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Samuel Barber

March 9, 1910 - January 23, 1981
born in West Chester, PA, composed during the Modern period
Samuel Barber, one of the most prominent and popular American composers of the mid-20th century, wrote effectively in virtually every genre, including opera, ballet, vocal, choral, keyboard, chamber, and orchestral music. His music is notable for its warmly Romantic lyricism, memorable melodies, and essentially conservative harmonic style, all of which put him at odds with the prevailing modernist aesthetic of his time.

Barber was a member of the first class at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. In 1928, the 17-year-old Gian Carlo Menotti came to study at Curtis, and the two formed a personal and professional bond that would last most of Barber's life. As a student, Barber wrote several works that have entered the repertoire, including the song Dover Beach and Overture to the School for Scandal for orchestra. A fine singer and pianist, as well as composer, much of his work throughout his career featured the voice.

After his graduation from Curtis, Barber wrote a string quartet, the second movement of which became his most famous work, Adagio for Strings. Toscanini performed the Adagio with the NBC Symphony in 1938, and Barber's career was effectively launched. His 1939 Violin Concerto further established his international reputation. During the Second World War, Barber served in the Army Air Corps, where his duties included writing a symphony, his second. Works that followed over the next two decades include the Capricorn Concerto; a Cello Concerto; a Piano Sonata; Knoxville: Summer of 1915, an extended song for voice and orchestra with a text by James Agee; Hermit Songs, for voice and piano, using medieval texts; the chamber opera A Hand of Bridge; Medea's Meditation and Dance of Vengeance, taken from the ballet Cave of the Heart, written for Martha Graham; Summer Music, for wind quintet; the opera Vanessa; and a Piano Concerto. Some of the most prestigious musicians in the world performed his music and became champions of his work, including Leontyne Price, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Eleanor Steber, Martina Arroyo, Vladimir Horowitz, Arturo Toscanini, Eugene Ormandy, Bruno Walter, George Szell, and Serge Koussevitzky.

Barber received his first Pulitzer Prize for Vanessa, which had been commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, had its premiere in 1958, and was hailed as the first great American "grand opera." His 1962 Piano Concerto won the composer his second Pulitzer Prize. The Metropolitan Opera commissioned Barber to write an opera to inaugurate its new opera house in Lincoln Center in 1966. Antony and Cleopatra, based on Shakespeare with a libretto by Franco Zeffirelli, proved to be a failure due at least as much to flaws in the production as to the music. Barber was so devastated by the intensity of the animosity toward his work that he never regained his confidence. He was temperamentally disposed to melancholy, which turned into clinical depression, and although he continued to compose sporadically, he produced few further works of substance.

In spite of the indifference or contempt of critics and the academic establishment, Barber's expressive and directly communicative music has never lacked support and devotion from concert audiences, and he remains one of the best-known and beloved American composers. His Adagio for Strings has achieved iconic status as a profound and universally understood expression of grief, and remains a testament to Barber's ability to write music of the highest artistic standards that can also touch the heart. ~ Stephen Eddins, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography


Track List: Despite And Still: Melissa Fogarty Sings Samuel Barber

Title: Nuvoletta, Song For Voice & Piano, Op. 25
Title: Hermit Songs, For Voice & Piano, Op. 29
Title: The Secrets Of The Old, Song For Voice & Piano, Op. 13/2
Title: Sure On This Shining Night, Song For Voice & Piano (Also Arr. For Voice, Orch, Chorus & Piano), Op. 13/3
Title: Despite And Still, Song Cycle For Voice & Piano, Op. 41
Title: Songs (2), For Voice & Piano, Op. 18
Title: Songs (3), For Voice & Piano, Op. 10
Title: Songs (3), For Voice & Piano, Op. 45

Track List: Barber: Adagio For Strings; Violin Concerto; Knoxville: Summer 1915

Title: Adagio For Strings (Or String Quartet; Arr. From 2nd Mvt. Of String Quartet), Op. 11
Title: Knoxville: Summer Of 1915, For High Voice & Orchestra (Rev. For Voice & Chamber Orchestra), Op. 24
Title: Violin Concerto, Op. 14
Title: The School For Scandal, Overture For Orchestra, Op. 5
Title: Essay For Orchestra, Op. 12
Title: Medea's Meditation And Dance Of Vengeance (from "Medea"), Op. 23a

