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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Samuel Barber (1910-1981)

Samuel Osborne Barber II (March 9, 1910, West Chester, PA - January 23, 1981) was the son of Marguerite McLeod (née Beatty) and Samuel LeRoy Barber.

At a very early age, Barber became profoundly interested in music, and it was apparent that he had great musical talent and ability. At the age of nine he wrote to his mother:

“Dear Mother: I have written to tell you my worrying secret. Now don’t cry when you read it because it is neither yours nor my fault. I suppose I will have to tell it now, without any nonsense. To begin with I was not meant to be an athlete. I was meant to be a composer, and will be I’m sure. I’ll ask you one more thing. -- Don’t ask me to try to forget this unpleasant thing and go play football. -- Please -- Sometimes I’ve been worrying about this so much that it makes me mad (not very).”

He wrote his first musical composition at the early age of 7 and attempted to write his first opera at the age of 10. He was an organist at the age of 12. When he was 14, he entered the Curtis Institute, a conservatory where he studied piano, composition, and voice.

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).

From his early to late 20's, Barber wrote a flurry of successful compositions, launching him into the spotlight of the classical music community. Many of his compositions were commissioned or first performed by such famous artists as Vladimir Horowitz, Eleanor Steber, Raya Garbousova, John Browning, Leontyne Price, Pierre Bernac, Francis Poulenc, and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

Overture to the School for Scandal (1931)

Barber’s compositional style has been lauded for its musical logic, sense of architectural design, effortless melodic gift, and direct emotional appeal as evidenced in Overture to The School for Scandal (1931) and Music for a Scene from Shelley (1933). These characteristics remained in his music throughout his lifetime.

Barber intensely played and studied the music of J.S. Bach. He also was an adherent of Brahms, from whom he learned how to compress profound emotions into small modules of highly charged musical expression (Cello Sonata, 1932). In 1933, after reading the poem "Prometheus Unbound" by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Barber composed the tone poem Music for a Scene from Shelley. In 1935, the work was premiered at Carnegie Hall, and this was the first time the composer heard one of his orchestral works performed publicly.

String Quartet (1936): Adagio (Adagio for Strings for string orchestra)

First Essay for Orchestra (1937)

Second Essay for Orchestra (1942)

Through the success of these works, plus the Symphony (No. 1) in One Movement (1936), Adagio for Strings (1938), (First) Essay for Orchestra (1937), Violin Concerto (1939), and Second Essay for Orchestra (1942), Barber garnered performances by the world’s leading conductors -- Eugene Ormandy, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Bruno Walter, Charles Münch, George Szell, Artur Rodzinski, Leopold Stokowski, and Thomas Schippers.

At the young age of 28, Barber's Adagio for Strings was performed by the NBC Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Arturo Toscanini in 1938, along with his first essay for orchestra. The Adagio had been arranged from the slow movement of Barber's String Quartet op.11. Toscanini had only very rarely performed music by American composers before (an exception was Howard Hanson's Symphony No. 2, which he conducted in 1933).

At the end of the first rehearsal of the piece, Toscanini remarked: "Semplice e bella" ("simple and beautiful").

Barber served in the Army Air Corps in World War II, where he was commissioned to write his Symphony No. 2, a work he later suppressed (which was resurrected in a Vox recording by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Schenck). Composed in 1943, the symphony was originally titled Symphony Dedicated to the Air Forces and was premiered in early 1944 by Serge Koussevitsky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He revised the symphony in 1947, then decided to destroy the score in 1964. It was reconstructed from the instrumental parts.

Capricorn Concerto (1944)

Knoxville: Summer of 1915 (1947)

Medea (1948)

Vanessa (1957)

A Hand of Bridge (1959)

Piano Concerto (1962)

His compositions would later include characteristics of jazz, polytonality, atonality, and 12-tone technique, in such works as Excursions (1944), Symphony No. 2 (1944), Medea, (1946) Piano Sonata (1949), Prayers of Kierkegaard (1954), Vanessa (1957), A Hand of Bridge (1959), and Nocturne (1959). Although not pathbreaking, Barber's compositions distill an eclectic blend of the “musical currents hovering about in his time.” John Corigliano succinctly described Barber's style as "an interesting dichotomy of harmonic procedures -- an alternation between post-Straussian chromaticism and often diatonic typical American simplicity."

Gian Carlo Menotti, whom Barber had met at Curtis, supplied the libretto (text) for Barber's opera, Vanessa, in which the title role was originally written for Sena Jurinac who later declined the offer. Barber's beautiful baritone voice and vocal training were more than adequate to impress Rudolf Bing. In 1956, Barber sang him the score of his opera Vanessa; the impresario was so astonished that he accepted and produced the work immediately. Vanessa would go on to win a Pulitzer Prize and gain acclaim as an American “grand” opera.

Menotti would also go on to contribute the libretto for Barber's chamber opera Hand of Bridge and direct the production of many of Barber's operas. Barber's Antony and Cleopatra was commissioned to open the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in 1966. The elaborate production designed by Franco Zeffirelli was marred by numerous technological disasters; it also overwhelmed and obscured Barber's music, which most critics derided as uncharacteristically weak and unoriginal. In recent years, a revised version of Antony and Cleopatra, for which Menotti provided collaborative assistance, has enjoyed some success.

Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1963)

Barber spent many years in isolation (eventually diagnosed with clinical depression) after the harsh rejection of his third opera Antony and Cleopatra (which he believed contained some of his best music. "This was supposed to have been my opera!" he said).

