Friday, May 15, 2009

S.Q. Daily #5: Barber String Quartet

S.Q. Daily: A Composer's Listening Journal

Day #5: Samuel Barber
String Quartet, Op. 11

Before I begin... the cute photo of the musician bears featured at the top of each S.Q. Daily post is courtesy of Flickr user izzyplante. She uses fimo - a type of polymer clay - to create these figurines, which are available for purchase through etsy. Give them a look!

And now, a quick look at Barber's 1936 String Quartet (written when he was 26... just to throw that out there...). You'll recognize this one from its slow middle movement, which he arranged for string orchestra in 1938 as the "saddest classical work ever," Adagio for Strings.

For an aural reminder, you can listen here.

Referencing the second movement - possibly the slowest three pages of music this side of indeterminacy - Wiki notes that, "in the original it follows a violently contrasting first movement, and is succeeded by a brief reprise of this music."

Overstatement of the week! (Remember the Bartok and Shostakovich from earlier this week?) Despite their sixteenth note rhythms and relatively quick tempi (quarter note = 126, wowie!), the outer movements really complement their more famous counterpart in their tonal-esque American lyricism.

While largely well-written and effective, Movements I and III are certainly less remarkable then the second. The first and last pages of the work combined show promise, grab your attention, and even present a winking 4-bar minuet reference. But this isn't enough to asuage Barber's contemporary critics that saw his music as hopelessly conservative and "pretty."

One quartet texture Barber uses more frequently than most composers - especially in this middle movement - is all four voices in unison/octaves. This is no surpise given his love of writing for the human voice. The parts work very well as vocal lines; in fact, the work was eventually rescored for choir as an "Agnus Dei."

With that, I'll leave you to dry your tears. Until Monday, happy listening!...

No comments:

Post a Comment