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Thread: Samuel Barber (1910-1981)

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    Default Samuel Barber (1910-1981)




    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 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.

    (Article taken from All Music Guide)


    I'm personally a big fan of his work. I think it's pretty disturbing, but in a hauntingly beautiful way, and with each listen a person begins to hear the many facets of this wonderful, but underrated composer.
    Last edited by JTech82; Feb-12-2009 at 23:43.

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    I sang The Crucifixion, one of the Hermit Songs last semester for my vocal jury. I personally love it!

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    Could have sworn I posted in here already:

    Best US composer (that I know of) IMO. Much more musical than Ives, (though possibly not as interesting), and Copland just doesn't interest me.

    Violin Concerto
    Wish he left off the last movement. It seems so pointless hanging off the end. Prolonging an unfinished work for no reason.

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    I am IN LOVE with his violin concerto

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    Barber is my favourite US composer, and the glorious Knoxville, Summer of 1915 my favourite of his works.
    "Look here, I have given up my time, my work, my friends and my career to come here and learn from you, and I am not going to write a petit menuet dans le style de Mozart." - Ralph Vaughan Williams to Maurice Ravel

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    Knoxville is a nice piece even though I'm not much for vocals, the orchestral part of the music is beautiful.

    I like all of the symphonies, but my favorites are Adagio for Strings, Canzonetta for oboe and strings (the last piece he wrote), his violin concerto, and School for Scandal Overture.

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    If you are talking neoromantic composers, I prefer Walton. He seemed more willing to experiment in his works (eg. with atonalism in his String Quartet). That said, I am not highly familiar with Barber, except for his Violin Concerto and Adagio for Strings.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Andre View Post
    If you are talking neoromantic composers, I prefer Walton. He seemed more willing to experiment in his works (eg. with atonalism in his String Quartet). That said, I am not highly familiar with Barber, except for his Violin Concerto and Adagio for Strings.
    If you've only heard two works from Barber, how could you come the conclusion that you prefer Walton?

    You obviously haven't heard Barber's symphonies, School for Scandal Overture, Essays For Orchestra, his piano concerto, etc. You simply haven't heard enough Barber to form your conclusion.

    By the way, atonality doesn't constitute good music. Atonality within itself is unnecessary dissonance where all melodic or lyrical content is ignored for the sake of self-indulgence.

    I laugh at your ignorance.

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    I laugh at your ignorance.
    While I agree with you (to some extent), I cringe at this pathetic comment....
    By the way, atonality doesn't constitute good music.
    Tonal music can ALSO be bad music. Quite easily.

    Atonality within itself is unnecessary dissonance where all melodic or lyrical content is ignored for the sake of self-indulgence.
    It does create for itself a bad name because of it's (atonality's) habit of doing this, but this isn;t an accurate generalisation.

    I also, agree with Andre that the ability to be flexible can be helpful.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Yagan Kiely View Post
    While I agree with you (to some extent), I cringe at this pathetic comment....

    Tonal music can ALSO be bad music. Quite easily.

    It does create for itself a bad name because of it's (atonality's) habit of doing this, but this isn;t an accurate generalisation.

    I also, agree with Andre that the ability to be flexible can be helpful.


    First of all, did I say tonal music couldn't be bad. Don't put words in my mouth, Yagan.

    Atonal music creates a bad name for itself, because it's self-indulgent and doesn't appeal to the majority of classical listeners. I bet you'll find more people interested in Tchaikovsky than you will say someone like Webern or Schoenberg. That's not opinion that's a fact.

    Music isn't about being flexible, it's about finding what you like. If you enjoy self-indulgent music that goes nowhere and serves no purpose then have at it. Listen away.

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    First of all, did I say tonal music couldn't be bad. Don't put words in my mouth, Yagan.
    Never said you did.

    Atonal music creates a bad name for itself, because it's self-indulgent and doesn't appeal to the majority of classical listeners.
    It wasn't meant to though. It isn't self-indulgent because it was meant to appeal to lots of people. Schoenberg naively thought that schoolboys would be whistling his tunes.

    That's not opinion that's a fact.
    Obviously. But more people like B.Spears than Schubert also.


    Music isn't about being flexible, it's about finding what you like.
    I remember saying that flexibility can be 'helpful', I never said 'music is about being flexible'. Please don't put words in MY mouth.
    If you enjoy self-indulgent music that goes nowhere and serves no purpose then have at it.
    It's purpose is to express. This is not a fact, and is your subjective opinion, please stop dressing them up as facts.

    Listen away.
    As you know from the other thread, I believe the expression of atonal music is very narrow, and it is incomprehensible. Tonality fixes these problems. As I said, I agree with you mostly, I just don't have such an inflexible and aggressive aversion to atonality, I just believe tonality is 'better'.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JTech82 View Post
    If you've only heard two works from Barber, how could you come the conclusion that you prefer Walton?

    You simply haven't heard enough Barber to form your conclusion.

