The complete Barber as conducted by Koussevitzky
Marking Barber's centenary with previously-unissued world première recordings
Review of this release: Audiophile Audition
Notes on the recording:
|Samuel Barber (1910-1981)|
These three works comprise the complete recorded repertoire of Samuel Barber as conducted by Serge Koussevitzky. (There was also an earlier broadcast performance of the Commando March, but no commercial recordings of any of the works.) Koussevitzky was famous for championing contemporary American composers during his tenure in Boston, and he brought his customary passion and commitment to the scores we hear on this program.
The Violin Concerto is heard in the first performance of the revised version Barber prepared in November, 1948. The soloist, American violinist Ruth Posselt, was married to the BSO’s concertmaster and assistant conductor, Richard Burgin, and holds the record for most appearances by a soloist with the orchestra. The concert from which this recording emanates was not broadcast, but rather was surreptitiously recorded using a microphone concealed in a ventilation grate above the stage, as were several other concerts during the 1948-49 season. The sound, relayed by telephone line and taken down on acetate discs at a local Boston recording studio, is nonetheless surprisingly well-balanced and immediate. (A couple bars in the finale that were missing on the original recording due to a skipped groove have been patched in from another performance.)
The Commando March and Second Symphony date from Barber’s service in the U. S. Army Air Force during the Second World War. The broadcast of the symphony’s world première features the original version of the work, which Barber revised in 1947 in part to jettison programmatic elements. One of the casualties of this was the removal of the electronic tone generator used in the second movement (starting at 5:34 in Track 7) to suggest the radio beam used for guiding flyers. Although Barber made a recording of the revised version in 1950, he withdrew the work from performance in 1964 and soon after destroyed all known copies of the score, keeping only the revised second movement which he renamed Night Flight. A copy of the orchestral parts of the complete symphony turned up in England after Barber’s death and has been used as the basis for further performances.
notes from Wikipedia
Samuel Osborne Barber II (March 9, 1910 – January 23, 1981) was an American composer of orchestral, opera, choral, and piano music. His Adagio for Strings is his most popular composition and widely considered a masterpiece of modern classical music. He was twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize for music, for his opera Vanessa and his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. His Knoxville: Summer of 1915, a work for soprano and orchestra, was an acclaimed setting of prose by James Agee.
Barber was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, the son of Marguerite McLeod (née Beatty) and Samuel LeRoy Barber. At a very early age, Barber became profoundly interested in music, and it was apparent that he had great musical talent and ability. At the age of nine he wrote to his mother:
|“||Dear Mother: I have written to tell you my worrying secret. Now don’t cry when you read it because it is neither yours nor my fault. I suppose I will have to tell it now, without any nonsense. To begin with I was not meant to be an athlete. I was meant to be a composer, and will be I’m sure. I’ll ask you one more thing .—Don’t ask me to try to forget this unpleasant thing and go play football.—Please—Sometimes I’ve been worrying about this so much that it makes me mad (not very).||”|
He wrote his first musical at the early age of 7 and attempted to write his first opera at the age of 10. He was an organist at the age of 12. When he was 14, he entered the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where he studied piano, composition, and voice.
Barber was born into a comfortable, educated, social, and distinguished Irish-American family. His father was a doctor, and his mother was a pianist. His aunt, Louise Homer, was a leading contralto at the Metropolitan Opera and his uncle, Sidney Homer, was a composer of American art songs. Louise Homer is noted to have influenced Barber's interest in voice. Through his aunt, Barber had access to many great singers and songs.
Barber began composing seriously in his late teenage years. Around the same time, he met fellow Curtis schoolmate Gian Carlo Menotti, who became his partner in life as well as in their shared profession. At the Curtis Institute, Barber was a triple prodigy in composition, voice, and piano. He soon became a favorite of the conservatory's founder, Mary Louise Curtis Bok. It was through Mrs. Bok that Barber was introduced to his lifelong publisher, the Schirmer family. At the age of 18, Barber won the Joseph H. Bearns Prize from Columbia University for his Violin Sonata (now lost or destroyed by the composer).
From his early to late twenties, Barber wrote a flurry of successful compositions, launching him into the spotlight of the classical music world. Many of his compositions were commissioned or first performed by such famous artists as Vladimir Horowitz, Eleanor Steber, Raya Garbousova, John Browning, Leontyne Price, Pierre Bernac, Francis Poulenc, and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. When he was 28, Barber's Adagio for Strings was performed by the NBC Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Arturo Toscanini in 1938, along with his first Essay for Orchestra. The Adagio had been arranged from the slow movement of Barber's String Quartet, Op. 11. Toscanini had only rarely performed music by American composers before (an exception was Howard Hanson's Second Symphony, which he conducted in 1933). At the end of the first rehearsal of the piece, Toscanini remarked: " Semplice e bella " (simple and beautiful).
