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March Musician of the Month: Samuel Barber


Samuel Barber (1910 - 1981) was an American composer whose celebrated compositions are considered some of the greatest works of the 20th century. He was the recipient of two Pulitzer Prizes for his opera Vanessa and his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra as well as the winner of the American Prix de Rome, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and he was elected into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Barber began composing as a child, writing his first composition for solo piano at age 7. He attempted to write his first opera, titled The Rose Tree, at the age of 10 and at the age of 14 enrolled in the Curtis Insttute of Music in Philadelphia where he studied composition, voice, and piano. 


Amongst Barber’s many compositions, perhaps his most celebrated and well known is his Adagio for Strings, an arrangement for string orchestra of the second movement of his String Quartet, Op. 11. Barber made the arrangement in 1936, the same year he wrote the string quartet, and it was premiered by Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra on November 5, 1938 in a radio broadcast from a New York studio.

The work has gone on to become one of the most cherished pieces ever written. It has been performed or played at important moments in the world’s history including the announcement of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s, John F. Kennedy’s, and Princess Diana’s death and the funeral of Albert Einstein and Princess Grace of Monaco. It can also be heard in films like Platoon, The Elephant Man, The Crow, Amélie, and Gattaca amongst others and on television shows such as How I Met Your Mother, American Dad!, South Park, New Girl, and The Simpsons.


The recording of the world premiere radio performance of Adagio for Strings from 1938 was selected in 2005 for permanent preservation in the National Recording Registry at the United States Library of Congress.


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