    By the way, atonality doesn't constitute good music. Atonality within itself is unnecessary dissonance where all melodic or lyrical content is ignored for the sake of self-indulgence.

    I laugh at your ignorance.
    I think you're taking this WAY too seriously, man.

    I'm not the kind of person who will usually collect most of a composer's works. I like to collect a few, and usually leave it at that. I did qualify my comments about Barber, saying that I am not highly familiar with him. I did not say that I did not like his music, I just said I preferred Walton if you're talking about composers of that generation. I suppose I have heard more of Walton (his concertos, string quartet as I mentioned, Symphony No. 1, Henry V) so that may lead to some bias. But who cares? If I like the style of one composer based on what I'm familiar with, what are you going to do, chop off my head? At least I am not dismissing him, and even if I did, I would have a right to, because my taste can be different from other people's.

    About atonality, I didn't mean to open a whole new can of worms here. I simply like Walton's String Quartet because he opened himself up to fresh ideas in that work. It was the only work in which he experimented with atonal techniques, and it is my favourite work by him. There's nothing wrong with this kind of music. If you don't like it, then simply don't listen to it.

    I was only saying I liked the way Walton integrated different approaches like this into his neoromantic style. Maybe Barber did the same kind of thing in works I'm not familiar with, this may be true. But you should be more tolerant of people who simply express an opinion and are willing to admit to gaps in their knowledge. It's not useful if you attack them. That's not the point of this forum.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Yagan Kiely View Post
    Never said you did.

    It wasn't meant to though. It isn't self-indulgent because it was meant to appeal to lots of people. Schoenberg naively thought that schoolboys would be whistling his tunes.

    Obviously. But more people like B.Spears than Schubert also.


    I remember saying that flexibility can be 'helpful', I never said 'music is about being flexible'. Please don't put words in MY mouth.
    It's purpose is to express. This is not a fact, and is your subjective opinion, please stop dressing them up as facts.

    As you know from the other thread, I believe the expression of atonal music is very narrow, and it is incomprehensible. Tonality fixes these problems. As I said, I agree with you mostly, I just don't have such an inflexible and aggressive aversion to atonality, I just believe tonality is 'better'.

    Fair enough. I am pretty aggressive, but oh well that's how it goes.
    Last edited by JTech82; Feb-20-2009 at 05:14.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Andre View Post
    I think you're taking this WAY too seriously, man.

    I'm not the kind of person who will usually collect most of a composer's works. I like to collect a few, and usually leave it at that. I did qualify my comments about Barber, saying that I am not highly familiar with him. I did not say that I did not like his music, I just said I preferred Walton if you're talking about composers of that generation. I suppose I have heard more of Walton (his concertos, string quartet as I mentioned, Symphony No. 1, Henry V) so that may lead to some bias. But who cares? If I like the style of one composer based on what I'm familiar with, what are you going to do, chop off my head? At least I am not dismissing him, and even if I did, I would have a right to, because my taste can be different from other people's.

    About atonality, I didn't mean to open a whole new can of worms here. I simply like Walton's String Quartet because he opened himself up to fresh ideas in that work. It was the only work in which he experimented with atonal techniques, and it is my favourite work by him. There's nothing wrong with this kind of music. If you don't like it, then simply don't listen to it.

    I was only saying I liked the way Walton integrated different approaches like this into his neoromantic style. Maybe Barber did the same kind of thing in works I'm not familiar with, this may be true. But you should be more tolerant of people who simply express an opinion and are willing to admit to gaps in their knowledge. It's not useful if you attack them. That's not the point of this forum.

    If you only collect a few of a composer's works, then why are you talking on a classical forum? How do you expect to hold an intelligent conversation about a specific composer when all you know are say Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite" and Rachmaninov's "Symphonic Dances?"
    Last edited by JTech82; Feb-20-2009 at 05:14.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JTech82 View Post
    If you only collect a few of a composer's works, then why are you talking on a classical forum? How do you expect to hold an intelligent conversation about a specific composer when all you know are say Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite" and Rachmaninov's "Symphonic Dances?"
    Let's not turn this into a big cat fight/mud slinging contest.

    I am usually aware of the MAJOR works of a composer. Maybe this is not the case with Barber, but I have a good familiarity with the general classical music repertoire prior to say 1950. Hence me being familiar with another neoromantic, Walton. I think my taste is rather eclectic and broad ranging rather than specific. I like classical, jazz and rock. Doesn't mean I know everything about these genres, though I know the main styles, currents and trends.

    The exclusionary opinion you are giving is exactly what gives classical music fans a bad name in some quarters. I am not a musicologist. I don't have an endless knowledge of everything composed. Nor do I purport to. I was merely expressing my taste, which I think I have a right to.

    Actually, one of the reasons why I joined this forum is to broaden my knowledge. Outlining the main works of Barber, you have done that to a degree. I might explore some of your suggestions in the future.

    But I still think you took rather seriously my original message which was only 2 or 3 sentences long. I mean, chill out!

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