US composer whose work is marked by a strong traditional element of melodic structure.
Born and brought up in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Barber became a student at the Curtis Institute, studying piano, composition, and conducting. His excellent baritone voice led him to consider a career in singing, and in 1935 he gave recitals on the NCB radio and recorded his Dover Beach for voice and string quartet (1931). He travelled extensively in Europe on scholarships (including the Prix de Rome) and found his style in a natural romanticism allied to classical forms. The popular Adagio for Strings is an orchestral transcription of the second movement of his string quartet (1936). His opera Vanessa (1957), with libretto by Menotti, was first performed at the Metropolitan Opera and played there for two subsequent seasons (1958/59 and 1964/65); an opera commissioned for the opening of the new Lincoln Center, Antony and Cleopatra (1966), designed by Zeffirelli, was less successful, probably due to its cumbersome production.
Barber's harmony is basically that of late-nineteenth-century diatonicism; his music is lyrical and often dramatic and comparable with that of Brahms. Barber was in no way an innovator: ‘I write as I feel’, he said. Theatre works include three operas and two ballets; there are two symphonies (1936, revised 1943; 1944, revised 1947), concertos for violin, cello, and piano, and the Capricorn Concerto (1944) for flute, oboe, trumpet, and strings. His choral works include Prayers of Kierkegaard (1954), and he has also composed instrumental pieces and songs.