Samuel Barber Essay

Samuel Barber ! It would seem, when comparing the lives of some of the most accomplished composers of music in history, that many of them struggled a great deal, both in the music world and in their own personal lives, to make their way to fame. Samuel Barber? s life, early and late, was no different. He came of age beset by war, of the generation that suffered the greatest global unrest yet known. While his parents eventually supported his musical endeavors, his mother for awhile insisted that he partake in activities of a “normal American boy” (Broder).

Having never embraced the new compositional ideals at the time, Barber? s compositions were too astringent to appeal to the bulk of listeners, and not overtly “complex” enough to be taken seriously by the modernists (Felsenfeld). Much later in his life, his opera, Antony and Cleopatra, would go down as one of the biggest ? ops in opera history. Regardless, these hardships and failures helped shape Barber? s career and, more notably, his music, which in turn has in? uenced and shaped the world. ! Samuel Osborne Barber II was born on March 9th, 1910, in Westchester,

Pennsylvania, to his mother, Marguerite McLeod, and his father, Samuel Le Roy Barber. His father come from a long line of tradesman and professional relatives which, naturally, lead to his becoming of a physician. It would be his fathers hopes of Barber studying medicine at Princeton that would somewhat hinder his musical development at his early age. To his mother? s family, on the other hand, music was familiar and quite important. His mother? s sister, Louise Homer, not only gained reputation in the music world while singing solos in oratorios, eventually premiering operas at the Metropolitan, nd ending her long and successful career as one of the greatest American singers of her time, but also through her relationship and marriage to the composer Sidney Homer. His works are still ranked high among the American songs written during the ? rst quarter of this century. Barber? s uncle would eventually encourage his efforts at composition, writing Barber letters of advice. ! It was not until Barber was at the age of six that he began playing the piano and composing only a year later. At the time of this early musical development, neither his mother nor his father made any attempt to develop a possible prodigy.

His mother, for one, did not encourage him to play the piano at all due to a distaste for amateur male pianists. For a year Barber was given cello lessons instead. A frequently referred to letter when discussing Barber? s life, written by Barber to his mother, convinced her otherwise: ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! 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 athelet.

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 (not very) (Broder). Much changed after his parents realized that Barber? s interest in piano and composition were too strong to ignore. He was permitted to return to piano and began his ? rst studies under William Green, who remained Barber? s teacher for six years. ! It was only at age 14 that Barber? s talents began to be noticed.

After playing some of his music for Harold Randolph, the director of the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Randolph advised him to leave school and devote all his time to piano and composition. Shortly after, Barber applied to the newly organized Curtis Institute for Music in Philadelphia, was accepted, and entered as part of its ? rst class. ! ! During the ? rst year of study at the Curtis Institute, his piano teacher wrote the following about his progress: ! ! ! “Only fourteen. Technically not far advanced yet very promising indeed. Astonishingly musical insight and a very extraordinary gift for composition” (Broder). The next year Barber added composition to his studies, which lead to his acquaintance of another young composer named Gian Carlo Menotti. To some, this meeting would only be described as an inseparable friendship. Yet to others, this meeting would spark a love affair that would last in one form or another until Barber? s death. While not much was actually reviled by Barber during his life to support this assumption, it would make sense that living in 1928 homosexuality was hardly something one spoke about.

Many have tried to made connections to this notion and Adagio for String, possibly his most recognizable and famous composition, which was written over a summer in Austria spent with Menotti. But no substantial evidence in Barber? s life has pointed to homosexual tendencies. It is important to note, however, that Menotti is an exceptional example of how the people in Barber? s life truly and greatly effected his compositions and his portrayal of his emotion into them. Maybe if Barber had never met Menotti the world would no longer have one of the most heart wrenching, sublime, and powerful pieces ever written. In 1933, age 23, Barber left the Curtis Institute (he received the degree of Bachelor of Music a year later at the commencement ceremony) determined to get to New York and earn a living as a singer. In the following years he found that singing did not prove ? nancially pro? table and, with the support of his family and others, was able to compose at all times. This, surprisingly, made him considerably more money from the prizes he was winning. His music was not only being published by major companies but also winning high honors such as the the Pulitzer Traveling Scholarship and the Prix de Rome. Creeping into the 40? s, the pre-war years, Barber found himself something of a celebrity, his music performed widely by major orchestras under famous conductors. Even so, he had yet to ? nd himself a major commission. And like every young man of his generation, with Nazi? s invading Poland and the whole World on the brink of war, Barber feared the inevitable call from the draft board. In 1943, the call ? nally came. However, his poor eyesight got him a ticket right back to New York after basic training. During his three years of service, though, he organized and performed in military glee clubs and bands.

This gave Barber ample time work on his compositions, two included the Commando March for the Army Air Forces and the Capricorn Concerto thanks to his newly found patriotism. ! Over the next 20 years, Barber would be commissioned for everything from piano sonatas to operas, and from orchestral works to solos. Success was slowly slipping from Barber? s hands as he continuously failed to supply his clients. Needless to say, once the Metropolitan Opera commission a work in 1966, and Barber accepted, all did not go well. The Metropolitan Opera was to move to the newly built Lincoln Center, and

Barber was commissioned to write a piece as a sort of christening. It was decided that he would base it on Shakespeare? s play, Antony and Cleopatra. Whether it was because of staging, the music, or combination of both, the opening night of the opera was horrible and one of the last times Barber took on a major commission. ! This failure stuck with him even until death. He declined a commission from the Philadelphia Orchestra saying that he had decided not to accept any more orchestral works. Instead, he wrote small, chamber-like pieces. It would seem that in 1971 Barber rebounded from his major ? p almost ? ve years back, writing The Lovers, a massive thirty-? ve minute piece for a huge orchestra. In his ? nal years, Barber wrote his third and ? nal Essay, and a Canzonetta for Oboe and String Orchestra, the work that would be his last. ! In 1980, Barber suffered from a stroke while in Scotland, was taken to New York City and released shortly after to his home, where his friends came to play his music for him. On January 23rd, 1981, he died, near his window so he could look out over the trees. ! It is a shame that when compared to some of the most accomplished and praised omposers of music such as Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, and Stravinsky, Samuel Barber tends to be overshadowed by the “masters” of his art. Too often are his works labeled as simply “pretty,” not the sounds of the “real” artists. One could say that both Barber and his music have not been around long enough for him to be classi? ed as such or his “neo-Romantic” style of composing with atonality was far stretched at the time of his growth as a notable composer. However, even though his music has not yet made a lasting impact, it is true, without a doubt, that Barber? unwavering mentality in his early life, mixed with a keen ear for instrumental colors, new experiments with rhythms and timber, and a driving passion for his art, have paved the road for him to soon join the “masters. ” Work Cited Felsenfeld, Daniel. Britten and Barber: Their Lives and Their Music. Pompton Plains, ! NJ: Amadeus, 2005. Print. Broder, Nathan. Samuel Barber. New York: G. Schirmer, 1954. Print. Barbara B. Heyman. “Barber, Samuel. ” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. ! Oxford University Press. Web. 10 Apr. 2013..


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