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Samuel Barber

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Samuel Barber


Samuel Barber (9 March 1910, West Chester, Pennsylvania – 23 January 1981, New York, New York) was an American composer of orchestral, opera, choral, and piano music. Barber was born into a comfortable, educated, social, and distinguished Irish-American family.

His father was a doctor, and his mother was a pianist. His aunt, Louise Homer, was a leading contralto at the Metropolitan Opera and his uncle, Sidney Homer, was a composer of American art songs. Louise Homer is noted to have influenced Barber's interest in voice. Through his aunt, Barber had access to many great singers and songs. This background is further reflected in that Barber decided to study voice at the Curtis Conservatory.

Barber began composing seriously in his late teenage years. Around the same time, he met fellow Curtis schoolmate Gian Carlo Menotti, and the two would form a lifelong personal and professional relationship. At the Curtis Institute, Barber was a triple prodigy of composition, voice, and piano. He soon became a favorite of the conservatory's founder, Mary Louise Bok. It was through Bok that Barber would be introduced to his one and only publisher, the Schirmer family. At the age of 18, Barber won a prize from Columbia University for his Violin Sonata (now lost or destroyed by the composer).

At Curtis, Barber met Gian Carlo Menotti with whom he would form a lifelong personal and professional relationship. Menotti supplied libretti for Barber's operas Vanessa (for which Barber won the Pulitzer) and A Hand of Bridge. Barber's music was championed by a remarkable range of renowned artists, musicians, and conductors including Vladimir Horowitz, John Browning, Martha Graham, Arturo Toscanini, Dmitri Mitropoulos, Jennie Tourel, and Eleanor Steber. His Antony and Cleopatra was commissioned to open the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in 1966.

Barber was the recipient of numerous awards and prizes including the American Prix de Rome, two Pulitzers, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His intensely lyrical Adagio for Strings has become one of the most recognizable and beloved compositions, both in concerts and films ("Platoon," "The Elephant Man," "El Norte," "Lorenzo's Oil").

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