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Samuel Barber is the composer of one of the most iconic works of the 20th century, Adagio for strings, but there is much wonderful music to explore besides.
Born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Barber showed an early aptitude for music and studied at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute both as a singer (he had a fine baritone voice) and as a composer. One of his earliest works was his setting of Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach which he himself performed (and recorded) with string quartet. His musical language was unashamedly Romantic and his biggest break came when Toscanini performed the Adagio from his String Quartet in a transcription for full strings – the broadcast put Barber squarely on the musical map and the work has gone on to be his greatest hit. Many of his orchestral works from this period were performed by leading orchestras and conductors in the US: his overture The School for Scandal (1933), First Symphony (1936) and First Essay (1937). Of his operas, Vanessa (1958) has enjoyed renewed popularity and even Antony and Cleopatra, written for the opening of the new Met in New York, receives the occasional performance. His lyrical Violin Concerto is, alongside his Adagio, Barber’s most performed and recorded work.
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