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Name of Work

Barber, Samuel (1910-1981)
String Quartet, Op. 11 (2009)

Movements:
Molto allegro e appassionato
Molto adagio
Molto allegro (come prima)

Performances:


Oct 04, 2009



Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Jasmine Lin, Violin
Rami Solomonow, Viola
Stephen Balderston, Cello


Oct 05, 2009



Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Jasmine Lin, Violin
Rami Solomonow, Viola
Stephen Balderston, Cello

BARBER - String Quartet, Op. 11

Composed in 1936

Samuel Barber, who first revealed his considerable talents to the world with his sparkling Overture to “The School for Scandal” in 1932, had his standing as one of America’s brightest young composers reaffirmed when, three years later, he received both the Pulitzer Traveling Scholarship and the American Prix de Rome. (He was awarded a second Pulitzer Prize in 1936, the first composer to be so honored.) The purpose of these awards was to allow their recipients to work and study abroad (the Prix de Rome prize included free room and board in that city), and in August 1935, Barber sailed for Europe. In Rome, he lived, somewhat uncomfortably, in what he called “the expatriated Harvard-Club atmosphere” of the American Academy. He did not like his room at the Academy (he refused to unpack his trunk for the entire two years of his stay), but he was very fond of his studio, away from the main building in a made-over stable, which he described as “full of charm. I love the garden, the pines by moonlight, Rome in the distance, the yellow stone stairs.” He took every opportunity to explore the city’s ancient monuments and art works, reporting in great and enthusiastic detail, for example, on one excursion when some of the Academy students were invited to crawl about on dusty scaffolding, erected for restoration work just six feet from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, to investigate Michelangelo’s great frescos.

During the spring of 1936, shortly after completing his First Symphony, Barber and Gian Carlo Menotti, his frequent companion of those years (the Menotti family compound on the Italian side of Lake Lugano was perhaps Barber’s favorite place in all of Europe), wandered through Switzerland and Austria, settling for the summer and early autumn in a little lodge rented from the local game warden at St. Wolfgang, just east of Salzburg. In this idyllic spot, at the foot of a mountain, with a stream trickling along the side of the house, Barber composed the chorus Let Down the Bars, O Death, the song I Hear an Army and his only String Quartet. By early November, he was back in Rome to prepare for the premieres of the First Symphony and the Quartet the following month. The concerts were a success, and the arrangement for string orchestra that he made of the slow movement from the Quartet — the Adagio for Strings — soon came to be recognized as one of the masterworks of 20th-century music.

Barber’s String Quartet follows an unusual formal progression. The composer considered the work to be in just two movements: a large, fully worked-out sonata form, followed by the Adagio and an abbreviated recall of the opening movement. This structure places the Adagio, with its plaintive melody, rich modalism, austere texture and mood of reflective introspection, at both the formal and expressive center of the Quartet, and it is the music that remains strongest in the mind when the work is through. The opening movement, in B minor, provides an effective foil to the Adagio. Its first theme, given at the outset in unison, is energetic and rather deliberately modern in its aggressive harmony. Barber’s innate lyricism is manifested, however, in the contrasting second and third themes: one, presented in chordal fashion, is delicately modal in its harmony; the other is a simple, wide-ranging melody initiated by the first violin above an almost static accompaniment. These three themes are developed and then recapitulated to round out the movement.

Program Notes by Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Performed October 4 & 5, 2009



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