Track List: Barber: The Songs

Disc 1
Title: A Slumber Song of the Madonna, for voice & organ
Title: There's Nae Lark, for voice & piano
Title: Love at the Door, song for voice & piano
Title: Serenade, For String Quartet Or String Orchestra, Op. 1
Title: Love's Caution, song for voice & piano
Title: Night Wanderers, song for voice & piano
Title: Of That So Sweet Imprisonment, song for voice & piano
Title: Strings in the Earth and Air, song for voice & piano
Title: The Beggar's Song, song for voice & piano
Title: In the Dark Pinewood, song for voice & piano
Title: Songs (3), for voice & piano, Op. 2
Title: Songs (3), For Voice & Piano, Op. 10
Title: Songs (4), For Voice & Piano, Op. 13
Title: Dover Beach, for baritone (or mezzo-soprano) & string quartet, Op. 3
Disc 2
Title: Songs (2), For Voice & Piano, Op. 18
Title: Nuvoletta, Song For Voice & Piano, Op. 25
Title: Mélodies passagères (5), songs for voice & piano, Op. 27
Title: Hermit Songs, For Voice & Piano, Op. 29
Title: Despite And Still, Song Cycle For Voice & Piano, Op. 41
Title: Songs (3), For Voice & Piano, Op. 45

Track List: Capricorn: The Samuel Barber Collection

Title: Capricorn Concerto, For Flute, Oboe, Trumpet & Strings, Op. 21
Title: Canzone (Elegy), For Flute & Piano (arr. From 2nd Mvt. Of The Piano Concerto), Op. 38a
Title: Fadograph Of A Yestern Scene, For Orchestra (after Joyce: "Finnegan's Wake"), Op. 44
Title: Medea's Meditation And Dance Of Vengeance (from "Medea"), Op. 23a
Title: Adagio For Strings (Or String Quartet; Arr. From 2nd Mvt. Of String Quartet), Op. 11
Title: Souvenirs, Suite From The Ballet
Title: Hermit Songs, For Voice & Piano, Op. 29
Title: To Be Sung On The Water, For 4 Voices, Op. 42/2
Title: The Lovers, For Baritone, Chorus & Orchestra, Op. 43
Title: Summer Music, For Wind Quintet, Op. 31

Track List: Samuel Barber: Piano Concerto; Medea's Meditation and Dance of Vengeance


