Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Samuel Barber – Symphony No. 1

Samuel Barber
Samuel Barber (1910-1981)

Let’s get this out of the way right away: Samuel Barber is among the greatest composers ever born in the United States, a composer of operas, symphonies, concerti, numerous other orchestral works and piles of chamber music, piano music, choral works and songs. Almost all of his music has been published and recorded. He is the recipient of an American Prix de Rome, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and two Pulitzer Prizes. The Pulitzer Prize-winning chief music critic for the New York Times, Donal Henahen, stated regarding Barber that:

“probably no other American composer has ever enjoyed such early, such persistent and such long-lasting acclaim.”

Then “why-oh-why” I cry – tearing at my hair and renting my tee-shirt – why-oh-why has he been reduced today to a one-hit wonder, the composer of Adagio for Strings, which is in fact an arrangement of the slow movement of his String Quartet Op. 11 of 1936 (and a piece of music so ubiquitous that it might rightly be called the “Pachelbel’s Canon” of the twentieth century). Yes; Barber’s Adagio for Strings is a beautiful, masterfully crafted work. Yes, yes: when Arturo Toscanini became director of the NBC Orchestra in 1938, the first American work he performed was Barber’s Adagio, announcing after the first rehearsal that it was “Semplice e bella” (“simple and beautiful”). Yes, yes, and yes: Oliver Stone used it to magnificent excess in his film Platoon of 1986.

But Barber wrote scads of other beautiful, masterfully crafted works, and we are gathered here today to celebrate one of them: his Symphony No. 1 of 1936.… Learn about the work, the composer, and the prescribed recording, only on Patreon!