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Classical 101

Samuel Barber Centennial: Hermit Songs

SIX AUDIO PIECES - ALL MUSIC Happy 100th birthday to composer Samuel Barber (d.1981). We've been discussing some of his vocal music on this blog in honor of the occasion. The world knows the composer of the Adagio for Strings, used in film and television, not to mention the funerals of FDR, JFK, Einstein and Princess Grace. There's a lovely setting of the Agnus Dei for which Barber adapted the Adagio. You'll find it at the end of this post. But wait! The most beloved song-cycle of the last sixty years is Barber's Hermit Songs. These are adaptations of medieval-monastic Irish poetry by Sean O'Faolain. Hermit Songs was commissioned by the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Fund in 1953.  Leontyne Price gave the first performance of these ten exquisite songs at the Library of Congress on October 30, 1953. Samuel Barber was at the piano.  This is The Heavenly Banquet,  from that world premiere performance I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings.  I would like to be watching heaven's family/Drinking it through all eternity [audio:price-heavenly.mp3] Leontyne Price, that great artist, that magnificent voice, was Samuel Barber's muse.  Do you have a better idea? It's long been customary for a woman to sing Hermit Songs, but I don't know why a terrific artist like Sanford Sylvan should be excluded. The accompanist is David Breitman [audio:banquet-sylvan.mp3] The Crucifixion, number five of the Hermit Songs is from a 12th century text called The Speckled Book At the cry of the first bird/They began to crucify thee, o Swan!/Never shall lament cease because of that/It was like the parting of day from night Leontyne Price and Samuel Barber [audio:price-crucifixxion.mp3] Sanford Sylvan and David Breitman [audio:crucifixion-sylvan.mp3] The final Song, The Desire for Hermitage is as beautiful and as moving as The Crucifixion brief and dramatic. Ah! to be all alone in a little cell with nobody near me; beloved that pilgrimage before the last pilgrimage to Death...Alone I came into the world/Alone I shall go from it Leontyne Price and Samuel Barber: [audio:price-desire.mp3] Sanford Sylvan and David Breitman [audio:hermitage-sylvan.mp3] Miss Price made two recordings of the Hermit Songs. The world premiere performance sampled here in on an RCA Red Seal CD: Leontyne Price Sings Samuel Barber. Sanford Sylvan and David Bretiman included the Barber songs an a CD called Beloved That Pilgrimage from Nonesuch, along with music by Copland and Chanler. And now for something completely different, Samuel Barber's Agnus Dei, adapted from the music that gave him fame: [youtube y6ilqJW3fV8 490 344] Samuel Barber died in New York on January 23, 1981. Do yourself a favor and remember him on his 100th birthday by listening to his music. --Christopher Purdy