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Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Historic Première Recordings
Dover Beach
Samuel Barber (baritone) with the Curtis String Quartet
(recorded Camden, New Jersey, 13/5/35)
Overture: The School for Scandal
The Janssen Symphony of Los Angeles conducted by Werner Janssen
(recorded in Hollywood 11/3/42)
Adagio for Strings (from String Quartet Op. 11)
The NBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Arturo Toscanini
(recorded Carnegie Hall, New York 19/3/42)
Capricorn Concerto
Julius Baker (flute); Harry Freistadt (trumpet); Martin Miller (oboe)
The Saidenberg Little Symphony conducted by Daniel Saidenberg
(recorded in New York in 1946)
Essay No. 1
Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ornmandy
(recorded 20/10/40 at the Philadelphia Academy of Music)
Sonata for Cello and Piano
Raya Garbousova (cello) Erich Itor Khan (piano)
(recorded in New York in 1947)
Symphony No. 1 (In One Movement)
The Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra of New York conducted by Bruno Walter
(recorded 23/1/45, Carnegie Hall, New York)
PEARL GEMM 0049 [79:37]
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Note: This recording is not a new release It was published in 1999.


Samuel Barber was born in Pennsylvania on 9th March 1910 (As an aside, another key figure in the development of American music, Aaron Copland was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1900). Samuel Barber was the only son of a prosperous doctor and community leader. His early influences were his aunt and uncle, Louise and Sidney Homer; she was a famous contralto and he was a composer of songs. Samuel's affinity with the voice showed itself not only in a large output of vocal music but also in his fine baritone voice. From 1924 to 1932 he studied at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia taking lessons in voice and composition. For a while he contemplated a career as a singer and made a famous and moving recording (included here) of one of his earliest successes, his setting of Matthew Arnold's poem Dover Beach for voice and string quartet written in 1931. Similar forces had been used, for example, by Respighi for Il tramonto, a setting of Shelley's The Sunset; and by Vaughan Williams for On Wenlock Edge. On this album we hear Barber, himself, singing the opening of his own recording made in 1935. Dover Beach expresses the darker side of Barber's personality, his self-doubts. Even though the recording is none too clear it is possible to perceive the splendid musical imagery of the opening "The sea is calm tonight" where the voice and violin float languorously over a shimmering slow tremolo suggesting gently lapping waves. Interestingly, Ralph Vaughan Williams attempted several times to set Arnold's bleak poem to music. He complimented Barber saying "he had really got it!"

In his student days, and earlier, Barber conceived a great passion for European and especially English literature. He was inspired to write a concert overture The School for Scandal, a sparkling evocation of the spirit rather than the action of Sheridan's comedy. Barber evokes the mischief, comic intrigues and wagging tongues in its vivacious shifting rhythms. Especially noteworthy is the lovely pastoral theme first announced on the oboe and then taken up by the strings. The work won the Bearns Prize of Columbia University in 1933. Commenting on this first recording by Werner Janssen, Barber said it (lacked something in drive (strangely), in lightness and elegance (justified even though the sound is rather muffled even for 1942).

After his graduation, Barber won a succession of prizes and awards that helped him to travel in Europe where he forged important links with Italy. He was particularly interested in Italian early music - Monteverdi, Gesualdo, Cavalli and Gabrielli etc. His travelling companion and lifelong friend was fellow student and composer, Gian Carlo Menotti.

The Cello Sonata, Op. 6, the last of Barber's student works, was begun in Italy in the summer of 1932 and completed in America under the guidance of Orlando Cole, the cellist of the Curtis String Quartet. It has a Brahmsian cast but with contemporary harmonies and complex shifting rhythms. Critics differed: some praised its poetic beauty; others founded it lacked cohesion (the central movement does shift disconcertingly between deeply-felt melancholy lyricism and skittish playfulness). But it is full-blooded and in the popular Romantic-modern tradition; and it has proved popular with audiences.

Barber was really regarded as a right wing conservative composer and he looked outward towards Europe and European art rather than inwards to his native American culture - although there were exceptions. His Symphony No. 1 (In One Movement) was partly composed in a French Alpine village and premiered in Rome - not too successfully - the Italians were dismayed by its rather North European chilliness. It was much more successful in America where it was first played in Cleveland and New York in the winter of 1937. It was modelled on Sibelius's Seventh Symphony in that it is cast in one continuous movement. Barber's First Symphony was revised in 1942 and championed by Bruno Walter. His splendidly atmospheric and vital 1945 recording of the revised Symphony is included. It followed Walter's premiere of it on 18th February 1944. It was said then that Walter conducted it "superbly from memory and con amore".

Arturo Toscanini was another maestro who championed Barber's music. Barber wrote his Essay No. 1 for him in 1938. Barber was initially upset when Toscanini returned the scores of the Essay and the Adagio for Strings without comment, but the maestro broadcast both works over NBC on 5th November on 5th November 1938. The vibrant performance of the Essay, here is by Ormandy. The work is short yet kaleidoscopic embracing sombre introspective sting passages, dancing scampering woodwind episodes and heroic brass figures. Toscanini gives a moving performance in the recording on this album of the Adagio for Strings - probably Barber's best-known, best-loved piece. It has been used in films and it served as memorial music for United States Presidents from Roosevelt to Kennedy.

The Capricorn Concerto, of 1944, written while working in Daniel Saidenberg's Music Department of the Office of war Information, takes its name from the retreat/sanctuary/studio that Barber shared with Menotti on Croton Lake, Mount Kisco, New York. It is a sort of concerto grosso for flute, oboe, trumpet and strings - the same instrumentation as Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2. It marks a further development in Barber's musical language -- he was striving for contemporary tonal effects. The rhythms are vigorous, sometimes syncopated with frequent and sudden shifts. Some resemblance to both Copland and Stravinsky has been noted. This recording is by Saidenburg's Little Symphony.

A generously-filled and obligatory album for Barber enthusiasts - particularly for the chance to hear Barber singing his own Dover Beach and the Ormandy, Toscanini and Walter recordings are equally compelling.

Ian Lace

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