The first time I heard this piece was during the movie "Platoon". Since then, every time I have heard it I feel a deep sense of sadness, grief, and it nearly moves me to tears. This is such a powerful piece of music, hauntingly beautiful.
My most favorite piece to paint to. Very haunting and emotional and just beautiful
Peace on earth and love to our fellow men, this music makes feel so calm!
That's because Barber didn't compose Fanfare, Aaron Copeland did.
lydia_coulte r
Obviously Adagio for Strings is really popular, but I'm surprised that no one has mentioned another powerful Barber composition, Fanfare for the Common Man. I like them both.
lydia_coulte r
Adagio is my most favorite of all times
carolruthgra n t
Adagio makes me feel as if I am being held and comforted in the arms of an angel.
carolruthgra n t
It makes me feel like I am being comforted in the arms of a angel.
Besides J.S. Bach, he's my other favorite composer, and an American no less too.
Very beautiful & relaxing music.
Most Definitely my Favorite Peice of Classical Music..Ever. So soothing and just simply astounding!
This piece is so beautiful. It is the song of heaven
raquellylash a e 0 6
Breathtaking l y beautiful...
Took me a while to realize that I had heard this adagio many times in the Japanese Anime Full Metal Alchemist. Simply beautiful!
amazingly peaceful, loving, adventurous, and very deep
This freaked me out Thus isn't fake. Apparently, if you don't copy and paste this in the next ten minutes, you will have the best day of your life tomorrow. You will ether get kissed or asked out, I you break this chain you will see a little dead girl in your room tonight. In the next 53 minutes someone will say I love you or I am sorry
I've always loved this piece but seeing it on PBS after 9/11 was beyond heart breaking. To this day, I can't listen to this song without recalling that concert and feeling the emotion from it.
i am so glad that others find this music stunning in its beauty. from the angels.
ddanielgwhit e 8
My grandfather attended Curtis, and, though I love the adagio, I remember my grandpa with a whole lot more affection.
Who remembers Samuel Barber's work? Now who remembers the work or even the names of his critics? Exactly.
its one of those pieces that you just have to stop what your doing and close your eyes and listen...... . . .
Has been one of my favorite pieces of all time. Barber created such a haunting and intense piece, filled with sadness. Yet hope abounds. Every time I listen to it, I am reminded of what really matters in life.
This is one of those few masterpieces that are called "out of time", meaning it remains for ever, with inexpressibl e words and power. And as days and years go by in our "peaceful adventures world", this one in particular becomes even more endless and endless to this understandin g . Barber is/was the greatest American composer, and one of the greatest of all times. Among many thoughts coming in your mind when listening Adagio, It also feels like it depicts groaning and derision of the real true mu
Brian Reyes, so well said-it makes me shiver too-this has some very encouraging moments too however. I think it easily describes man's realization that his time on Earth fades but that his ascent to something better must be preceded by a sort of narrative of his entire life upon strings. The piece certainly plucks the strings of the hearts of its listeners. It brought me to tears when I first heard it.
A beautiful cry for help, it makes me feel as though I am listening to someone's last words.
Sends shivers up and down my spine.
Gives me chills its so beautiful
I loved this song from the first moment I herd it living in the city it brought a quietness to my urban life simply beautiful
Simply the loveliest piece of music I have ever heard.
very soothing piano
I love this!
One of the greatest and intense melodies I have ever enjoyed . . .
Over 30 years ago, listening casually to the radio, this piece started to be played. Like others, here, I was utterly transfixed - completely disabled from doing anything but listen to this unspeakably beautiful melody wrapped in its intense harmony. It quickly became one of my favorites. About 15 years later, I transcended again when I heard this set to the Agnus Dei. I had the pleasure of offering this in an ensemble but just a few years after that and will do so again in a few evenings.
My first awareness of Adagio for Strings occurred about two years ago, at the finish of the funeral for my older brother. It galvanized my thoughts to memories of his life and his effect upon mine. I was transfixed.
That it was composed by someone so young is truly awesome.. a profound piece of music.
The first time I heard Adagio for Strings I was totally taken and transported to a state of mind where sadness and happiness blended together perfectly. Years later I was cast in a ballet choreographe d to Mr. Barber's Masterpiece and while in performance again I was transported, this time to an even greater state where I wasn't longer aware of where I was and what was happening. It was just me and this amazing composition, it was the applause of the audience what brought me back.
darcie29tudo r
One of the most peaceful and contemplativ e works ever written
So sad yet so moving.
I first heard "Adagio" several years ago; I was moved. I was delighted to hear that his birthplace was in my home state of Pennsylvania . Curiously, as I write this comment, "Adagio" is playing!
...contempt of critics and the academic establishmen t ,
Yeah...they don't like the really good s**t...that moves U emotionally or spiritually! It must be intellectual . Hide ure tears critics---we all know U R crying on the inside!!!
Nice work with that song it reminds me of platoon good movie
michelekazar i a n
50 years later, I too was moved, by Jason Dillinger's story. Thank you.
This piece was used in the movie Platoon during Sgt. Elias' slow motion death scene.
I played this in MD all state orchestra in 1987 and remember the conductor telling us a story of rehearsing this piece with an orchestra when they learned that JFK had been killed. He told us that everyone had sat there in stunned silence until one of the musicians began to spontaneousl y play and everyone just followed without discussing it. We all found that story pretty moving and performing it on stage the next night was for me one of my most profound emotional experiences with music.
As a seed on my Samuel Barber station, Arthur Rubenstein's genius with Chopin appears from time to time, and I am still awed by the fact the man lived a block away from my family when he was in Los lucky for us!
I thank you for your music and American salutes you for your hard work.
Breathe taking
stephen.walk e r 8 2
Simply stunning piece of work.
Always a classic. Every time I hear this I picture the scene from "Platoon"
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