Samuel Barber: Symphony n.1

Samuel Barber - Symphony n.1

Last updated Mar 3, 2020 | Published on Sep 17, 2016

Samuel Barber’s wrenching symphony n.1, here in the wonderful interpretations of the New York Philharmonic led by Bruno Walter in a 1945 recording (Barber’s 1944 revision).

 This one-movement symphony, composed in Rome during the winter of 1935-36 and dedicated to his long-time companion Gian Carlo Menotti, was given its premiere there on December 13, 1936, under Bernardino Molinari with the Philharmonic Augusteo Orchestra. Barber revised the score early in 1942, and the new version was introduced by Bruno Walter and the New York Philharmonic on April 16 of that year.

Hans Kindler conducted the National Symphony Orchestra’s first performance of this work, on November 7, 1945; Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos conducted the most recent ones in November of 1989.

In the program notes for the New York premiere Barber explained:

The form of my Symphony in One Movement is a synthetic treatment of the four-movement classical symphony.

It is based on three themes of the initial Allegro non troppo, which retain throughout the work their fundamental character.

The Allegro ma non troppo opens with the usual exposition of a main theme, a more lyrical second theme, and a closing theme.

After a brief development of the three themes, instead of the customary recapitulation, the first theme in diminution forms the basis of a scherzo section (vivace).

The second theme (oboe over muted strings) then appears in augmentation, in an extended Andante tranquillo.

An intense crescendo introduces the finale, which is a short passacaglia based on the first theme (introduced by violoncelli and contrabassi), over which, together with figures from other themes, the closing theme is woven, thus serving as a recapitulation for the entire symphony. (Heyman 1992, 140)

Notes and credits:

Cover image by Renato Mu

[1] Heyman, Barbara B. 1992. Samuel Barber: The Composer and His Music. New York: Oxford University Press.

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