Samuel Barber

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  • Topic: Samuel Barber, Gian Carlo Menotti, Metropolitan Opera
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  • Published : May 8, 2013
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Samuel Barber ! It would seem, when comparing the lives of some of the most accomplished

composers of music in history, that many of them struggled a great deal, both in the music world and in their own personal lives, to make their way to fame. Samuel Barberʼs life, early and late, was no different. He came of age beset by war, of the generation that suffered the greatest global unrest yet known. While his parents eventually supported his musical endeavors, his mother for awhile insisted that he partake in activities of a “normal American boy” (Broder). Having never embraced the new compositional ideals at the time, Barberʼs compositions were too astringent to appeal to the bulk of listeners, and not overtly “complex” enough to be taken seriously by the modernists (Felsenfeld). Much later in his life, his opera, Antony and Cleopatra, would go down as one of the biggest flops in opera history. Regardless, these hardships and failures helped shape Barberʼs career and, more notably, his music, which in turn has influenced and shaped the world. ! Samuel Osborne Barber II was born on March 9th, 1910, in Westchester,

Pennsylvania, to his mother, Marguerite McLeod, and his father, Samuel Le Roy Barber. His father come from a long line of tradesman and professional relatives which, naturally, lead to his becoming of a physician. It would be his fathers hopes of Barber studying medicine at Princeton that would somewhat hinder his musical development at his early age. To his motherʼs family, on the other hand, music was familiar and quite important. His motherʼs sister, Louise Homer, not only gained reputation in the music world while singing solos in oratorios, eventually premiering operas at the Metropolitan,

and ending her long and successful career as one of the greatest American singers of her time, but also through her relationship and marriage to the composer Sidney Homer. His works are still ranked high among the American songs written during the first quarter of this century. Barberʼs uncle would eventually encourage his efforts at composition, writing Barber letters of advice. ! It was not until Barber was at the age of six that he began playing the piano and

composing only a year later. At the time of this early musical development, neither his mother nor his father made any attempt to develop a possible prodigy. His mother, for one, did not encourage him to play the piano at all due to a distaste for amateur male pianists. For a year Barber was given cello lessons instead. A frequently referred to letter when discussing Barberʼs life, written by Barber to his mother, convinced her otherwise: ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! Dear Mother: I have written this to tell you my worrying secret. Now donʼt 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 athelet. I was meant to be a composer, and will be Iʼm sure. Iʼll ask you one more thing.—Donʼt ask me to try to forget this unpleasant thing and go play football. Please—Sometimes Iʼve been worrying about this so much that it makes me mad (not very) (Broder).

Much changed after his parents realized that Barberʼs interest in piano and composition were too strong to ignore. He was permitted to return to piano and began his first studies under William Green, who remained Barberʼs teacher for six years. ! It was only at age 14 that Barberʼs talents began to be noticed. After playing

some of his music for Harold Randolph, the director of the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Randolph advised him to leave school and devote all his time to piano and composition. Shortly after, Barber applied to the newly organized Curtis Institute for Music in Philadelphia, was accepted, and entered as part of its first class. ! ! During the first year of study at the Curtis Institute, his piano teacher wrote the

following about his progress: ! ! ! “Only fourteen. Technically not far...
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