"I was meant to be a composer and will be I'm sure...Don't ask me to try to forget this unpleasant thing and go play football--please."
    Samuel Barber - Age 9

Samuel Barber (1910 - 1981)

Early Life

Samuel Barber was born on the 9th of March, 1910 in West Chester, Pennsylvania to a doctor and his wife. While his parents were not the musical sort, his aunt and uncle were: Louise Homer sang for the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and her husband Sidney was a prolific songwriter.

Samuel began learning piano at the age of six, and started composing when he was seven. At the age of ten, he attempted to write an opera, but it was never finished.

At fourteen, Barber became one of the first students at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. While there he studied under a variety of prestigious teachers; piano with Isabelle Vengerova, composition with Rosario Scalero, singing with Emilio de Gogorza, and conducting with Fritz Reiner.

In his teens, Barber entertained the idea of becoming a singer, due in part to the cultivation of his deep baritone voice. Fortunately for the world of music, he decided to follow his dream of composition instead.

Professional Life

Barber began serious composition in his late teens, and by the age of twenty-three had one of his pieces, Overture to the School of Scandal performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra.

In 1935 he won the American Academy's Prix de Rome, allowing him to move to Italy and continue his studies. While there, he composed a string quartet, the second movement of which would eventually become his greatest legacy to the world of music, the Adagio for Strings.

He served briefly in the Army Air Corps (who commissioned him to write his Second Symphony) during World War II where he attained the rank of corporal and which eventually brought him back to the U.S.

In 1957 he won his first Pulitzer prize for his first opera, Vanessa to a libretto written by his lifelong friend Gian Carlo Menotti.


Barber died of cancer in New York City on January 23, 1981. He is buried in Oakland Cemetary in the city of his birth, West Chester Pennsylvania.


  • 1935 - Prix de Rome
  • 1957 - Pulitzer Prize - Vanessa
  • 1959 - Honorary Doctor of Music - Harvard University
  • 1961 - Pulitzer Prize - Piano Concerto No. 1
  • 1964 - Grammy - Best Classical Composition By a Contemporary Composer
  • 1984 - Grammy - Best New Classical Composition
  • 1992 - Grammy - Best Contemporary Composition



  • Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14
  • Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 38
  • Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra, Op. 22
  • Capricorn Concerto, Op. 21

Symphonic Music:

  • Overture to School for Scandal, Op. 5
  • Music for a Scene from Shelley, Op. 7
  • Symphony in One Movement, Op. 9
  • Essay for Orchestra, Op. 12
  • Second Essay for Orchestra, Op. 17
  • Second Symphony, Op. 19
  • Summer Music, Op. 31
  • Fadograph of a Yestern Scene, Op. 44
  • Third Essay for Orchestra, Op. 47

Music for Band:

  • Commando March

Vocal Music:

  • Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Op. 24 (James Agee)
  • Dover Beach, Op. 3 (Matthew Arnold)
  • Hermit Songs, Op. 29 (Medieval Irish texts)
  • Andromache's Farewell, Op. 39 (Euripides)
  • The Lovers, Op. 43 (Pablo Neruda)
  • Three Songs, Op. 2 (James Stephens, A.E. Housman)
  • Three Songs, Op. 10 (James Joyce)
  • Four Songs, Op. 13 (Agee, G.M. Hopkins, W.B. Yeats, Frederic Prokosch)
  • Two Songs, Op. 18 (Robert Horan and J.G. Villa)

Choral Music:

  • Twelfth Night (Laurie Lee)To Be Sung On The Water Op. (Louise Bogan) Op. 42
  • Reincarnations (James Stephens) Op. 16
  • Agnus Dei (transcription of Adagio for Strings, text from the Roman Catholic Mass)
  • Prayers of Kierkegaard, Op. 30 (Soren Kierkegaard)
  • Heaven-Haven (arranged for chorus from Op. 13) (Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins)
  • Die Natali Op. 37
  • God's Grandeur (Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins)
  • The Monk and His Cat (W.H. Auden)
  • The Virgin Martyrs (Helen Waddell, trans, from the Latin of Sigebert of Gembloux)
  • Let Down the Bars, O Death (Emily Dickinson)


  • Vanessa, Op.32 (Gian Carlo Menotti)
  • Antony and Cleopatra Op.42 (Gian Carlo Menotti)
  • A Hand of Bridge. Op. 35 (Gian Carlo Menotti)


  • Medea, Op. 23
  • Souvenirs, Op.28


  • Sonata for Piano, op. 26
  • Interlude No. 1
  • Interlude No. 2
  • Nocturne, Op. 33
  • Ballade, Op. 46
  • Excursions, Op. 20
  • Fresh from West Chester (Some Jazzings)
  • After the Concert
  • Three Sketches

Chamber Works:

  • String Quartet , Op. 11 (Adagio for Strings)
  • Dover Beach (Matthew Arnold) Op.3
  • Summer Music, OP.35

Other Works:

  • Piano Sonata, Op. 26
  • Canzonetta for Oboe and String Orchestra, Op. 48
  • Interlude No.1
  • Ballade, Op.46
  • Excursions, Op.20


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