The work of Samuel Barber (1910-1981), like that of many composers who were active during the years both before and after the Second World War, is diverse in terms of style and genre. He is perhaps best known for his Adagio for Strings as well as The School for Scandal, both of which were completed during the 1930s. After 1945, Barber’s work became increasingly varied—there were jazz-influenced works as well as those that employed serial techniques, polytonality, and atonality; a reflection of the intense musical pluralism that saturated the post-war years.
Even if Barber’s name is unfamiliar to you, it’s likely you’ve heard some of his music. Quoting Paul Wittke:
His heart was rarely on display, well concealed under his Roman patrician manner. But his heart was large, his wit hid his sensitivity, his melancholy was his response to the sadness of the world. The taste and refinement of the America that gave us a Samuel Barber is rapidly disappearing — but it is there in his music if we but listen.
Listen, it says, listen.