Samuel Barber Centennial Recording Born in West Chester, Pennsylvania on March 9, 1910, Samuel Osborne Barber began to play piano at the age of six and, by the age of ten, had written his first opera. A musical prodigy, he entered the Curtis Institute as one of the first charter students - studying piano, composition and voice. At Curtis he met Gian Carlo Menotti who became his professional and life partner. In 1935 he won a Pulitzer scholarship for his Cello Sonata and, in 1936, the American Academy's Prix de Rome. In his twenties, Barber wrote a number of compositions commissioned by noted musicians of the time - including Eleanor Steber, Francis Poulenc, Vladimir Horowitz, and Leontyne Price. He was twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize - first for his opera Vanessa in 1958, and the second time for his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, 1963. Barber spent many years clinically depressed and in isolation, after the rejection of what he thought was his best composition, the opera Anthony and Cleopatra (1966). He continued to compose until 1981 when, at the age of 70, he died of cancer. Barber's compositional style follows the European traditions more closely than the American. He eschewed the extreme experimentalism of some of his contemporaries, preferring more traditional forms and harmonies. His technique, often described as neo-romantic, is highly melodic, logical, and keenly structured, with an instant emotional appeal. A Hand of Bridge (Op. 35, 1959) depicts the interaction between two couples during a game of bridge. The façade of the game masks the hidden, unattainable, passions of the players - to be intensely and intimately loved (Sally and Bill), to have a long and loving platonic relationship (Geraldine), and to be the master of all both socially and sexually (David). Menotti's libretto suggests conflicts within the character's lives which have occurred at other times, but which are veiled by the inherent structure of the game. He causes the bidding and language of the game of bridge itself to be fraught with double meanings, indicating that the seemingly clueless participants are actually more aware than they seem. Souvenirs (Op. 28, 1952) was originally composed as a four-hand piano suite, for Barber and his friend Charles Turner. It was inspired by their visits to the Blue Angel Club in New York City, where they would listen to a popular piano duo- Edie and Rack- who were known for their arrangements of popular melodies and Broadway tunes, which they molded into a more cultured style. Turner recommended that Barber compose a piece in this light-hearted style, but using his own original melodies. Souvenirs also called upon Barber's boyhood memory of taking tea with his mother in the Palm Court of the Hotel Plaza in New York, and hearing the piano music. Lincoln Kirstein suggested that Barber orchestrate the piano version for a ballet. The orchestral suite was first performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Fritz Reiner. The work was then commissioned by the New York City Ballet and was performed in 1955, choreography by Todd Bolender. This humorously satirical ballet consists of six short movements: Waltz, Schottische, Pas de deux, Two-Step, Hesitation-Tango, and Galop. The waltz features a meter shift from the traditional triple to five beats per measure near the end of the movement. The second movement if fast and also features several meter shifts, but the third movement (Pas de deux) is slow and nostalgic. Movements four through six are all set in fast tempi, most especially the final Galop. Samuel Barber's Piano Concerto (Op. 38, 1960-62) is considered one of his masterpieces, for which he received not only his second Pulitzer Prize (1963), but also the Music Critics' Circle Award. It was commissioned by G. Schirmer Inc. in 1959 - his publisher for the majority of his career- in honor of the company's 100th anniversary. It was to be one of the first compositions performed in Lincoln Center's new Philharmonic Hall (now Avery Fisher Hall). It was premiered in 1962 by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Erich Leinsdorf and Barber's favorite pianist, John Browning. Throughout the creation of the concerto, Barber collaborated closely with Browning, shaping the work around his style and technique. The concerto melds a commanding structure with Barber's melodic gift and more traditional harmonic style and is notable for the composer's use of self-borrowing. The work is scored for piccolo, flute, oboe, cor anglais, bass clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, timpani, percussion, harp, and strings. It opens with a piano declamation of one of the major themes and proceeds into a frenetic tutti section- which contains the movement's main melodies. Barber spins crafts the movements through inversion, retrograde, and counterpoint variations of the melodies. The second movement is based, primarily, on one melancholic theme, and is much more subdued in nature. It is rather like a song and features the solo flute. The finale is more rhythmic and active using a fixated ostinato in the piano. Movement three is devilishly fast, in 5/8 time, and also features a driving ostinato figure. It makes significant use of the brass instruments and ends with a dramatic piano section in which the player ascends through the entire keyboard in a dazzling display of technical prowess. Four Songs (Op. 13, 1937-40): As a song writer Barber is, perhaps, at his most romantic and impassioned. Barber possessed a lovely baritone voice. This, combined with his distinct love of poetry, and his intimate knowledge and appreciation of the human voice, was the inspiration for his vocal writing. Throughout his life Barber always had a book of poetry nearby. Pianist John Browning mused that it was as necessary to his life as oxygen. Barber was drawn to a wide range of contemporary writers like James Joyce, and James Agee. It is from these two poets that Barber drew the texts for two of his Opus 13 songs - "Sure on this shining night" (Agee) and "I hear an army" (Joyce). The songs of opus 13 were all written separately, but were later grouped together. They were originally written for voice and piano, but were later orchestrated by Barber. They have never before been recorded with orchestra. They represent four distinct facets of Barber's compositional aesthetic. The sublime lyricism of both "Sure on this shining night" and "Nocturne" (poetry by Frederic Prokosch) emphasizes his melodic genius and his more basic use of form and harmony. The orchestration relies heavily on string writing and subtle shifts in orchestral harmonies and colors. "Monks and Raisins" expresses his whimsical side and his mastery of complex polyrhythms and meter shifts. It primarily utilizes the woodwinds and strings to express the quirky nature of José Garcia Villa's poetry. The stentorian "I hear an army" exploits the entire range of orchestral colors and dynamics. It's compositional style is uninhibited and passionate, and it powerfully evokes the atmosphere of battle. (Notes written by Emily Bullock and Ovidiu Marinescu) Funding for this recording has been provided in part by: • The Samuel Barber Foundation • West Chester University • Pennsylvania System of Higher Education Special thanks to: • Dr. Linda L. Lamwers, West Chester University Provost • Dr. Ulrich Klabunde, WCU Samuel Barber Fund • Dr. Timothy V. Blair, Dean, College of Visual and Performing Arts, WCU • Dr. Mike Ehi Ayewoh, Associate Vice President for Sponsored Research & Faculty Development The price of the album is a suggested donation for the WCU Orchestra Fund to defray the cost of music rental. Donors to the School of Music may receive a free copy upon request.