Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings
has become one of the most popular and frequently performed works of the twentieth century. Starting life as the second movement of his String Quartet in 1936, he transcribed it two years later for string orchestra. It was played in this form for the first time under Arturo Toscanini. Barber had been rather taken aback when the conductor, having expressed an interest in his music, returned the manuscripts of the Adagio
and his First Essay for Orchestra
without any comment. He later discovered that this was not a sign of rejection, but simply that Toscanini, whose memory was phenomenal, had no further need of the scores. The seemingly effortless invention of the Adagio
displays his extraordinary gift for melody, perhaps not so surprising in a trained singer, as well as his ability to make a basically consonant harmonic style sound fresh and original.
from notes by Stephen Westrop © 2000