Barber served in the Army Air Corps in World War II, where he was commissioned to write his Second Symphony, a work he later suppressed. (It was released in a "Vox" recording by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Schenck). Composed in 1943, the symphony was originally titled Symphony Dedicated to the Air Forces and was premiered in early 1944 by Serge Koussevitsky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Barber revised the symphony in 1947, then destroyed the score in 1964. It was reconstructed from the instrumental parts.
Barber spent many years in isolation (eventually diagnosed with clinical depression) after the harsh rejection of his third opera Antony and Cleopatra (which he believed contained some of his best music. "This was supposed to have been my opera!" he said). The opera was written for and premiered at the opening of the new Metropolitan Opera House on 16 September 1966. After this setback, Barber continued to write music until he was almost 70 years old. Barber's music in his later years would be lauded as reflective and contemplative, but without the morbidity or unhappiness of other composers who knew they had a limited time to live. The Third Essay for Orchestra (1978) was his last major work, and critics received it as having all the vigor and imagination of his earlier works.
Achievements and awards
In addition to composing, Barber was active in organizations that sought to help musicians and music. He was president of the International Music Council of UNESCO, where he did much to bring into focus and ameliorate the conditions of international musical problems. He was also one of the first American composers to visit Russia (which was then a constituent republic of the Soviet Union). Barber was also influential in the successful campaign of composers against ASCAP, helping composers increase the share of royalties they receive from their compositions.
Barber played and studied the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. He also was an adherent of Johannes 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, Op. 7. In 1935, the work was premiered at Carnegie Hall. It 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. This was evident in the Overture to The School for Scandal (1931) and Music for a Scene from Shelley (1933). These were characteristics of his music throughout his lifetime.
Through the success of his Overture to The School for Scandal (1931), Music for a Scene from Shelley (1933), Adagio for Strings (1938); (First) Symphony in One Movement (1936), (First) Essay for Orchestra (1937) and Violin Concerto (1939), Barber garnered performances by the world's leading conductors — Eugene Ormandy, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Bruno Walter, Charles Münch, George Szell, Artur Rodziński, Leopold Stokowski, and Thomas Schippers.
His compositions would later include polytonality (Second Symphony, 1944); atonality (Medea, 1946, Prayers of Kierkegaard, 1954); Twelve-tone technique (Nocturne, 1959 and the Piano Sonata, 1949); and jazz (Excursions, 1944; and A Hand of Bridge, 1959). Although not pathbreaking, Barber's compositions distill 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."
Among his finest works are his four concertos, one each for Violin (1939), Cello (1945) and Piano (1962), and also the neoclassical Capricorn Concerto for flute, oboe, trumpet and string orchestra. All of these works are rewarding for the soloists and public alike, as all contain both highly virtuosic and beautiful writing, often simultaneously. The latter three have been unfairly neglected until recent years, when there has been a reawakening of interest in the expressive possibilities of these masterpieces.
Barber was said to compose piano music with "an extremely natural feeling" for the instrument (in pianist Vladimir Horowitz's opinion, he was the only American composer to do so). The four-piano "bagatelles" Excursions, Op. 20, (1942-44), was his first and only venture into Americana music. Its elements of boogie-woogie, blues, theme and variations on a cowboy song, and hoedown are not typical of Barber's classical and refined music. In 1949, Barber wrote his keyboard masterpiece Piano Sonata, which has maintained a prominent position in the repertoire since its premiere. The Nocturne for Piano (Hommage to John Field), Op. 33, is another respected piece which he composed for the instrument.
Barber's life partner Gian Carlo Menotti, whom he had met at Curtis, supplied the libretto (text) for Barber's opera, Vanessa. Using his vocal training, in 1956 Barber played and sang the score to the Metropolitan Opera's General Manager, Rudolf Bing, who accepted the work. He premiered it in January 1958. The title role was originally written for Sena Jurinac but she cancelled six weeks before the opening, and the role went to Eleanor Steber. She has become closely identified with it. "Vanessa" won the 1958 Pulitzer Prize and gained acclaim as the first American "grand" opera.
