Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Commemorating Samuel Barber (March 9, 1910-January 23, 1981)

Samuel Barber and Thomas Hampson
The great composer Samuel Barber died on this day in 1981 and we figured it was appropriate to commemorate him. After all, he gave us some of the most beautiful music ever written for baritone (as well as other voices).

Samuel Barber's music, masterfully crafted and built on romantic structures and sensibilities, is at once lyrical, rhythmically complex, and harmonically rich. He was born on March 9, 1910 in West Chester, Pennsylvania and died on January 23, 1981. Barber wrote his first piece at age 7 and attempted his first opera at age 10. At the age of 14 he entered the Curtis Institute, where he studied voice, piano, and composition. Later, he studied conducting with Fritz Reiner.

Giorgio Tozzi sings "For ev'ry love there is a last farewell" from Vanessa:

Samuel Barber wrote numerous songs set to some of the world's greatest poets, including James Joyce, Matthew Arnold, Rainer Maria Rilke, A.E. Housman, James Agee and James Stephens. Some of Barber’s greatest music stemmed from these poetic inspirations, including the Hermit Songs, Knoxville: Summer of 1915, the three powerful James Joyce settings and Rilke's texts for Mélodies passagères. His writing is lyrical with expressive and nuanced shadings and a keen connection to the text. Songs like "Sure on this shining night" have become standards on song recital programs.

Thomas Hampson sings "Un cygne" from Mélodies passagères: 

At Curtis, Barber met Gian Carlo Menotti with whom he would form a lifelong personal and professional relationship. Menotti supplied libretti for Barber's operas Vanessa (for which Barber won the Pulitzer) and A Hand of Bridge. Barber's music was championed by a remarkable range of renowned artists, musicians, and conductors including Vladimir Horowitz, John Browning, Martha Graham, Arturo Toscanini, Dmitri Mitropoulos, Jennie Tourel, Thomas Hampson, Gerald Finley and Eleanor Steber. His Antony and Cleopatra was commissioned to open the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in 1966.

Gerald Finley sings "St. Ida's Vision":

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. His intensely lyrical Adagio for Strings has become one of the most recognizable and beloved compositions, both in concerts and films ("Platoon," "The Elephant Man," "El Norte," "Lorenzo's Oil").

 Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau sing "Dover Beach":

For more information about Samuel Barber's songs, visit Thomas Hampson's Hampsong site dedicated to promoting the art of the American song.

Perhaps his greatest piece is Knoxville: Summer of 1915, which was written for Eleanor Steber and performed here by Leontyne Price.

1 comment:

  1. Knoxville was written for Eleanor Steber,but Miss Price had a big success with it.