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Samuel Barber

born: 9 March 1910
died: 23 January 1981
country: USA

Barber intensely played and studied the music of J.S. Bach. He also was an adherent of Brahms, from whom he learned how to compress profound emotions into small modules of highly charged musical expression (Cello Sonata, 1932). In 1933, after reading the poem "Prometheus Unbound" by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Barber composed the tone poem Music for a Scene from Shelley. In 1935, the work was premiered at Carnegie Hall, and this was the first time the composer heard one of his orchestral works performed publicly. Barber’s compositional style has been lauded for its musical logic, sense of architectural design, effortless melodic gift, and direct emotional appeal. These characteristics remained in his music throughout his lifetime.

His compositions would later include characteristics of polytonality (Second Symphony, 1944), atonality (Medea, 1946; Prayers of Kierkegaard, 1954), Twelve-tone technique (Nocturne, 1959 and the Piano Sonata, 1949), and even jazz (Excursions, 1944; A Hand of Bridge, 1959). Barber's composition were never lauded to be pathbreaking, but his compositions were an eclectic blend of the “musical currents hovering about in his time”. John Corigliano succinctly described Barber's style as "an interesting dichotomy of harmonic procedures — an alternation between post-Straussian chromaticism and often diatonic typical American simplicity."

With a background deeply rooted in vocals, Barber's love of poetry and his intimate knowledge and appreciation of the human voice inspired his vocal writing. Barber's most famous vocal compositions, Knoxville: Summer of 1915 (to words by James Agee) and Dover Beach (to words from a Victorian text by Matthew Arnold), were greatly successful and received critical acclaim, making a powerful case for Barber as one of the twentieth century's most accomplished composers for the voice.


Barber & Copland: In the beginning – other choral works
CKD117Download only
Barber & Ives: Piano Sonatas
Barber & Walton: Violin Concertos
SIGCD238Download only
Barber: Agnus Dei; Bernstein: Chichester Psalms; Copland: In the beginning
Barber: Piano Music
CDH88016Helios (Hyperion's budget label) — Archive ServiceDownload currently discounted
Barber: Songs
Bernstein: Chichester Psalms; Copland: In the beginning; Barber: Agnus Dei
Copland & Barber: In the beginning & other choral works
CKD117Download only
Copland: In the beginning; Bernstein: Chichester Psalms; Barber: Agnus Dei
From the Steeples and the Mountains
CDH55018Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Housman: A Shropshire Lad
CDD220442CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1) Composers of World War I
Ives & Barber: Piano Sonatas
Organ Dreams, Vol. 2
Poulenc: Concerto for organ
Studio Master: CKD178Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Sure on this shining night
Walton & Barber: Violin Concertos
SIGCD238Download only

Complete works available for download

Adagio for Strings, Op 11Malmö Opera Orchestra, Joseph Swensen (conductor)
Adagio for Strings, Op 11Christopher Herrick (organ)
Agnus DeiCorydon Singers, Matthew Best (conductor)
Agnus DeiDunedin Consort, Ben Parry (conductor)
Ballade, Op 46Angela Brownridge (piano)
Dover Beach, Op 3Gerald Finley (baritone), The Aronowitz Ensemble
Four Excursions, Op 20Angela Brownridge (piano)
Hermit Songs, Op 29Gerald Finley (baritone), Julius Drake (piano)
In the dark pinewoodGerald Finley (baritone), Julius Drake (piano)
Let down the bars, O death, Op 8 No 2Dunedin Consort, Ben Parry (conductor)
Mélodies passagères, Op 27Gerald Finley (baritone), Julius Drake (piano)
Mutations from BachLondon Gabrieli Brass Ensemble, Christopher Larkin (conductor)
Nocturne 'Homage to John Field', Op 33Angela Brownridge (piano)
Piano Sonata, Op 26Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
Piano Sonata, Op 26Angela Brownridge (piano)
Reincarnations, Op 16Dunedin Consort, Ben Parry (conductor)
The Beggar's SongGerald Finley (baritone), Julius Drake (piano)
The virgin martyrs, Op 8 No 1Dunedin Consort, Ben Parry (conductor)
There's nae larkGerald Finley (baritone), Julius Drake (piano)
Three Songs, Op 10Gerald Finley (baritone), Julius Drake (piano)
Three Songs, Op 2Gerald Finley (baritone), Julius Drake (piano)
To be sung on the water, Op 42 No 2Dunedin Consort, Ben Parry (conductor)
Toccata festiva, Op 36Dame Gillian Weir (organ), English Chamber Orchestra, Raymond Leppard (conductor)
Violin Concerto, Op 14Thomas Bowes (violin), Malmö Opera Orchestra, Joseph Swensen (conductor)

Alphabetical listing of all musical works

A nun takes the veil 'Heaven-haven'  
Adagio for Strings, Op 11 (Barber)
Adagio for Strings, Op 11 (Barber/Strickland)
Agnus Dei (Barber)
Ah! To be all alone in a little cell  
Anthony O'Daly  
As down the road she wambled slow  
At St Patrick's Purgatory  
At the cry of the first bird  
Ballade, Op 46 (Barber)
Beautiful, my delight  
Bessie Bobtail  
Church Bell at Night  
Close my darling both your eyes  
Come with me, under my coat  
Dors au fond de l'allée  
Dover Beach, Op 3 (Barber)
Four Excursions, Op 20 (Barber)
Four Songs, Op 13 (Barber)
Good people keep their holy day  
Hermit Songs, Op 29 (Barber)
How foolish the man who does not raise  
I do not know with whom Edan will sleep  
I hear an army  
I will take nothing from my Lord, said she  
I would like to have the men of Heaven in my own house  
In the dark pinewood (Barber)
In the scented bud of the morning – O  
It has broken us, it has crushed us  
Le clocher chante  
Let down the bars, O death, Op 8 No 2 (Barber)
Mary Hynes  
Mélodies passagères, Op 27 (Barber)
Mieux qu'une tour profane  
Mon amie, il faut que je parte  
Mutations from Bach (Barber)
Nocturne 'Homage to John Field', Op 33 (Barber)
Pangur, white Pangur  
Piano Sonata, Op 26 (Barber)
Pity me on my pilgrimage to Loch Derg!  
Puisque tout passe  
Rain has fallen  
Reincarnations, Op 16 (Barber)
Sea Snatch  
She is the sky  
Since your limbs were laid out  
Sleep now  
St Ita's Vision  
Sure on this shining night  
Sweet little bell, struck on a windy night  
The Beggar's Song (Barber)
The coolin'  
The Crucifixion  
The Daisies  
The Desire for Hermitage  
The Heavenly Banquet  
The Monk and his Cat  
The Praises of God  
The sea is calm tonight  
The virgin martyrs, Op 8 No 1 (Barber)
Therefore come they, the crowding maidens  
There's nae lark (Barber)
Three Songs, Op 10 (Barber)
Three Songs, Op 2 (Barber)
To be sung on the water, Op 42 No 2 (Barber)
Toccata festiva, Op 36 (Barber)
Tombeau dans un parc  
Un cygne  
Violin Concerto, Op 14 (Barber)
With rue my heart is laden  

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