The opera was written for and premiered at the opening of the new Metropolitan Opera House on September 16, 1966. After this setback, Barber continued to write music until he was almost 70 years old. Barber’s music in his later years would be lauded as reflective, contemplative, but without the morbidity or unhappiness of other composers who knew they had a limited time to live. The Third Essay for Orchestra (1978) was his last major work and critics received it as having all the vigor and imagination of his earlier works.

Barber died of cancer in 1981 in New York City at the age of 70. He was buried in Oaklands Cemetery in his hometown of West Chester, Pennyslvania.

Barber was president of the International Music Council of UNESCO, where he did much to bring into focus and ameliorate the conditions of international musical problems. He was also one of the first American composers to visit Russia (which was then a constituent republic of the Soviet Union). Barber was also influential in the successful campaign of composers against ASCAP, helping composers increase the share of royalties they receive from their compositions. Barber was the recipient of numerous awards and prizes including the Rome Prize (the American version of the Prix de Rome), two Pulitzers, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

"How awful that the artist has become nothing but the after-dinner mint of society" – Samuel Barber


T-Bone Walker (May 28, 1910 — March 16, 1975) was an American blues guitarist, singer, pianist, and songwriter who was one of the most important pioneers of the electric guitar. He was the first blues musician to use an electric guitar.

In September 2003, he was ranked #47 in Rolling Stone magazine's list of "The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time".


"Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday Is Just As Bad)" (also known as "Call It Stormy Monday" or just "Stormy Monday") is a blues song written by T-Bone Walker and first recorded in 1947.

Confusingly, it is also sometimes referred to as "Stormy Monday Blues", although that is the title of a 1942 song by Earl Hines and Billy Eckstine. Walker titled his song as he did to avoid the name collision.

The song is based in the standard 12-bar blues format. The lyrics portray a person who is separated from their love, and is suffering from guilt in some way because of what they have done.

The original recording appeared on Black & White Records, produced by Ralph Bass, and was one of Walker's breakthrough sides in pioneering the idiom of electric blues guitar. This recording also featured smoky trumpet work from sideman Teddy Buckner. It reached #5 on the R&B charts in 1948. B.B. King has said that "Call It Stormy Monday" inspired him to begin playing electric guitar.

Walker re-recorded the song with better fidelity and a somewhat different arrangement on his classic 1959 Atlantic Records album T-Bone Blues.

The song became a standard for blues and blues rock artists, and over the years was recorded by Albert King, Eva Cassidy, Question Mark and the Mysterians, Jethro Tull, Eric Clapton, Shake Your Hips!, Lee Michaels, and others. Trouble ensued when artists named it "Stormy Monday Blues", however, as for instance Bobby Bland did on a well-known rendition, as it was mis-credited and royalties went to the Hines-Eckstine song rather than Walker's. This may have also happened on some of the treatments that were just called "Stormy Monday".

The Allman Brothers Band included a live performance (as "Stormy Monday") on their album At Fillmore East in 1971. It garnered considerable airplay on progressive rock and album-oriented rock radio formats during the 1970s.


Chester Arthur Burnett (June 10, 1910 – January 10, 1976), better known as Howlin' Wolf, was an influential American blues singer, guitarist and harmonica player.

With a booming voice and looming physical presence, Burnett is commonly ranked among the leading performers in electric blues; musician and critic Cub Koda declared, "no one could match Howlin' Wolf for the singular ability to rock the house down to the foundation while simultaneously scaring its patrons out of its wits."

Many songs popularized by Burnett—such as "Smokestack Lightnin'", "Back Door Man" and "Spoonful"—have become standards of blues and blues rock.

At 6 feet, 6 inches (198 cm) and close to 300 pounds (136 kg), he was an imposing presence with one of the loudest and most memorable voices of all the "classic" 1950s Chicago blues singers. This rough-edged, slightly fearsome musical style is often contrasted with the less crude but still powerful presentation of his contemporary and professional rival, Muddy Waters - although the two were reportedly not that different in actual personality - to describe the two pillars of the Chicago blues representing the music.

Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller), Little Walter Jacobs, Willie Dixon, and Muddy Waters are usually regarded in retrospect as the greatest blues artists who recorded for Chess in Chicago. Sam Phillips once remarked, "When I heard Howlin' Wolf, I said, 'This is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies.'"

"Evil", sometimes listed as "Evil (Is Going On)", is a Chicago blues standard written by Willie Dixon for Howlin' Wolf, Chester Burnett, first released on Chess Records on May 25, 1954.

It was included on the 1959 compilation album Moanin' in the Moonlight and was re-recorded in 1969 for The Howlin' Wolf Album. The song was also a hit for Muddy Waters, who released it in June 1977, a year and a half after Burnett's death.

The single features the sidemen Hubert Sumlin and Jody Williams (guitar), Otis Spann (piano), Willie Dixon (double-bass), and Earl Phillips (drums). Wolf achieves a coarse, emotional performance with his strained singing, lapsing into falsetto.

The song, a twelve-bar blues, is punctuated with a syncopated backbeat, brief instrumental improvisations, upper-end piano figures, and intermittent blues harp provided by Wolf.[2] The music heightens the meaning of the lyrics, that of the "evil" that takes place in a man's home when he is away: "you better watch your happy home", Wolf warns.

The song has been recorded by numerous artists, including: Luther Allison, Canned Heat, Captain Beefheart, Derek and the Dominos, Gary Moore, Cactus, The Faces, Monster Magnet, and Steve Miller.

[8911 Hovhaness / 8910 Barber]

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