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First Essay

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Samuel Barber

Samuel Barber (arr. Levey)

General Info

Year: 1937 / 1972
Duration: c. 8:00
Difficulty: V (see Ratings for explanation)
Original Medium: Orchestra
Publisher: G. Schirmer
Cost: Score and Parts - $125.00   |   Score Only - $25.00


Full Score
C Piccolo
Flute I-II
Oboe I-II
Bassoon I-II
E-flat Soprano Clarinet
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II-III
E-flat Alto Clarinet
B-flat Bass Clarinet
E-flat Alto Saxophone I-II
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
B-flat Trumpet I-II-III
Horn in F I-II-III-IV
Trombone I-II-III
String Bass


None discovered thus far.

Note on the Edition

In the spring of 2012 the offices of G. Schirmer, Inc. and Associated Music Publishers moved its New York City location to Madison Avenue. As some of the decades’ worth of documents and folders were being packed up to make the move, one extraordinary find was made. At first glance it was a 42-page manuscript from the early 1970s of Samuel Barber’s First Essay, Op. 12 (1937) arranged for concert band by Joseph Levey, then a theory professor at The Ohio State University. It is meticulously hand copied in pencil by Levey and signed and dated by him at the end. However, upon closer inspection, it includes many pages that have additional marks in another’s hand, marks in a different pencil than Levey, many also in red or blue, some scratched out. I was able to immediately identify whose handwriting these edits, revisions, and additions were from. None other than the composer himself: Samuel Barber.

Barber died in 1981 and the band arrangement of his First Essay was published posthumously in 1997. It is surprising that for as long as the full score and parts have been available, the history of the edition has never been known –- the published score contained no prefatory note from the composer or arranger and the music simply read “arranged by Joseph Levey,” which is rather misleading. Correspondence from the early 1970s between Levey and Director of Publications of G. Schirmer, Hans W. Heinsheimer, discussing the project was then discovered in the Schirmer archives. Also of note, the Levey manuscript was located inside a manila file folder, the outside of which contains various interoffice notations and includes marks and comments by other members of the G. Schirmer Publication Department including Barber’s longtime editor, Paul Wittke. The highlight of the folder’s annotations was a note in Barber’s hand saying “score approved by composer.”

It is very rare for a composer to have direct creative influence on a band arrangement of their work. It adds a definitive legitimacy to an edition when one can provide a direct connection to the composer’s involvement with an arrangement. This manuscript is that evidence. Without knowledge of a composer being directly involved it is easy to question many decisions that an arranger makes when bringing an orchestral work into the wind band medium. That is especially true in this edition where, if it were not for the discovery of the aforementioned manuscript, it would have been all too easy to be skeptical of many of the decisions that were made when comparing the orchestral version to the band arrangement.

As one specific example, the orchestral original of the First Essay is scored for a standard-sized orchestra, with timpani as the lone percussion instrument. The percussion section of the band arrangement also calls for timpani, but includes nine other percussion instruments: triangle, bell, gong, tam-tam, crash cymbal, suspended cymbal, wood block, snare drum, and bass drum. If the idea was to remain faithful to the composer’s original intentions, the inclusion of a battery of percussion to an otherwise percussion-absent work would certainly be crossing the line of creative license on the part of the arranger. But that is not the case here: Barber himself added all of the additional percussion to the score! Levey’s arrangement, as submitted to Schirmer, only included the orchestral timpani part. These are all original additions by the composer for the band arrangement, some notated in blue while others appear in red pencil.

The very first measure of the work opens with the bass section of the orchestra playing an open fifth, followed by the entrance of the viola and violoncello sections. The band arrangement opens with the same open fifth played by the tubas and string bass –- but with the addition of a tam-tam strike. One would naturally question this addition if not for the tam-tam being clearly written in blue pencil in Samuel Barber’s unmistakable hand. The same goes for every use of percussion in the band score.

The Levey manuscript shows Barber reorchestrating measures, adjusting dynamics, adding music, and even moments where he changes his mind, for example on whether or not to add a suspended cymbal roll. Barber also marks entrances and solos, abbreviations for instruments, etc., all further supporting evidence that he reviewed the Levey manuscript many times and made several rounds of edits before ultimately submitting the score back to Schirmer with his approval.

The score and parts as printed represent Joseph Levey’s arrangement with all of Barber’s revisions, edits, and additions present. In fact, the materials have always reflected Samuel Barber’s final intentions of this band arrangement, but it is only now that we can formally acknowledge that Barber had a vested interest in creating an arrangement he would approve to become part of his catalog.

- Peter Stanley Martin, Autograph Editions, Series Editor

Barber's Essay for Orchestra (later re-titled First Essay for Orchestra) was written in 1937, ostensibly at the behest of Arturo Toscanini, and given its premiere the following year, along with Barber's Adagio for Strings. The Italian cellist-turned-conductor was an unusually keen champion of Barber's music, which contributed significantly to the young composer's early fame and international recognition. The attention and high praise of Artur Rodzinski and Ralph Vaughan Williams also helped to ensure Samuel Barber's early place among the pantheon of distinguished American composers.

The musical "essay," a form of Barber's own rather clever invention and one with which he had some previous success over a decade earlier in his Three Essays for Piano, is a medium much like its more familiar literary counterpart. As with a written essay, the idea behind a musical essay is the development of a complex, well-reasoned, thoughtful work drawn from a single melodic thesis.

- Program Note by Lee University Wind Ensemble concert program, 10 October 2017

Commercial Discography

State Ratings

  • Louisiana: IV


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

Works for Winds by This Composer


  • Barber, S.; Levey, J. (2016). First Essay [score]. G. Schirmer: New York.