Samuel Barber

American composer (West Chester, 1910 – New York, 1981)

Samuel Barber was an American composer whose symphonic language was essentially post-romantic. “My goal is to write good music that will be comprehensible to the greatest number.”

Samuel Osborne Barber was born into a family of musicians. He began studying the piano at age 6 and tried for his first composition at age 7. At age 14, he joined the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where he later became an orchestration teacher, in 1932. In 1935, he joined he American Academy in Rome. There, he composed his 1st Symphony, whose creation made him stand out at the Contemporary Music Festival in Salzburg. But it was thanks to a chamber music creation that Samuel Barber acquired worldwide fame. In 1938, on Toscanini's advice, he arranged the second mouvement of his String Quartet for string quatuor. Created on that same year by the Italian conductor, Barber's Adagio thus became one of the most popular works in the world, regularly performed during official funerals. In 1942, he was commissioned to compose his Second Symphony by the Army Air Corps; only the second movement, Night flight, would then be kept. In 1946, he composed a ballet for dancer Martha Graham, which led to orchestral suite Medea. His opera Vanessa, on a libretto by Menotti, was awarded the First Pulitzer Prize in 1958. His second Pulitzer Prize followed four years later, for his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra.

6 landmark dates in the life of Samuel Barber:

1932: Started teaching at the Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia

1935: American Prix de Rome

1944: Creation of his Symphony no. 2 by Koussevitzky in Boston

1958: Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his opera Vanessa

1959: Appointed Dr. Honoris Causa in Harvard University

1962: Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his Concerto for Piano

6 key works by Samuel Barber:

1933: School of scandal, overture

1937: Symphony no. 1

1938: Adagio for Strings

1946: The Serpent heart, incidental music and his ballet suite Medea

1957: Vanessa, opera on a libretto by Menotti

1966: Antony and Cleopatra, opera

Biography from Radio France’s document database, January 2014