On This Gay Day: Composer Samuel Barber died in 1981

Samuel Barber died on this day in 1981 aged 70

Samuel Barber was one of the most celebrated composer of the 29th century, his work spanned the genres of orchestral, opera, choral and piano music.

One of his most popular works is his 1936 composition Adagio for Strings which is featured in many film scores and it has found popularity among electronic musicians, William Orbit, Tiesto, Armin van Buuren and Ryuichi Sakamoto have all recorded the piece.

The piece was notably played at the funerals of Albert Einstein. Princess Grace of Monaco and across American radio stations following the funeral of President John F Kennedy.

Born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Barber showed an interest in music at an early age and began composing when he was just six years old. His parents encouraged him to participate in sport but the young Barber knew his love of music was overwhelming and wrote a letter to his parents when he was nine years old sharing his frustration at being asked to play football.

Instead of spending time on the playing field he became the organist and their church when he was 12 years old, and after graduating high school at 14 he attended the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Here he met Gian Carlo Menotti, who would become his partner professionally and privately for several decades.

Menotti and Barber became a couple and often worked together. After they graduated they bought a house together in Mt Kisco, New York. They named their house Capricorn, and it was their artistic retreat for over 40 years.

Barber won the 1958 Pulitzer Prize for his opera Vanessa for which Menotti wrote the libretto. In the 1960’s he worked with Franco Zeffirelli on an opera about Anthony and Cleopatra. It was widely planned by critics and send Barber into a period of depression.

He left the United States and spent several years living in Europe, his relationship with Menotti deteriorated and the couple became estranged. He continued to write music, but did not find further success during his lifetime.

Samuel Barber died at the age of 70 in 1981 at his apartment in New York, his death was attributed to cancer. Menotti passed away aged 95 in 2007.

OIP Staff


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