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Samuel Barber- Adagio for Strings

Rating: 2 votes, 5.00 average.
My own musical tastes are all over the place, and I will admit that some of what I love can be thought of as quite esoteric... especially to those just beginning to explore "classical music". With that in mind, I offer up the following:

If there is one piece of classical music composed by an American that I certain will last, it is surely Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings. This piece of music must surely be one of the most absolutely heart-wrenching artistic experiences I have ever known. The Adagio began as the middle movement of Barber's string quartet, but the composer himself recognized the worth of the piece and scored it for full orchestra. He sent a copy of this score to the great conductor, Toscanini. Toscanini returned it without comment, which deeply annoyed and hurt Barber... until he was informed by the conductor that he had returned the work because he had already memorized it entire. Toscanini gave the first performance of the Adagio for Strings with the NBC Symphony Orchestra on November 5, 1938 in New York. This recording was selected in 2005 for permanent preservation in the National Recording Registry at the United States Library of Congress.

The Adagio for Strings is such a moving and somber piece of music that it is no surprise that it was broadcast over the radio at the announcement of Franklin D. Roosevelt's death. It was also played at the funeral of Albert Einstein, the funeral of Princess Grace of Monaco, during the radio report of John F. Kennedy's assassination and again was performed in 2001 at Last Night of the Proms in the Royal Albert Hall to commemorate the victims of the September 11 attacks, replacing the traditional upbeat patriotic songs. It was also played during the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. On April 13, 2010 Adagio for Strings was performed at the special joint session of the Polish Parliament and Senate three days after the tragic plane crash. It has also been repeatedly used in television and film, including Oliver Stone's Platoon and David Lynch's The Elephant Man.

Barber also composed a choral setting of the Adagio, Agnus Dei:

-Samuel Barber


  1. AuntShecky's Avatar
    I see that this blog has several followers but few commentators. The reason for part of this may be that the postings are so concise and well-produced that no further comment is necessary! I'm making a mental note to go back and read some of the ones that I've missed or just partially scanned. Re: this specific posting: I heard or read that Barber's Adagio is the "saddest piece of music ever composed." Do you agree with that, or does the somberness of its reputation arise from the context in which the piece is often played, for state funerals and the like. Back in '97, when Princess Diana died, "Pavane for a Dead Princess" was one of the musical that was played for her memorial services. ( I couldn't remember the composer, so I "Googled" it just now. It was Ravel.)
  2. stlukesguild's Avatar
    Thanks for the comment. Oh yes... Barber's Adagio is one of those exquisitely moving pieces of music... one that almost catches you off guard and causes a sudden silence in almost reverence. Of course there many other such examples over the course of musical history... but such is somewhat rare for the last century in its unabashed expression of such emotion in such an unabashed and beautifully romantic manner.