Samuel Barber: The Composer and His Music Paperback – Aug 14 2003
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From Library Journal
Eleven years after his death, the American composer Barber is the subject of a large-scale biography, the first since 1955 (Nathan Broder, Samuel Barber , LJ 12/15/54). Based on the author's Ph.D. dissertation, this exhaustively documented study makes extensive use of original sources, including correspondence, manuscripts, and interviews. Unfortunately, the material is quite poorly organized. The biographical narrative is constantly disrupted by lengthy, discursive discussions of Barber's compositions. Treating the "life" and "works" separately (cf. Eric W. White's Stravinsky: A Critical Survey , Greenwood, 1979, or Maynard Solomon's Beethoven , LJ 11/15/77) would have been much clearer and more user-friendly. Despite these major problems, this book is recommended for large music collections because it represents such thorough research. For others, the article on Barber in the New Grove Dictionary of American Music will suffice.
- Eugene Gaub, Villa Maria Coll., Buffalo, N.Y.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"For the reader interested in a particular repertory, Heyman's approach is perfect....Heyman's book provides choral musicians a valuable resource for the study and performance of Barber's music."--Choral Journal
"Would that every American composer might be as well served as is Samuel Barber by Barbara Heyman, whose book will, as critic Michael Steinberg observed, 'be the foundation of all Barber scholarship forever.'...A bold claim, but one borne out by a careful reading of Heyman's text."--Choice
"We can be grateful for Barbara Heyman's exhaustive assemblage of fact and opinion."--Yale Review
"So striking and sound in its discussion of his works that it gives a hefty boost to Barber scholarship and suggests a model for other such studies....A clear, rich, and accessible pool of indispensable information....The book, like the composer, emerges as a boon and a triumph."--Institute for Studies in American Music Newsletter
"Barbara Heyman has worked diligently and intelligently to produce a book which will be the foundation of all Barber scholarship forever, to which all writers on American music will be turning constantly and for which we shall be immensely grateful. I was completely absorbed in the reading of it."--Michael Steinberg, San Francisco Symphony and Minnesota Orchestra
"[A] comprehensive study. [Heyman] has brought to bear a formidable knowledge of Barber's music and its genesis, together with a sympathetic appreciation of his life, to produce a portrait which, in factual terms at least, may be considered definitive."--Music and Letters
"[Heyman] brings together a great amount of detail and documentation that makes this book a necessary point of reference."--The Musical Times
"Here is a cornicopia of data on the works of Samuel Barber....Through diligent investigation of and liberal quotations from letters, interviews, programs, reviews, books, articles, marginalia, and private tapes and films, Barbara Heyman gives us all manner of details about the background, performances, recordings, and reception of all Barber's compositions....The detail is virtually staggering....The abundance of interesting photographs and the presence of so many intelligently selected musical examples from manuscripts and published scores is laudable....This book will be consulted for many generations because of its marvelous, original data on Barber's works."--American Music
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Theory hogs, like me, may want a few more examples--but if so, we're just being greedy. The author's analyses of the works are well-done, cursory without being useless. She neither fawns over her subject, nor butchers him. Perhaps a bit more biographical information would be nice--Barber's love life is always touched upon at tangents, never explained. But maybe such information is simply not to be found.
The esoteric nature of the subject precludes me from recommending it generally--but for anyone with the slightest interest in Mr. Barber, this is certainly one of the best resources out there.
And what do we say of Samuel? Reactionary, fuddy-duddy? Snobbish European turning his back on his American home, or a man who simply recognizes good music when he hears it? Or, like Brahms, a fusion of past and present who only appears conservative when compared with the silly extremists? I lean towards the latter.
Barber enjoyed Brahms, and there's a similarity stapling the two together here. Both took a rich harmonic and modern language, Brahms with his soup of pivot chords and chromatic thirds, Barber with his polychords, changing meters, and quartal implications, reinvigorating ideas and forms that some describe as depleted. And both were, in some sense, fearless. Now of course neither was immune to public opinion--the failure of Anthony and Cleopatra cracked off a bit of Barber's heart--but nevertheless, we find two men who by and large did not care to defend their artistic choices. Barber wrote music of lyrical melodic line when the flavor de jure was prickly textures or avant-garde nonsense.
I have no opinion on whether or not that was the right decision; but I bestow the highest respect on Barber's intense drive for perfection. 71 years he lived, and left behind a paucity--but a paucity of perfection. The concertos are jewels! The songs are staples (or should be)! Barber forced and tempered his creations: many works were revised after the first performance--and, which is to be respected all the more--usually made shorter by it. Excess notes deleted, and tight statements left behind.
This book honors that aspect of him well, and I'm glad to have gotten to know him through it.
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