Samuel Barber: His Life and Legacy

Univ. of Illinois. Apr. 2023. 744p. ISBN 9780252044908. $59.95. MUSIC
Barber (1910–81) wrote his first composition, a 23-measure piano piece, in 1916. He was six. When he was 10, he composed an operetta to a libretto by the family cook. Barber met Gian Carlo Menotti, the distinguished opera composer, at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia when he was 18 and Menotti 17; they remained friends and soulmates for years until Barber’s death. By the time Barber died in 1981, he’d won a Grammy and two Pulitzer Prizes. For 40 years, musicologist Pollack (Univ. of Houston; The Ballad of John Latouche) has documented the careers of distinguished American composers, including Marc Blitzstein, Aaron Copland, and George Gershwin. He brings that knowledge to this sumptuously illustrated biography, which will surely be the authoritative work on talented composer Barber for decades to come. This monumental book is both the account of a fascinating life and a detailed assessment of the composer’s works. The chapters on Barber’s controversial opera Antony and Cleopatra are fascinating.
VERDICT Barber knew everybody in his milieu, and this book reflects that. Scholars will devour this exceptional study, but any music lover will benefit from reading it.
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