Samuel Barber Term Paper

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Samuel Barber’s music, wonderfully crafted and built on romantic structures and sensibilities, is at once lyrical, rhythmically complex and also harmonically rich.

Samuel Barber born, March 9, 1910 in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He wrote his first piece at age seven and attempted his first opera at age ten. At the age of fourteen he entered the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he studied voice, piano and composition. Later he studied conducting with Fritz Reiner. At Curtis Barber met Gian Carlo Menotti with whom he would form a lifelong personal and professional relationship. Menotti supplied liberetti from Barbers Operas, “Vanessa”, which Barber had won a Pulitzer Prize for. Menotti also wrote the liberetti for “A Hand of Bridge”, Barbers opera, and also “Antony and Cleopatra”, which was commissioned to open the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in 1966.

Barber is often looked at as a controversial composer. His American roots often confuse critics. He founded no school; he stuck to no one style. As a public figure he seemed aloof from the various critical fights of American music: tonal vs. atonal, Stravinsky vs. Schoenburg, and old guard vs. modern. Barber seemed to just write music, and in doing so became controversial, someone to be attacked or defended.

Barber distinguished himself as a melodist. Almost everything he has written has at least one gorgeous tune or memorable theme. His melodic emphasis led certain critics to label him as “neo-romantic”, a word that doesn’t mean all that much. Almost nothing he wrote could have been produced in the romantic era. The harmonies are too complex and sometimes extremely dissonant. The approach to form is a modern as Igor Stravinsky’s, and the orchestration is usually quite experimental. His music sounds full and rich simply mean that the experiment succeeds. Although no prodigy, Barber nevertheless made his mark early. Op.1, “Serenade” for string quartet (later orchestrated for strings), he wrote that piece while attending the Curtis Institute.

In his early work, Barber taps into this new lyricism in piece after piece. Good examples include, “Music for a Scene from Shelly”, “Symphony No.1”, first essay for orchestra, cello sonatas, string quartets, the choral “Reincarnations”, and the violin concerto. Barber spent 1942 to 1945 in the United States Army Air Force, fighting with musical forms rather than enemy troops. He was commissioned to write a symphony, his second, which employed radio signals along with the normal instruments. Thoroughly fed up with any remainder of hostilities, he discarded the work after the war apart from his second movement.

Postwar, Barber continued going his own way. Some major works of the period are the “Toccata Festiva” for organ and orchestra.

Barber was the recipient of numerous awards and prizes including the “American Prix de Rome”, two Pulitzers, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Barbers songs for solo voice were a big hit to the classical world. For example, of more than one hundred songs, he only published thirty-eight.

In 1953, at age 43, he published the “Hermit Songs”. This song cycle is comprised of ten different songs, which are all sung and originally written in English. They are known for their intense piano accompaniment and difficult voice parts. The “Hermit Songs”, were first performed at the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress, Washington D.C, on October 30, 1953.

The first performance featured Leontyne Price, soprano and Samuel Barber on piano. Number five of the ten-song set, I am working on as part of my repertoire this semester. This song is titled “The Cruixifiction”.

After having a very successful musical career, Barber died on January 23, 1981 in New York.

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