Menotti also contributed the libretto for Barber's chamber opera A Hand of Bridge. Barber's Antony and Cleopatra was commissioned to open the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in 1966. The elaborate production designed by Franco Zeffirelli was plagued with technological disasters; it also overwhelmed and obscured Barber's music, which most critics derided as uncharacteristically weak and unoriginal. The critical rejection of music Barber considered to be among his best, sent him into a deep depression. In recent years, a revised version of Antony and Cleopatra, for which Menotti provided collaborative assistance, has enjoyed some success, proving the earlier critics mistaken.
Barber's background, deeply rooted in singing (including studies with Emilio de Gogorza), his 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 poem by Matthew Arnold), were greatly successful. Their critical acclaim has made a powerful case for Barber as one of the twentieth century's most accomplished composers for the voice.
In honor of Barber's influence on American music, on October 19, 1974 he was awarded the prestigious University of Pennsylvania Glee Club Award of Merit. This award was established in 1964 "to bring a declaration of appreciation to an individual each year who has made a significant contribution to the world of music and helped to create a climate in which our talents may find valid expression."
In September 1992, soprano Cheryl Studer, baritone Thomas Hampson, the preeminent Samuel Barber pianist John Browning and the Emerson String Quartet recorded the complete songs of Samuel Barber (with the exception of Knoxville: Summer of 1915) at the Brahms-Saal of the famous Musikverein in Vienna, Austria. The Deutsche Grammophon (catalogue 435 867-2) set has become a classic of American song on record.
Notes from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Barber
Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto
notes from Wikipedia
In 1939 Philadelphia industrialist Samuel Fels commissioned Barber to write a violin concerto for Fels' adopted son, Iso Briselli, who had graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music the same year as Barber (1934). Barber accepted his advance and went to Switzerland to work on the concerto. The first two movements were presented to Briselli who was disappointed in the lack of virtuosic displays. Subsequently, following a delay of about 1 year, Barber delivered the third movement, a brilliant perpetuum mobile, which Briselli declared unplayable and no match for the quality or substance of the first two movements. He tried to persuade Barber to expand it, and give it a more defined structure. Barber declined. At that point, Fels asked for his advance to be returned. Barber answered that he had spent the money on his composing trip to Switzerland. Barber had the work played at Curtis to show Briselli that third movement was playable. The work was not premiered by Briselli, but he did play it privately in later years; Barber and Briselli remained friends, although there are many contradictory accounts of their relationship.
Ralph Berkowitz, at that time the Curtis Institute's staff pianist, found a young violin student, Herbert Baumel, in the Curtis Common Room. Baumel was known to be an excellent sight reader, and Berkowitz asked Baumel to study the finale for a couple of hours, then to join him in pianist Josef Hofmann's studio. After reviewing the music, Baumel went to the studio to discover an audience of Barber (now teaching at Curtis), Gian Carlo Menotti, Mary Louise Curtis Bok (founder of the Curtis Institute), and a friend of Mrs. Bok.
Herbert Baumel performed the concerto in the 1939–1940 season as soloist with the symphony orchestra of the Curtis Institute, conducted by Fritz Reiner. That performance brought the piece to the attention of Eugene Ormandy, who soon scheduled its official premiere in a pair of performances by Albert Spalding with the Philadelphia Orchestra in the Academy of Music in February 1941. [The actual premiere was on February 7.] Those performances were followed on February 11, 1941, by a repeat performance in Carnegie Hall, and from that point, the piece rapidly entered the standard violin and orchestral repertoire. In fact, the Barber Violin Concerto has become one of the most frequently performed of all twentieth-century concertos.
The concerto has been recorded by a number of violinists, including Anne Akiko Meyers, Joshua Bell, James Ehnes, Hilary Hahn, Itzhak Perlman, Gil Shaham and Isaac Stern. The version made in 1964 by Stern with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein remains a celebrated romantic interpretation, while the 1988 recording by Meyers with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra has been highly praised. A transcription of the concerto for flute and orchestra has also been recorded on the Regis label with Jennifer Stinton as the soloist.
Form of the work
Presto in moto perpetuo
Barber provided these program notes for the premiere performance:
The first movement — allegro molto moderato — begins with a lyrical first subject announced at once by the solo violin, without any orchestral introduction. This movement as a whole has perhaps more the character of a sonata than concerto form. The second movement — andante sostenuto — is introduced by an extended oboe solo. The violin enters with a contrasting and rhapsodic theme, after which it repeats the oboe melody of the beginning. The last movement, a perpetuum mobile, exploits the more brilliant and virtuosic character of the violin.
Notes from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Violin_Concerto_(Barber)