“There is no reason why music should be difficult for the audience to understand.” Samuel Barber (1910-1981)
Although Samuel Barber composed many works, including art song, opera, choral music, chamber music and orchestral music, it is the Adagio for Strings (an arrangement of the second movement of his 1936 String Quartet op.11) for which he is best known. Nonetheless, he is certainly deemed one of the most talented American composers of the 20th century.
Barber began composing at the age of seven. As a nine-year-old, it is supposed that he said to his mother:
“I was meant to be a composer and will be I’m sure. Don’t ask me to try to forget this unpleasant thing and go play football - please. ”
Samuel Barber was more than 25 years younger than Arnold Schönberg, Alban Berg and his landsman Charles Ives, and is not seen to be part of the musical avant-garde. His works are melodious, and conform to relatively traditional structure and harmony, and are therefore considered more neo-romantic. His Sonata for Piano op.26 in E-Flat Minor, Barber’s most important piano work, is the only work in which he employs the twelve-tone technique used by his younger contemporaries.
After the Adagio for Strings, Barber’s most popular work is the opera Vanessa, based on a libretto by Gian Carlo Menotti (his life-partner), which premiered in 1958 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Barber’s opera “Antony and Cleopatra” celebrated its world premier as the inaugural performance at the New Metropolitan Opera in the Lincoln Center in 1966.