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American Composer Samuel Barber Died in 1981

His signature works include Adagio for Strings and his Violin Concerto Op. 14 — a much-loved standard in today’s concert and competition repertoire


Born on March 9, 1910, Samuel Osmond Barber II, was a distinguished American composer, pianist, conductor, baritone, and music educator, standing as one of the most acclaimed figures in mid-20th-century music.

Influenced primarily by nine years of composition studies under Rosario Scalero at the Curtis Institute and over 25 years of tutelage from his uncle, composer Sidney Homer, Barber's musical style veered away from the experimental tendencies of musical modernism. Instead, he favored the traditional harmonic language and formal structures of the 19th century, emphasizing lyricism and emotional expression.

He incorporated elements of modernism in certain compositions after 1940, such as heightened dissonance and chromaticism in the Cello Concerto (1945) and Medea's Dance of Vengeance (1955), as well as tonal ambiguity and a limited use of serialism in the Piano Sonata (1949), Prayers of Kierkegaard (1954), and Nocturne (1959).

Barber demonstrated prowess in both instrumental and vocal music, garnering international acclaim for his compositions that swiftly became staples in the classical performance repertoire. Notably, his Adagio for Strings (1936) and its choral adaptation, Agnus Dei (1967), secured enduring positions in the orchestral concert repertory. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Music twice: for his opera Vanessa (1956–57) and the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1962).

While Barber crafted a substantial body of purely instrumental music, a significant portion—two-thirds of his output—comprised art songs for voice and piano, choral compositions, and songs for voice and orchestra. Noteworthy among these are both solo voice and choral versions of Sure on this shining night (1938), and the song cycle Hermit Songs (1953). This emphasis on vocal material was rooted in Barber's brief career as a professional baritone in his 20s, which ignited a lifelong passion for vocal music.

In 1935, he recorded his own rendition of Arnold's "Dover Beach" for NBC, accompanying his singing voice, and was a regular on NBC Radio from 1935–1936, performing German lieder and art songs. Additionally, Barber occasionally conducted performances and recordings of his works with symphony orchestras in the 1950s and taught composition at the Curtis Institute from 1939 to 1942.

He died on January 23, 1981- aged 70. At the time of his death, nearly all of Barber's compositions had been recorded. Renowned groups and artists, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, Vladimir Horowitz, Eleanor Steber, Raya Garbousova, John Browning, Leontyne Price, Pierre Bernac, Francis Poulenc, and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, commissioned or premiered many of his works.




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