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  • Barber Samuel

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Samuel Barber (1910)

Samuel Osborne Barber

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  Summary  

Samuel Osborne Barber II (March 9, 1910 – January 23, 1981) was an American composer of orchestral, opera, choral, and piano music. His Adagio for Strings is his most popular composition and widely considered a masterpiece of modern classical music. He was twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize for music, for his opera Vanessa (1956–57) and his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra . His Knoxville: Summer of 1915 , a work for soprano and orchestra, was an acclaimed setting of prose by James Agee.

  Biography  

 Early years
Barber was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, the son of Marguerite McLeod (née Beatty) and Samuel Le Roy Barber. At a very early age, Barber became profoundly interested in music, and it was apparent that he had great musical talent and ability. At the age of nine he wrote to his mother:

Dear Mother: I have written this to tell you my worrying secret. Now don’t cry when you read it because it is neither yours nor my fault. I suppose I will have to tell it now without any nonsense. To begin with I was not meant to be an athlet . I was meant to be a composer, and will be I’m sure. I’ll ask you one more thing .—Don’t ask me to try to forget this unpleasant thing and go play football.—Please—Sometimes I’ve been worrying about this so much that it makes me mad .


He wrote his first musical at the early age of 7 and attempted to write his first opera at the age of 10. He was an organist at the age of 12. When he was 14, he entered the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where he studied piano, composition, and voice.

Barber was born into a comfortable, educated, social, and distinguished Irish-American family. His father was a physician, and his mother was a pianist. His aunt, Louise Homer, was a leading contralto at the Metropolitan Opera and his uncle, Sidney Homer, was a composer of American art songs. Louise Homer is known to have influenced Barber's interest in voice. Through his aunt, Barber had access to many great singers and songs.

Barber began composing seriously in his late teenage years. Around the same time, he met fellow Curtis schoolmate Gian Carlo Menotti, who became his partner in life as well as in their shared profession. At the Curtis Institute, Barber was a triple prodigy in composition, voice, and piano. He soon became a favorite of the conservatory's founder, Mary Louise Curtis Bok. It was through Mrs. Bok that Barber was introduced to his lifelong publisher, the Schirmer family. At the age of 18, Barber won the Joseph H. Bearns Prize from Columbia University for his Violin Sonata .

 Middle years
From his early to late twenties, Barber wrote a flurry of successful compositions, launching him into the spotlight of the classical music world. Many of his compositions were commissioned or first performed by such famous artists as Vladimir Horowitz, Eleanor Steber, Raya Garbousova, John Browning, Leontyne Price, Pierre Bernac, Francis Poulenc, and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. When Barber was 28, his Adagio for Strings was performed by the NBC Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Arturo Toscanini in 1938, along with his first Essay for Orchestra. The Adagio had been arranged from the slow movement of Barber's String Quartet, Op. 11. Toscanini had only rarely performed music by American composers before (an exception was Howard Hanson's Second Symphony, which he conducted in 1933). At the end of the first rehearsal of the piece, Toscanini remarked, "Semplice e bella" .

Barber served in the Army Air Corps in World War II, where he was commissioned to write his Second Symphony, a work he later suppressed. (It was released in a "Vox" recording by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Schenck). Composed in 1943, the symphony was originally titled Symphony Dedicated to the Air Forces and was premiered in early 1944 by Serge Koussevitsky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Barber revised the symphony in 1947, which was published by G. Schirmer, and recorded the following year by the New Symphony Orchestra of London conducted by the composer, but Barber subsequently destroyed the score in 1964. It was reconstructed from the instrumental parts. According to another source, however, it was precisely the parts to the symphony that Barber had torn up. Hans Heinsheimer was an eyewitness, and reported that he accompanied Barber to the publisher's office where they collected all the music from the library and Barber "tore up all these beautifully and expensively copied materials with his own hands" Doubt has been cast on this story, however, on grounds that Heinsheimer, as an executive at G. Schirmer, would have allowed Barber into the Schirmer offices to watch him "rip apart the music that his company had invested money in publishing".

Barber won the Pulitzer Prize twice: in 1958 for his first opera Vanessa, and in 1963 for his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra.

 Later years
Barber spent many years in isolation after the harsh rejection of his third opera Antony and Cleopatra. He suffered from depression, and was also beset by alcoholism. The opera was written for and premiered at the opening of the new Metropolitan Opera House on September 16, 1966. After this setback, Barber continued to write music until he was almost 70 years old. Barber's music in his later years would be lauded as reflective and contemplative, but without the morbidity or unhappiness of other composers who knew they had a limited time to live. The Third Essay for Orchestra was his last major work.

Barber died of cancer in 1981 in New York City at the age of 70. He was buried in Oaklands Cemetery in his hometown of West Chester, Pennsylvania.

 Achievements and awards
Barber was the recipient of numerous awards and prizes including the Rome Prize , two Pulitzers, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1961.

Barber was initiated, as a full collegiate member, into the Zeta Iota chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia music fraternity at Howard University in 1952.

In addition to composing, Barber was active in organizations that sought to help musicians and music. He was president of the International Music Council of UNESCO, where he did much to bring into focus and ameliorate the conditions of international musical problems. One of the first American composers to visit Russia , Barber was influential also in the successful campaign of composers against ASCAP, helping composers increase the share of royalties they receive from their compositions.

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Whole or part of the information contained in this card come from the Wikipedia article "Samuel Barber", licensed under CC-BY-SA full list of contributors here.