Five essential works by Samuel Barber

We choose some of the finest works by the last great American Romantic

Five essential works by Samuel Barber


This is Barber’s single most popular work – originally a movement from his String Quartet, which the conductor Toscanini with remarkable perception suggested should be rescored for full strings.

Recommended recording:
Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
Chandos CHAN 9169



Dover Beach

Barber’s genius for setting words to music showed itself early with this setting of Matthew Arnold’s melancholy poem.

Recommended recording:
Gerald Finley (baritone); Aronowitz Ensemble
Hyperion CDA 67528



Knoxville: Summer of 1915

Though essentially a setting of a prose passage, Barber captures both its musicality and its idyll of a summer’s afternoon spent on a porch in Tennessee.

Recommended recording:
Dawn Upshaw (soprano); St Luke’s Orchestra/David Zinman
Nonesuch 7559 79187 2



Violin Concerto

Sharing something of the spirit of Knoxville, Barber’s Violin Concerto starts with two dreamily lyrical movements, then finishes with a hurtling finale.

Recommended recording:
Isaac Stern; New York Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein
Sony SMK 89751




Barber’s first opera is lusciously Romantic in style and enjoyed a first-rate cast at its premiere including Eleanor Steber and Nicolai Gedda, who went on to make a studio recording.

Recommended recording:
Eleanor Steber, Nicolai Gedda; Metropolitan Opera/Dimitri Mitropoulos
RCA 88697446172

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