    Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin,  Michael Tilson Thomas
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Symphony Orchestra,  London Symphony Orchestra
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  • 6.
    The Art Of Eugene Ormandy
    Label: Biddulph   Catalog: 064/65 Release Date: 02/27/2006   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Roy Harris,  Nikolay Myaskovsky,  Gustav Mahler,  Richard Strauss  ... 
    Performer:  Mack Harrell,  Charles Kullman,  Francis Yeend,  Suzanne Coray  ... 
    Conductor:  Eugene Ormandy
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra,  Philadelphia Orchestra,  Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra
    CD: $35.99
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  • 7.
    Gemini - Barber: Orchestral & Chamber Works / Slatkin, Et Al
    Label: Emi Classics   Catalog: 86561 Release Date: 05/24/2005   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Samuel Barber
    Performer:  Israela Margalit,  Jeanne Baxtresser,  Joseph Robinson,  Stanley Drucker  ... 
    Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
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  • 8.
    The Beauty Of Barber - His Famous Adagio, Etc
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 000202902 Release Date: 04/12/2005   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Samuel Barber
    Performer:  Ruth Golden,  Joshua Bell
    Conductor:  David Zinman,  Terry Edwards,  Donald Barra
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Baltimore Symphony Orchestra,  London Voices,  San Diego Chamber Orchestra
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  • 9.
    Barber: Adagio For Strings, Etc / Slatkin, Oliveira, Et Al
    Label: Emi Classics Double Fforte   Catalog: 74287 Release Date: 07/03/2001   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Samuel Barber
    Performer:  Israela Margalit,  Jeanne Baxtresser,  Alan Stepansky,  Stanley Drucker  ... 
    Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
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  • 10.
    Barber: 3 Essays For Orchestra, Etc / Järvi, Detroit So
    Label: Chandos   Catalog: 9908 Release Date: 05/22/2001   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Samuel Barber
    Conductor:  Neeme Järvi
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Detroit Symphony Orchestra
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  • 11.
    American Classics - Barber: Orchestral Works Vol 1 / Alsop
    Label: Naxos   Catalog: 8559024 Release Date: 06/13/2000   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Samuel Barber
    Conductor:  Marin Alsop
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
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  • 12.
    Classical Music Around The World - America / Walter Proost
    Label: Gall (Formerly Gallo)   Catalog: 890 Release Date: 11/19/1996   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Samuel Barber,  Leonard Bernstein,  Howard Hanson
    Conductor:  Walter Proost
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  San Remo Symphony Orchestra
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  • 13.
    Barber, Copland And Harris: Orchestral Works / Keith Clark
    Label: Albany Records   Catalog: 64 Release Date: 04/16/1995   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Roy Harris,  Aaron Copland,  Samuel Barber
    Performer:  Anthony Plog,  Allan Vogel,  Louise Di Tullio
    Conductor:  Keith Clark
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Pacific Symphony Orchestra
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  • 14.
    Barber: Adagio, Symphony No 1, Etc / Zinman, Baltimore So
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 436288 Release Date: 10/13/1992   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Samuel Barber
    Conductor:  David Zinman
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
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  • 15.
    Barber: Knoxville, Etc / Levi, McNair, Atlanta SO
    Label: Telarc   Catalog: 80250 Release Date: 02/11/1992   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Samuel Barber
    Performer:  Sylvia McNair
    Conductor:  Yoel Levi
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
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  • 16.
    Music of Samuel Barber / Slatkin, St. Louis
    Label: Emi Classics   Catalog: 49463 Release Date: 10/25/1990   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Samuel Barber
    Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
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