Samuel Barber

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Barber, Samuel,

1910–81, American composer, b. West Chester, Pa. Barber studied at the Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia. His music is lyrical and generally tonal; his later works are more chromatic and polytonal with striking contrapuntal elements. Among his outstanding works are a setting of Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach" for voice and string quartet (1931); an overture to The School for Scandal (1931); Adagio for Strings (1936); two symphonies (1936, 1944); Capricorn Concerto for flute, oboe, and trumpet (1944) and a piano concerto (1962; Pulitzer Prize); a ballet, Medea (1946); Knoxville: Summer of 1915, for soprano and orchestra (1947), derived from a segment of James Agee's novel A Death in the Family; a modern oratorio, Prayers of Kierkegaard (1954); and two operas, Vanessa (1957; Pulitzer Prize) and Antony and Cleopatra (1966), commissioned to open the new Metropolitan Opera House.


See biography by N. Broder (1954).

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Barber, Samuel

(1910–81) composer; born in West Chester, Pa. From a musical family, Barber decided on his career in childhood and attended the Curtis Institute of Music from 1924–34. There he wrote the orchestral works The School for Scandal and Music for a Scene from Shelly, which gained him attention in America and Europe. His Adagio for Strings, premiered by Toscanini in 1938, was an immediate hit and remains his best-known score. In the late 1930s Barber joined the Curtis faculty; he left teaching and served in the military from 1942. After the war he settled into a house in Mt. Kisco, N.Y., with composer Gian-Carlo Menotti, who wrote the libretto to Barber's opera Vanessa (1958). His music, long popular with listeners, is marked by a classical clarity often joined to a late-Romantic wistfulness; later work, such as the Piano Concerto (a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1963) uses more modernistic techniques without giving up Barber's basic expressiveness. Antony and Cleopatra, written for the opening of the new Metropolitan Opera in 1966, was a celebrated failure, although later productions of a revised version fared better.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.