Home / Arts / Classical Music/Dance / Samuel Barber and MSO: Music in Perpetual Motion
Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010

Samuel Barber and MSO: Music in Perpetual Motion

Classical Preview

Google+ Pinterest Print
An openhearted and thoroughgoing romantic, Samuel Barber (1910-81) was one of the few 20th-century American composers to fight for the primacy of lyricism (though his music migrated somewhat away from this later in life). In particular, an emotive violin concerto and the Adagio for Strings have gained a popularity exceeded only by certain works of Gershwin and Copland.

Given his romantic propensities, it should come as no surprise that Barber achieved great success with the concerto genre—one in which he could make full use of the form’s vast palette (from tender lyricism to splashy pyrotechnics). In 1939 he composed his Violin Concerto, Op. 14, for the young Russian-born violinist Iso Briselli, who had requested a showpiece to display his technical skills. Barber obliged in the work’s brief moto perpetuo finale.

In a textbook case of “be careful what you ask for because you might get it,” Briselli found the finale impossible to play! Nevertheless, a successful premiere did take place on Feb. 7, 1941, with Albert Spalding as soloist and the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy.

The first movement of Barber’s Violin Concerto is predominantly lyrical, though not without spells of dramatic tension. The melancholy andante that follows has an elegiac quality akin to many of Barber’s finest works, while the hair-raising finale proceeds as a nonstop torrent of notes that races headlong through to the end.

Through his endeavors as a composer, performer and musical historian, Béla Bartók (1881-1945) emerged as one of the 20th century’s most gifted (and forceful) musical personalities. Truly his single most popular work is the Concerto for Orchestra, Sz. 116 of 1943 (revised 1945), a commission from Serge Koussevitzky, music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The five movements are arranged in something of an arch form—the first and last movements are musically related, as are the second and fourth. Meanwhile, the third (central) movement—an elegia Bartók described as a “lugubrious death song,” functions as the arch’s keystone. As with Barber’s concerto, this work too ends with a wild and breathless moto perpetuo.

Both of these works appear on the next Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concert taking place Nov. 19-20 in Uihlein Hall. Maestro Edo de Waart conducts and Concertmaster Frank Almond is the soloist for the Barber concerto.

One day in 1878 Arthur Sullivan and W.S. Gilbert toured the deck of HMS Victory, taking copious notes regarding the layout of the ship. Such attention to detail would become typical of the team’s working relationship. Their tour inspired the creation of their early hit, HMS Pinafore. Indeed, it established Gilbert & Sullivan as a creative force to be reckoned with in British comic theater. Gilbert’s libretto had everything necessary for a witty hit; but it was Sullivan’s score that was most responsible for the long-term success of HMS Pinafore. The work fairly abounds with unforgettable tunes.

Milwaukee’s Skylight Opera Theatre presents Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore at the Cabot Theatre Nov. 19-Dec. 19.